4 Bold (and Slightly Less Bold) Predictions for the 2014 San Diego Chargers
The 2014 season hasn't even begun for the San Diego Chargers, but that won't stop us from making early predictions for this year's squad.
A bold prediction for last season would have been recognizing the Bolts as playoff contenders, but who would have guessed that first-year head coach Mike McCoy had it in him to lead what was considered a rebuilding team into the postseason?
Or who could have predicted that San Diego's third-round draft pick, with one good knee at the time he was drafted, would blow up into a star player his rookie year?
Predicting the bad is just hard. If you had told me Malcom Floyd, Melvin Ingram and Dwight Freeney would all go down with major injures early in the year, I wouldn't have believed it. The same could be said for Derek Cox and his disappointing season. Never would have predicted it.
As preparations for the upcoming season continue, let's take a look at some bold and slightly less bold predictions for the Chargers in 2014.
Bold Prediction: Chris Watt Will Be the Starting Right Guard in 2014
With no set return date following shoulder and hip surgeries in the offseason, Jeromey Clary is already losing ground to Chris Watt in the battle for starting right guard.
According to Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego, Clary was held out of the team's recent string of OTAs and will likely miss minicamp. Whether he'll be ready for training camp on July 24 is also unknown.
In the meantime, Watt continues to take reps at right guard along with Johnnie Troutman and Rich Ohrnberger. Troutman has a slight edge working with the first team, but we've seen in the past that he isn't entirely comfortable at that spot.
If Clary's recovery period runs into training camp, Watt has the perfect opportunity to win himself a starting job.
Less Bold Prediction: Philip Rivers Stays Hot in December
The month of December has been a significantly better time of the year for Philip Rivers. Whether it's the ambiance of the holiday season or the cold weather, No. 17 finds a way to up his game before the new year.
With 66 touchdowns, 20 interceptions and 8,337 yards in the month of December, Rivers is quite possibly one of the most clutch quarterbacks to ever play the game depending on how you define it. Some people might define clutch in a moment, but anyone can have a moment of brilliance. It’s undoubtedly more clutch to perform consistently week-to-week when the season—not just one game—is on the line.
The Chargers are 30-7 in December with Rivers at quarterback—the third-highest winning percentage of any quarterback in NFL history in December behind Tom Brady and Roger Staubach, and just in front of guy named Joe Montana.
That being said, this year's schedule could be a problem for Mr. December.
The Chargers close out the regular season against postseason contenders in New England, Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City. It's a rough stretch for the Bolts, but Rivers and Co. didn't fail to surprise us last December with wins over the Broncos and Chiefs.
Someway, somehow, Rivers finds a way to stay hot in December and win at least three of those games. He's won at least three in December since 2011.
Bold Prediction: D.J. Fluker Will Make His First Pro Bowl in 2014
D.J. Fluker's first year in San Diego didn't go unnoticed.
He earned a spot on the Pro Football Writers of America All-Rookie Team and was recognized in the latest edition of B/R 1000 as one of the top 10 right tackles in 2013. But as Michael Gehlken reported, Fluker's goal for 2014 is a trip to University of Phoenix Stadium in late January:
I want to get to the Pro Bowl this year. That's one of my goals. Coach D and I talk about it. I have a lot of potential to do all the right things. … I said, 'They haven't seen my best yet.' What I meant by that was I had a full year under my belt. I understood the game speed. I understood how good I really can be. Now, it's a lot easier. The game is slowing down.
The last Chargers offensive tackle to make a Pro Bowl was Marcus McNeill in 2007. Fluker could end that drought if he's able to raise the bar in 2014.
Less Bold Prediction: The Chargers Will Lead the AFC West in Rushing
San Diego is poised to dominate the ground game in the AFC West after finishing third in the division a year ago.
Kansas City, which led with 2,056 rushing yards in 2013, will struggle despite having one of the league's top backs in Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs lost three-fifths of their offensive line to free agency with the departures of Branden Albert, Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz.
Oakland, who finished second with 2,000 yards, upgraded its offensive line in the offseason but lost two of its leading rushers to free agency with Rashad Jennings going to the New York Giants and Terrelle Pryor now in Seattle. The Raiders intend to make up for those losses with the addition of declining veteran Maurice Jones-Drew.
Denver is in the same boat with the loss of Knowshon Moreno, who compiled 1,038 of the team's 1,873 yards. The Broncos will now turn to Montee Ball in 2014.
The Chargers appear to be the best of the bunch, having upgraded their backfield with Donald Brown.
Bold Prediction: Corey Liuget Will Reach Double-Digit Sacks
The last Charger to reach double-digits sacks was Antwan Barnes with 11 in 2011.
Since then, Corey Liuget has come closest to accomplishing that same feat with the seven he put up in 2012. The following season, Liuget led the team with 5.5 sacks in what was a down year for San Diego's pass rush, but 2014 has all the makings of a double-digit year for the fourth-year defensive end.
In addition to having Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram back from injury, San Diego went out and drafted Georgia Tech's all-time sacks leader Jeremiah Attaochu in the second round of this year's draft to improve the pass rush.
Liuget's own personal gains could also fuel his desire to have a big season. 2013 saw a slight decline in his production, but the front office still felt the need to exercise his fifth-year option. According to Rotoworld, Liuget is technically locked in for 2015, but the Chargers have the option of moving on if they feel the need to do so. Liuget will need to convince the organization he's a player it can build around with a better showing in 2014.
Less Bold Prediction: Ryan Mathews Plays Back-to-Back Full Seasons
Playing in all 16 games was an accomplishment long overdue for Ryan Mathews, but there were plenty of bumps and bruises along the way that prevented him from staying in games.
Still, it was the first time in quite a while the hard-nosed back managed to suit up for every game of the season. You'd have to go back to his college days at Fresno State in 2007 to find the last time that happened.
It's a rare sight to see Mathews finish a season entirely healthy for the most part, but I believe he'll be able to do so in 2014 with the addition of Donald Brown. We saw last year that Danny Woodhead's arrival took some pressure off Mathews' workload, and the same could be in store for this season with Brown filling out the depth at running back.
Should he conquer another 16-game season, Mathews will also benefit from a monetary standpoint. This being his contract year, Mathews needs to prove to the front office he's worth investing in.
Bold Prediction: Keenan Allen Doesn't Lead the Team in Receiving in 2014
By now, just about every defensive coordinator has a pretty good sense of Keenan Allen's abilities following his breakout rookie year in 2013. They know he was Philip Rivers' go-to guy last season, and they know he's capable of dropping 100 yards receiving just about every time he takes the field.
And because he was so successful last year, we can almost guarantee he's going to be getting a lot of attention on game day. The situation on offense will also affect Allen's numbers.
Last season, Allen had to be the guy to step up when no one would. He put up such great numbers because there was a lack of depth behind with no Malcom Floyd or Danario Alexander. Looking ahead to this season, Rivers has a number of legitimate targets to throw to.
Assuming he doesn't suffer any setbacks in training camp, Floyd will be back for the Chargers. Antonio Gates led the team in receptions last year and he too will be back. We also have to factor in Ladarius Green and what he could potentially bring to the table after all the promise he showed in his second year.
I won't say Allen is doomed to endure a sophomore slump, but I find it hard to believe he has the same output in his second year.
Less Bold Prediction: Jahleel Addae Wins the Starting Job at Strong Safety
Strong safety will be a position battle to pay close attention to in training camp, but I think Jahleel Addae ultimately wins that job.
Not to say that Marcus Gilchrist wasn't adequate in his performance last season, but Addae made a strong case with his play and is doing all the right things in preparation for 2014. According to ESPN's Eric D. Williams, Eric Weddle has played a key role in Addae's development from the start of his rookie season:
Since day one when I came in he treated me with the utmost respect. He treated me like a vet and just taught me the game -- the ins and outs of the defense. He guided me and taught me how to be a professional
Weddle was quick to praise Addae's progress as well:
He's talented. He's a very humble kid. He's eager to learn. He listens and he's going to play a lot. So he needs to understand and continue to play like he did the latter part of the year. He’s got to shore up his tackling, come to balance and let his instincts, his tenacity and his energy outshine everything.
One area Addae will definitely need to clean up is his hitting in a crowd. "Mr. Friendly Fire", as he's known by defensive coordinator John Pagano, knocked out two of his teammates in the divisional round of the playoffs last season. Manti Te'o and Marcus Gilchrist were victims of some vicious collisions with Addae, but the second-year defensive back insists it's in his nature to hit anything that moves.
"I’m just aggressive. I like to hit. I like contact. I like being physical. Maybe I've just got to keep my eyes open when I hit."