5 San Diego Chargers Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2014
San Diego was blessed with several breakout campaigns in 2013.
Philip Rivers bounced back from a two-year slump with one of his best seasons yet that included the highest completion percentage of his career. Ryan Mathews rumbled for a career-high 1,255 yards on the ground and finished with the second-most games (6) of 100 yards rushing or more in 2013.
And, of course, who could forget Keenan Allen's breakout rookie campaign that saw him haul in 71 catches for more than 1,000 yards receiving—the first rookie to do so since A.J. Green in 2011.
Five San Diego Chargers are poised to continue that trend with breakout campaigns of their own in 2014.
2013 was good to them, but next season will be even better for the following players.
Last year, Sean Lissemore had just eight days to prepare for the start of 2014 season after being traded from Dallas to San Diego in early September.
This year will be different, however.
As Lissemore explained to Ricky Henne of Chargers.com, things will slow down a bit with a full offseason:
This year is a whole lot different because you can take it a little bit slower. It isn't going to be a crash course like it was last year. Especially in 3-4 defenses like this there is a decent amount of volume to learn. So you can slow down and pick up the smaller nuances of the defense which should help me be more successful later on in the season.
Even with the short window of learning, Lissemore found success as a rotational player with former teammate Cam Thomas. The William and Mary product made 24 tackles, had two sacks and returned an interception for a touchdown.
With Thomas now in Pittsburgh, Lissemore has the opportunity to assume a heavier workload with the Chargers granted he can hold off fifth-round draft choice Ryan Carrethers and second-year man Kwame Geathers in training camp.
Chargers head coach Mike McCoy is making no excuses for Manti Te'o and the foot injury he suffered early last season. In an interview with Mike Costa and Judson Richards of The Chargers Power Hour on Xtra Sports 1360 AM, McCoy gives Te'o credit for a decent rookie season and believes he'll be better in 2014.
After undergoing surgery in January to repair a stress fracture in his foot, Te'o told Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego that he's in the best shape of his life, saying, "The way I feel, the control I have over my body, I'm the same weight but physically I'm just different. Mentally, obviously, I have a year under my belt. I can build off of that."
In 13 regular-season games, Te'o made 61 tackles and deflected four passes. He also managed a seven-tackle performance against Cincinnati in the postseason. Still, the argument could be made that the nagging injury he suffered early on was to blame for a decent but not great rookie year.
As Te'o explained to Ricky Henne, Year 2 will allow him to work on the little things:
One year makes a whole lot of difference. I’m not just talking about the game, but physically and emotionally. You know the ropes and what is expected of you. You know how things are done and the protocol. So now I’m really focused on fine-tuning my skills, getting all the little things right and making sure I am getting better.
The moment Melvin Ingram went down with a torn ACL in OTAs last year, he assured Coach McCoy he'd be back.
We could have waited, but where he was -- the medical staff did an outstanding job with him. And give Melvin a lot of credit for the way he’s worked. From the very first 30 seconds after he went down he said, ‘Don’t worry coach, I’ll be back. I’ll play next year.’ So give him and the medical staff all the credit in the world for the way they've worked.
Ingram played the final four games of the regular season and started both playoff games for San Diego. In his first playoff appearance, Ingram recorded three tackles and an interception that helped seal the win over Cincinnati.
Now entering his third season with the club, the former first-round pick is back with a vengeance to have his breakout season. With Ingram back in the fold and a healthy Dwight Freeney returning from a quad injury, San Diego is poised to get pressure on the quarterback in 2014.
Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com projected San Diego's starters for next season, saying the Chargers "could boast the best tight end combination in the league" and that Ladarius Green's "skills after the catch are incredible."
Just two years ago, Green played only four games and finished his rookie season with four catches. In 2013, Green played all 16 games and started 10 as his playing time saw a dramatic increase when John Phillips was placed on IR. He caught 17 passes for 376 yards and hauled in three touchdowns during the regular season.
Looking ahead to 2014, Green's role could grow on offense now that he's demonstrated his ability to set up mismatches on defense. As he proved last season, covering a 6'6", 240-pound tight end with 4.53 speed is nearly impossible in space and in the corner of the end zone.
Shareece Wright told Ricky Henne that last season was a humbling experience of sorts:
I learned a lot about myself last year, and there was a lot I liked and a lot I need to improve on. I had a lot of opportunities to capitalize on plays and I didn’t.
I need to make sure I make those plays count. Anytime I can get my hands on a ball I need to make sure I come up with the interception. There were some humbling situations for me, and I’m motivated to capitalize on more plays that I may have missed out on.
Probably the most humbling moment came during the postseason when he dropped what would have been a game-changing interception against Denver in the postseason after making a game-changing interception the week before against Cincinnati. But it wasn't all bad for Wright, who was playing his first season in a starting role.
In 13 starts, Wright made 56 tackles, deflected nine passes and recorded an interception against the Giants. He added another nine tackles, four deflections and an interception in the playoffs. After it was all said and done, Wright was arguably San Diego's best corner in 2013.
Now that first-round draft choice Jason Verrett will be entering the mix, Wright tells Henne he's ready to step into a leadership role:
I feel like I’m in the right position to be a leader. I’m ready to step up and take on that position.
I’ve been here long enough that I’m ready to be a leader on this team and on this defense. Last year was my first year really playing, but this will be my fourth year with the Chargers. So I am feeling more like a leader. I feel more comfortable taking on that role.