The Pro Bowl itself could become a thing of the past shortly, which would be fine with me. The game has been emblematic of everything that has been wrong with the Chargers since 2004.
Remember how the Bolts sent nine players to Honolulu in 2006, the most in team history? Three of them were the players received in the Eli Manning deal. I’m a supporter of Philip Rivers, but Shawne Merriman and Nate Kaeding as Pro Bowlers seem like mirages from some distance age. Sadly, we still have Kaeding.
But as political as it seems, selection to the All-Pro squad is still a big deal. Usually, the amount of Pro Bowlers on the roster is a pretty good indication of how strong a team is. The exception would be the aforementioned 14-2 Charger team of 2006. Was that the Bolts’ best shot at a Super Bowl? They didn’t even get out of the first round on their own field. It’s still painful to think about. However, the Bolts finally brought in some new blood, and the players returning might benefit from the acquisitions as well.
Here are my humble predictions as to the probability of this year’s Chargers making it to Hawaii. I sincerely hope these guys are unable to play in the game due to other on-field commitments, however.
Shawne Merriman was voted into the Pro Bowl as linebacker after his rookie season in 2005. His hit on Priest Holmes and performance against the 13-0 Colts gave him the national exposure needed to make the squad. We can all now safely assume he had other assistance as well.
Conversely, Melvin Ingram doesn’t seem to have any red flags. His athleticism borders on freakish. I don’t think he’ll be in on any fake punts in San Diego, but the fact that he did at South Carolina is impressive.
No one knows how John Pagano’s scheme will work or how many snaps Ingram will play. Corey Liuget didn’t get all that much time last year, but also didn’t do much to warrant more of it when he was on the field. Thus far, it sounds like Ingram is making quick progress since he shared that bizarre handshake with Roger Godell on the stage at Radio City. That’s a good sign, since the Chargers’ third-down defense was astronomically bad a year ago.
Mc Lain made the Pro Bowl in 2008 while playing in Baltimore. The Bolts haven’t had a Pro Bowl fullback since Lorenzo Neal. Many Charger fans might add that they haven’t had a fullback at all since that time. Andrew Pinnock, Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester haven’t exactly filled the role. Tolbert’s skill set was clearly better suited to running and receiving. But McLain could be just what the Chargers (and Ryan Mathews) need to establish a consistent ground game.
The case could be made that Jarrett Johnson was the best defender on a team that tantalizingly close to reaching the Super Bowl last year.
Unlike Ingram, Johnson will undoubtedly be in the starting lineup.
Antonio Gates talked about the Bolts being a “blue collar” team in 2011, but they were far from it. Johnson, however, is often described that way. If the Chargers are to even approach shedding the “soft” label on defense, Johnson will be a huge reason why.
Not all Charger fans are in agreement as to whether Phillips is truly an impact player. He followed his playoff head-butt and thin-skinned reaction to criticism over said head-butt with a strong 2010 season. He was voted No. 97 on the NFL Network list of 100 Greatest Players.
But he a true superstar? Along with Eric Weddle, he’s the only returning Charger who comes close.
Other teams have to account for him; that’s for sure. He can get to the quarterback and pry the ball loose. But will he ever play as well as he tweets and celebrates after making a play?
Can Robert Meachem be Vincent Jackson? People forget that it was just seven seasons ago that we were all wondering when AJ Smith’s tall “project” from the Northern Colorado was going to be healthy enough to make a contribution. I’m not saying that Meachem will automatically become a marquee player, but it might not be as far-fetched as some think.
Rivers is most effective when he’s distributing the ball. Meachem has proven he doesn’t let up when he’s not repeatedly targeted. Jackson tended to sulk, and I’m still not convinced he lost that Hail Mary in the lights against Oakland.
Royal should get some action on special teams, which is why I put him on the same level as Meachem. He always played well against the Chargers, but that may also be because their defense has been lacking. He’ll get time in the slot, which could prove fruitful if Philip Rivers gets his accuracy back.
Eric Weddle got a huge contract from the Bolts before last season, but backed it up with a Pro Bowl campaign. He made a conscious attempt to work on his ability to hold onto the ball, and it showed. His intercepting skills put the cornerbacks to shame. He may not have as strong an overall season, but may not have to if the rest of the defense improves.
Ryan Mathews also made the Pro Bowl last season. This was no small feat since he was out hurt for two games and had his share of difficulty holding onto the ball. I wrote a few weeks back about how Mathews can continue his evolution into a complete back. I truly believe he will step up and, at the very least, return to the Pro Bowl.
I left him at 65 percent simply because when dealing with the Chargers, it’s been better to err on the conservative.
Antonio Gates seems to have his plantar fasciitis under control for the first time in two seasons. When healthy, he’s still a Pro Bowler without question. Announcers are constantly wondering how a guy with his reputation still gets so wide open. If Gates hadn’t been erroneously flagged for pass interference on Halloween night in Kansas City, the Bolts might have been awarded with far more than an apparent touchdown.
Gates is still the guy Philip Rivers relies on for crucial third-downs, and only injury could change that. His shelf-life is far from infinite, but Antonio Gates has been forced to learn more about his body over the last few years than I’m sure he wanted to. If he says he’s healthy, I believe him.
If Philip Rivers made the Pro Bowl last season, I can’t imagine a year when he wouldn’t. I also wrote at length about the horror show that was his 2011 campaign. If that earned him a berth on the team, I can’t imagine what he could do to be denied this season. I have no desire to find out, however.