Aside from their eight selections in the NFL draft, the only addition to the San Diego Chargers’ roster in the offseason was signing free agent linebacker Kevin Burnett.
And although rookie linebacker Larry English should help the Chargers defense, no major changes to the roster or coaching staff means that much of the same play-calling on both sides of the ball, this season, should be expected.
Defensively, the return of linebacker Shawne Merriman from knee surgery is the most significant offseason happening for the team.
Merriman and first-round draft pick Larry English should help the Chargers 3-4 defense, which is heavily reliant on blitzing to bounce back from an off year in 2008. Without Merriman last season, the Chargers finished 22nd in the NFL in sacks, losing nearly a sack per game from their 2007 average.
Merriman and English should allow defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to use more linebacker blitz packages to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Putting these two linebackers opposite one another in blitzing situations will also allow the Bolts to run more man to man coverage in the secondary, playing to the physical style of starting cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Chargers’ only new starter will be at the left guard position, after losing Mike Goff to the Kansas City Chiefs in free agency. Kynan Forney will fill that spot in 2009.
With all but one starter back on offense, expect much of the same play-calling from last season when the Chargers have the ball. The main question surrounding the Bolts’ offense is whether or not they will be able to run the ball consistently this season.
Last season, LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for a career-low 1,110 yards and carried the ball 292 times, 46 times below his career average. While consistent injuries limited LT’s effectiveness in 2008, some running plays in the "I" formation simply failed to develop without a true fullback, something the Chargers lacked after letting go of Lorenzo Neal after the 2007 season.
Will another year under the belt for fullbacks Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester allow them to develop into capable blockers for Tomlinson or Darren Sproles? If not, expect the Chargers to run the ball more out of the single-back formation in 2009.
Gunning for their fourth division title in a row, the Chargers don’t appear to be making too many changes headed into the 2009 season. And that might not be such a bad thing.