What San Diego Chargers Fans Need to Know About 2013 Season
The 2013 San Diego Chargers will resemble the 2012 team in name only, as there's been a great deal of retooling going on at Chargers Park (don’t call it a rebuilding process.)
These changes bring a new energy to the team, but they also prompt questions.
The objective of these slides is to illuminate what every Chargers fan should know about the upcoming 2013 season.
The first, and most important, change from last season is the turnover at general manager and head coach.
A.J. Smith and Norv Turner were let go as soon as the season ended. Tom Telesco, a former assistant with the Indianapolis Colts, is the new general manager. Former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is the new head coach.
Of the 21 coaches on the Chargers staff, 14 are new to the team. Of the eight coaches overseeing the offense, only two (tight end coach Jason Michael and running back coach Ollie Wilson) were with the team in 2012.
The hope is that the influx of new leadership will inspire a winning mentality that has been missing since San Diego last reached the playoffs following the 2009 season.
New Offensive Linemen
Of the five starting offensive linemen from 2012, only one, center Nick Hardwick, is expected to open the 2013 season starting at the same position as last year.
Jeromey Clary was the starting right tackle last season, but is expected to be the starting right guard this year, as first-round pick D.J. Fluker should protect the edge on the right side.
Max Starks, formerly of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is expected to be the starting left tackle, while either Chad Rinehart or Rich Ohrnberger should start at left guard.
The offensive line was a major issue last season, giving up 49 sacks—second most in the AFC (the Jacksonville Jaguars allowed 50). It was not just in passing situations that the line struggled. San Diego ball-carriers averaged 3.6 yards per attempt in 2012, tied for second-lowest in the NFL.
Some of the blame can be placed on the quarterback not throwing the ball away and runners not hitting holes properly, but the 2012 offensive line was clearly a liability.
There is no way to know if the new configuration in the trenches will improve pass protection or open running lanes, but it is hard to imagine things getting much worse.
Ryan Mathews' Last Chance?
The Chargers moved up from No. 28 to No. 12 in the 2010 NFL draft to select running back Ryan Mathews (they also gave up a second- and fourth-round spot, while receiving linebacker Tim Dobbins in the trade with the Miami Dolphins.).
Mathews had injury concerns coming out of Fresno State, missing at least one game each of his three years with the Bulldogs, and those concerns continued in the NFL (he has not played in more than 14 games in any of his three years with the Chargers.).
San Diego revamped the offensive line and introduced a new running scheme in hopes that Mathews and the running attack can get back on track. If he falters again or ends up in the training room for an extended period of time, the Chargers' front office will need to look for a new running back.
The addition of Danny Woodhead might relieve some of the pounding Mathews receives, but Woodhead is not a feature back. Mathews has two years remaining on his initial five-year contract, so he had better show he is worth an extension if he hopes to get paid past 2014.
Rivers’ Bounce-Back Season?
Philip Rivers was once considered an elite NFL quarterback. Now, he is being second-guessed by numerous analysts. ESPN's Ron Jaworski said he was “disappointed” while watching film of Rivers in 2012 (via RotoWorld.com).
It is hard to pinpoint the exact reason for Rivers' regression. His former No. 1 wide receiver Vincent Jackson is now playing in Tampa Bay. His former third-down back Darren Sproles is in New Orleans. His tight end Antonio Gates has been hampered by injuries. His offensive line has been in shambles. The play-calling did not include a lot of quick routes to offset the weak pass protection.
But Rivers also made some really bad decisions.
Adding so many new offensive coaches known for working with quarterbacks (Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Frank Reich) along with a new offensive line coach (Joe D’Alessandris) who improved the Buffalo Bills line, it is hoped that Rivers will return to a 4,000-plus yard passer who racks up more touchdowns and fewer interceptions.
If Rivers does not show improvement, San Diego will have quite a dilemma on its hands come the 2014 NFL draft.
More than half of the 2013 defensive starters for the Chargers—the nose guard, two of the four linebackers and three of the four defensive backs—are new starters for San Diego.
John Pagano returns as defensive coordinator, but counting on a rookie (Manti Te’o) and a 33-year old veteran (Dwight Freeney) at the linebacker position could either be a great blending of youth and experience or a disaster waiting to happen.
Only Eric Weddle returns in the secondary. Free agent Derek Cox will lock down one cornerback position while Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright, who sat behind last year’s starters Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer, will assume starting roles at safety and the corner opposite Cox, respectively.
Defensive ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes are garnering attention as two of the better young defensive linemen in the NFL. Liuget is entering his third year and Reyes his second; the Chargers are hoping both will continue to develop into a formidable pair.
The middle of the defensive line will be handed over to Cam Thomas and whichever undrafted free agent(s) make the roster. The four-year veteran Thomas has only five career starts, all with San Diego.
The new defense may feature younger players, but it is uncertain if this new blood is better than the old.
If the Chargers hope to return to the success that resulted in four straight AFC West titles (2006-2009), the defense may have to step up and win games while the offense settles into position.