Grading the San Diego Chargers' Entire 53-Man Roster
The roster has been set and it's time for San Diego Chargers football. With a little less than a week before the season opener in Oakland, we have the 53 men who will make up San Diego's roster for the 2012 regular season.
Aside from the regulars, you'll notice that there are a lot of new faces sporting the lightning bolts. You'll also notice that fan favorites Jacques Cesaire and Jacob Hester are no longer with the team. Sad, but true.
Now that we have a full roster and depth chart, it's time to take a look at what the Chargers bring to the table this season. So in true back-to-school fashion, it's time to grade the entire 53-man roster for the 2012 San Diego Chargers.
Four interceptions in the preseason may look bad, but Philip Rivers is still a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback with a huge chip on his shoulder going into the 2012 season. Rather than looking at the negatives of the preseason, focus on the fact that Rivers still completed 80 percent of his passes.
The loss of Ryan Mathews puts a lot of pressure on Rivers to carry this team on offense but as long as his receivers can stay healthy, Rivers should have himself a big year. Losing Vincent Brown complicates things in the passing game, but veterans like Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd have looked good thus far. With that in mind, we still haven't seen much of newbies Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, and they should also help make up for the loss of Brown.
Did Charlie Whitehurst put on a show this preseason or what? It's such a huge asset to have a guy as your backup who can deliver when he needs to. Whitehurst may not have fared well as a starter in Seattle, but that's no indication of his talent level at the quarterback position. Losing Rivers to a potential injury this season would certainly be tragic, but Whitehurst as your No. 2 isn't all that bad.
Running Back: C+
The broken collarbone of Ryan Mathews could cost the Chargers a chance at the playoffs in 2012, and that's the truth. Mathews says he's hopeful to be ready for the season opener against Oakland, but let's be realistic—how healthy will he be when he comes back?
I'd like to sit here and tell you that the Chargers would be fine without him, but I hate lying. Based on what the reserve running backs did in the preseason, I don't see how the Chargers will get anywhere with their running game. If Mathews can come back at full strength, then I still believe he's destined for a breakout season. But, if his collarbone becomes an Achilles heel, his season may be over before it begins.
In Mathews' absence, Ronnie Brown will be looked to for some much needed production in the ground game. Initially, we assumed we'd see Brown occasionally during the regular season, filling in for Mathews when he needed to. Now, Brown finds himself the potential No. 1 running back going into Week 1. Forget about easing him into things.
Jackie Battle got his first taste of the end zone in a Chargers' uniform during the preseason, but it was in a short-yardage situation. I honestly can't see Battle leading San Diego in rushing, but his big frame will come in handy in the red zone and in short-yardage situations. He and Brown need to find some balance between them in case Mathews is unavailable.
If Mathews hadn't gone down with his injury in Week 1 of the preseason, Curtis Brinkley might not have made this team. This may sound crazy, but I think Brinkley gives San Diego the better chance to win between the three reserves. He's young, he's fast and this is the perfect opportunity to prove himself.
Thank goodness for Le'Ron McClain. Not only does the veteran provide San Diego with a run-blocking fullback, but he's also another option in the run game. McClain will also be the guy protecting Mathews from those first hits at the line of scrimmage.
Wide Receiver: B
Malcom Floyd finally has his chance to be the No. 1 receiver in San Diego, and an injury to rising star Vincent Brown has only fueled the need for Floyd to have a big year. A tall receiver with good leaping ability, Floyd uses his height advantage to go over the top of defenders and make the highlight catch. The additions of Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal will also keep Floyd from drawing constant double teams in the secondary.
A great point was brought to light by rotoworld.com concerning chemistry between Philip Rivers and Robert Meachem. That point being that there is none—yet. Meachem caught just one pass for seven yards during the preseason, and other attempts to get him the ball were spoiled by interceptions.
As San Diego's No. 2 receiver, Meachem will be a vital component on offense, but early chemistry issues do complicate things. Let's hope Rivers and Meachem are seeing eye to eye when they head to Oakland.
Eddie Royal, like Meachem, had a similar showing in the preseason, catching just one pass for 10 yards. But, Royal has practically missed all of camp with a groin injury. Once he comes back, though, Royal will become a huge asset in the slot. Staying patient with Royal is the biggest issue right now.
In regards to Vincent Brown, I've heard it all from fans. From questioning Coach Norv Turner's decision to play him so late in the game against Dallas, to absolute devastation resulting from his broken ankle. Brown was San Diego's leading receiver in the preseason, and he showed no sign of stopping. In fact, Brown could have become San Diego's leading receiver during the regular season as well. Seriously.
Because Brown will miss eight weeks with his injury, he is essentially worthless during the first half of the season. But, if he can fully recover, he should prove useful down the stretch in what will most likely be a tight playoff race.
Micheal Spurlock finished the preseason as San Diego's leading receiver, surpassing Ronnie Brown and Vincent Brown with 10 receptions for 135 yards. But, that won't happen during the regular season. Spurlock will figure into San Diego's return game more so than in the passing game.
Richard Goodman is another return specialist on San Diego's roster, and like Spurlock, I really don't see him contributing more than a catch per game, if that.
Tight Ends: B-
Not much more you could want from Antonio Gates after the way he's looked thus far. He looks poised to have a huge year in 2012, and I'm predicting he'll be the Chargers' best offensive player this season.
The old vet has looked good in the preseason, but his job remains the same—run blocker. Sure, McMichael still has the hands to pull one down every now and then, but his real strength is in the run game.
There was a ton of heat on McMichael to hold off Dante Rosario for the No. 2 tight end, and so far, it appears he's been successful. Rosario did make the squad, however, so there must be reason the Chargers kept him. He had his moments with the Carolina Panthers in past seasons, and he's only 27 years old.
Rookie Ladarius Green has all the makings of the next hybrid tight end capable of wreaking havoc in opposing secondaries, but his blocking skills are a work in progress, to say the least. As for this season, I don't see Green having much of an impact.
Offensive Tackle: C
Jared Gaither's back injury has been a touchy subject as of late. In fact, he refused to answer questions about his injury during a press conference on Monday and seemed to take offense from reporters. The decision has already been made that rookie Mike Harris will start at left tackle on Monday night against Oakland, and time can only tell when Gaither will make his return.
I appreciate the fact that Gaither wants to be 100 percent on the field, but his touchy attitude about the injury makes me nervous. What if it's worse than he says? Still, Gaither is one of San Diego's better offensive linemen.
For years, Jeromey Clary was considered San Diego's weak link on the offensive line, and he's taken the heat for it from critics. However, offensive coordinator Hal Hunter is protecting his right tackle by telling "outsiders" to lay off. Clary's coaches have faith in him, and so should fans.
The undrafted rookie out of UCLA will make his first NFL start against the Oakland Raiders on Monday night because of Gaither's back injury. Oakland's defense will test the rookie early and often, but Harris has worked hard in camp thus far, getting better every day.
Offensive Guard: B
Tyronne Green was named the starter in late July, and his progress has been steady in camp. He and Jared Gaither have worked well together, shoring up the left side of the line, which lost All-Pro guard Kris Dielman. But one thing to keep in mind is the fact that Green will be without the veteran to his left in Week 1 and will have rookie Mike Harris to rely on instead.
During the offseason, Coach Turner pointed out numerous standout players, and Louis Vasquez was one of them. Vasquez has just three years of experience under his belt, but he's still managed to start 38 games in three seasons. He and Clary do an adequate job of protecting Philip Rivers.
Veteran guard Rex Hadnot was signed during the offseason after playing 16 games at guard for the Arizona Cardinals. Not only is he qualified to step in should someone go down, but he has starter capabilities.
The anchor of the offensive line has returned, and he will be relied upon every week to keep this young group of guys together through the ups and downs. Hardwick is one of the best centers in football, and this season will prove no different.
Should be an easy year for rookie David Molk. After winning a position battle over the recently released Colin Baxter, Molk will now focus on learning the ropes from Hardwick.
Defensive Line: C+
Antonio Garay will act as a floater on the defensive line this season, rotating between defensive tackle and defensive end. I like this move because it makes perfect sense in a 3-4 defensive scheme. I'm interested to see how Garay will fare in one-on-one situations on the edge as opposed to working inside.
Cam Thomas led all defensive linemen this preseason with seven tackles, and he continues to improve. He'll likely share time with Aubrayo Franklin and Antonio Garay at defensive tackle. Thomas finished last season with 20 tackles and four sacks, making him an important piece of the defensive line this year.
Acquiring Aubrayo Franklin was a good move by the Chargers during the offseason, but the 32-year-old's career is in definite need of improvement. Franklin had a breakout season in 2010 with the San Francisco 49ers, racking up 39 tackles. However, his numbers took a nose dive last season in New Orleans, where he collected just 17 tackles.
Vaughn Martin had 47 tackles and a sack in 2011. Martin typically started at defensive end, and he should get more work in at the edge in 2012. Martin is no pass-rusher, but he does play well against the run, which is all the Chargers need from him.
Former 2011 first-round pick Corey Liuget didn't wow in his rookie season, and I don't think he's primed for a sophomore slump, because he wasn't that good to begin with. Liuget has a lot more to prove in his second season, and he'll likely get that opportunity from the defensive end position.
Kendall Reyes had nine tackles in the preseason and put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. I see good things in Reyes' future with San Diego, and he could end up being one of the draft's biggest steals.
Outside Linebacker: B+
Arguably one of San Diego's better defensive players, Shaun Phillips returns for his ninth season with Bolts after having yet another solid season. The 31-year-old is getting up there in terms of his career, but he still finds a way to make athletic plays at the line of scrimmage and in pass coverage.
What a pickup for the Chargers. Jarret Johnson immediately makes San Diego's defense better solely based on his 10 years of experience playing with one of the league's best defenses—the Baltimore Ravens. Known for his run defense, Johnson will likely rotate with Antwan Barnes on defense depending on the situation.
Antwan Barnes busted onto the scene last season with a career-high 11 sacks, and there are a lot of fans hoping he can re-create those numbers again. I see Barnes as one of San Diego's pass rushing specialists in 2012, coming in on third down and passing situations.
The No. 18 pick has caught on quickly during camp and the preseason, and I can't wait to see him in action during the regular season. Ingram is another one of those situational rushers like Barnes, who can come in and put pressure on the quarterback when its needed.
Is this the year Larry English finally lives up to hype? It might just be.
He had three sacks and seven tackles during the preseason, and he's finally healthy. It'll be hard for him to get huge numbers in a rotation, but I'm hoping he makes good use of the opportunities he gets on defense. People were saying English was the next Shawne Merriman when he got drafted, so it's about time he started making good on those predictions.
Inside Linebacker: B-
I have a theory that Takeo Spikes doesn't age. The guy is 35 years old playing linebacker like a 22-year-old. He had 106 tackles in 2011 and was a leader in San Diego's defense. Because he didn't slow down last season, I have no problem saying he'll be just as physical in 2012.
Playing next to Takeo Spikes has paid off for the young 23-year-old linebacker. Donald Butler had 96 tackles and two sacks last season, and he's only getting better. Butler had 14 tackles and an interception in the preseason, causing reason to believe he could have an even bigger year in 2012. Inside linebacker will be one of the strongest positions on this team.
Jonas Mouton didn't get to have a rookie season, mostly because it was ruined by a shoulder injury. Mouton was placed on injured reserve last September, forcing him to miss the 2011 season, but he will finally take the field in his first full season with the team. Mouton had 12 tackles in the preseason, but he should be more a special teams player rather than a legitimate linebacker this season.
Adding Demorrio Williams to this list is just icing on the cake. How great is it to have yet another veteran linebacker on your defense to just give that unit another mentor. After the 2009 season, Williams was unable to replicate the big number he had in Kansas City, but the Chargers don't expect him to do that. Instead, Williams is simply there to help on special teams and possibly make an appearance on defense.
Another special teams player looking to stop touchdowns on kicks and punts. Gachkar was drafted in the seventh round last year specifically to help on special teams, and he did enough in camp to prove he was worth keeping around for another season.
Quentin Jammer is the most experienced corner on San Diego's roster with 11 seasons under his belt, but the former first-round draft pick has failed to become that shutdown corner the Chargers expected him to be. What you get from Jammer is a solid open field tackler who will occasionally get in between passes. Quarterbacks can still burn him for a score, but he doesn't make that mistake often.
Antoine Cason has a little more finesse to his game in the secondary. Unlike Jammer, Cason is the type of corner who's always a threat to pick off passes. After five years of playing the in the league, Cason is finally getting comfortable on defense as a starter. Cason got his hands on an interception this preseason already.
What we saw from Shareece Wright this preseason is perhaps the making of a future starter. A key interception, a sack and a forced fumble in a game against Dallas put Wright in the spotlight for a few days. This season, we may see the youngster play nickel on defense and possibly create some turnovers.
Marcus Gilchrist is another young player with talent, but he wasn't able to show much because of a hamstring injury. Jammer, Wright and Gilchrist all dealt with hamstring injuries this preseason, putting pressure on Cason to back up his fellow teammates. Gilchrist will get his action on special teams, but don't rule him out on defense either. Hamstring injuries pop up often during the season, and Gilchrist could be called upon for backup.
Eric Weddle is getting paid like the top safety in football, so he should play the same way. Weddle is always a threat to pick off passes, and his tackling near the line of scrimmage is solid. He's everything you'd want at the free safety position.
He may have had to battle with rookie for his job, but Atari Bigby is finally sitting atop San Diego's depth chart at strong safety. Bigby has the experience and he's played well in the preseason and during camp. I wouldn't worry too much about the new guy in the secondary.
The rookie out of LSU put up a strong bid for the strong safety job, but you have to give it to the most experienced guy in a situation like this. Taylor won't be the starter this season, but it won't be long before he's out there too.
Darrell Stuckey isn't a threat to take anyone's job, but this guy flies down the field on special teams. Defensively, he's just your average reserve, but he's still young and has time to develop.
Corey Lynch just barely missed the cut in making this team, but he has a similar role to Stuckey. Lynch is also a talented special teamer, and the Chargers can always use players to shore up a typically weak kick return team.
Special Teams: A
With Nick Novak off his back, Nate Kaeding can finally relax knowing that his job isn't in trouble. If I had to give advice for him this season, I'd say don't try and tackle anyone on kickoffs. Just let them go by.
Kaeding has a habit of getting hurt on kick returns, and the Chargers can't afford to lose him again next season. Kaeding's accuracy isn't the problem, it's staying healthy that presents the biggest problem.
Mike Scifres and Shane Lechler are the top two punters in football. Enough said.
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