San Diego Chargers Preview: Why Offensive Line Will Determine Team's Success
There is no better depiction of teamwork on a football field than on the offensive line.
Unlike their counterpart on the defensive side of the ball, offensive linemen aren’t too pretty. Offensive linemen have the unique ability to dictate the rhythmic flow of the offense by controlling the collision up front. Essentially, they work like a school of fish. And if one is unable to carry out his assignment, then the quarterback is exposed.
To be successful, it all begins with a familiarity of sorts up front. Unfortunately for the San Diego Chargers, that was not the case for the majority of last year. What began as a minor leak, rapidly graduated to an irreparable flood in 2011.
Without the assurance of QB Philip Rivers’ blindside in tact, the turf seemingly became the next best option. In the last two subpar seasons, Rivers has hit the deck an ungodly 68 times, with 30 sacks being charged to 2011. The cornerstone at the left tackle position for the last six seasons, Marcus McNeill, battled contract disputes intertwined with a nagging neck injury, which ultimately forced him to retire.
The domino effect was the theme this offseason, as McNeill’s decision sparked teammate Kris Dielman to weigh in on the same token. The four-time Pro Bowler was forced to hang up his uniform prematurely after he suffered a seizure following a career-ending concussion. Concussions are one element of the game not to be taken lightly.
If these bone-crushing statistics progress, Rivers' 31-year-old physique will start to look like a 50-year-old's in a hurry.
The headlining difference this season is that there is no obvious Pro Bowl-caliber talent on the line. That is why maintaining the health of the line is pertinent to the season's success.
In an attempt to cover the gaping void at the left tackle position, the Bolts were fortunate to steal Jared Gaither off the waiver wire last season. Once Gaither assumed his starting role, he dramatically stifled the opposing defensive front's attack and alleviated the pressure off Rivers. No matter the adjustments made up front, in 2011 Rivers was vertically challenged.
Flashing forward to today, the preseason has been unfavorable to the Bolts' starting unit. Fortunately, the Chargers filled the void this offseason after bringing over nine-year veteran Rex Hadnot.
Health will always remain a factor, which is why the Chargers assessed their priorities and retrieved the appropriate depth necessary. It will be evident the line isn't bulletproof if the running game can't shoot the gap or enter the second level. Or, if Rivers is continually facing pressure, forcing him to extend the play outside of the pocket.
If Rivers is slotted with the appropriate time, he has the speed on the outside to deliver a quick strike. Look for Eddie Royal's number to be called upon more frequently. His breaking speed and crossing routes underneath will provide Rivers the check-down security he needs.
Despite the few questions raised, the 2012 offensive line is gearing up for another productive year. If the line can do their best to deliver the push and not track back into the backfield, the powerhouse offense of the Chargers will be unstoppable.
Once Rivers is able to establish his presence via the aerial routes, the Bolts will be able to ground and pound defenses to the dirt. They didn't grab Le'Ron McClain for nothing.
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