The San Diego Chargers are getting dangerously thin at wide receiver as we approach the regular season. Both starters have gone down with knee injuries, and the two players likely to see additional reps in their absence aren’t without their own injury risks.
First-year head coach Mike McCoy and his new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt have the tough task of trying to get quarterback Philip Rivers to play at an elite level again, not knowing which wide receivers will be on the field. The offensive line is a work in progress, so the receivers need to produce for the offense to be successful.
It’s obviously a concern that the only receiver on the roster the Chargers can really count on to be healthy is Robert Meachem.
Without a stable group of wide receivers, the new regime is going to have difficulties achieving its goals.
Injuries and Injury Concerns
Danario Alexander, arguably the team’s best receiver, was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), while the consistent veteran Malcom Floyd dodged a bullet when the MRI on his knee revealed no structural damage, according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.
No one knows when Floyd will be able to return, but even when he does, he doesn’t have a very good track record of staying on the field.
Floyd has played a full season just once in his nine-year NFL career and is averaging over six missed games per season. Last season was only the second time in Floyd’s career he was able to play 14 games or more. Injuries happen in the NFL, but Floyd simply hasn’t proven durable over a long period of time.
Wide receiver Vincent Brown is Alexander’s immediate replacement in the lineup, but he has also struggled staying on the field. Brown missed all of last season with a broken ankle suffered during the preseason.
Philip Rivers said to the San Diego Union Tribune, "If (Brown) can be out there on a consistent basis, which obviously if he is healthy he will be, people are going to say, 'Shoot, he's one of the staples of (their) offense.'"
This year, Brown has missed seven training camp practices with a hamstring injury and the first preseason game. Brown is now healthy and will start, but how long he remains healthy is anyone’s guess.
Even Rivers noted that Brown can only be a staple of the offense if he is healthy.
There's also rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen, who many believe fell in the draft because he tore the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) in his knee during his final season at Cal. Allen was counted on to replace some of Alexander’s production, but he’ll also replace Floyd until he comes back.
Even if Allen is impressive, that’s a lot of pressure on a rookie to produce big numbers immediately. Allen’s knee issue also isn’t entirely behind him; he left practice August 13 to get treatment on the injury according to the San Diego Union Tribune.
That leaves Meachem and Eddie Royal as the only receivers without significant injury risk. However, it should be noted that Royal has played 16 games just once in his five-year career.
Meachem has been durable, but he's also been a massive disappointment as a first-round draft pick for the New Orleans Saints in 2008 and a free-agent acquisition by the Chargers in 2012. Meachem probably (almost certainly) only has a roster spot in San Diego because it would cost $3.7 million more against the salary cap to cut him than to just keep him on the roster according to Spotrac.com figures.
Outside of tight end Antonio Gates, the Chargers don’t have a receiver on the roster they can rely on to be both healthy and productive.
That’s a big problem for a new offense because quarterbacks and receivers must have chemistry to be successful.
The Chemistry Problem
Rivers and the receivers are still learning the offense, and it takes time. If Rivers can get the ball out of his hands quickly, that will hide some of the weaknesses of the offensive line. For Rivers to do that, he needs receivers he can trust.
After reviewing his play in the first preseason game, Rivers is holding the ball too long and coming off his first read too slowly. It appears as though Rivers needed to see what a receiver was going to do before he could throw the ball.
It’s obviously far too early to conclude anything just yet, but everyone is watching how Rivers adjusts to the new offense. For the Chargers to be successful, they need Rivers and his receivers on the same page.
If a group of receivers can’t stay on the field, get on the same page with Rivers and be productive when they get the opportunity, then the adjustment to the new offense is going to be a rocky one. Right now, there just aren’t many receivers on the roster who fit that description.
The rash of receiver injuries may have the Chargers’ season at an early tipping point because healthy and productive receivers will be necessary is the team is going to exceed expectations in Year 1 of a mini-rebuild. The injuries have already put the Chargers in a bind and have no doubt hurt the offense, but another could put significant strain on Rivers and the new regime.
As far as we know, the Chargers haven’t yet considered bringing in a veteran receiver.
Part of the problem with doing so is it doesn’t really help with the chemistry issue unless the receiver is versed in the offense or has experience with Rivers. Not many players available right now fit the bill.
Laurent Robinson has a brief history with Rivers, having gone through training camp with the Chargers in 2011. Brandon Lloyd played for McCoy for four games in 2011 before the Denver Broncos traded him to St. Louis. The New England Patriots waived veteran Michael Jenkins according to Boston.com, but he doesn’t have any apparent ties to Rivers, McCoy or Whisenhunt.
The options are limited, so the Chargers may just have to wait until other teams make cuts to find a player who can contribute.
On a positive note, the Chargers’ front office that has found diamonds in the rough at receiver in the past remains largely intact besides having a new general manager.