San Diego Chargers Offseason State of the Union
The San Diego Chargers have closed up shop briefly as they await the start of training camp next month.
OTAs and minicamp were a success, so much so that head coach Mike McCoy cut his players loose for summer break a day earlier than expected. The extra day off is a nice gesture, but the players know they'll need to come back in late July ready to work in camp.
The offseason has been good to San Diego thus far. This time last year, Melvin Ingram and Danario Alexander became early casualties to injury, but health hasn't been an issue for the Chargers this time around. There are some bruises here and there but nothing major to impact the team's performance next season.
Here's the state of the union on the Chargers post-OTAs and minicamp.
How Flowers Shakes Up Secondary
News of Brandon Flowers' signing on Tuesday was music to the ears of Chargers fans who were begging for experienced help in the secondary. They got exactly that with the first-time Pro Bowler, but give credit to Tom Telesco for making that deal work with financial limitations.
Flowers, though small, has good speed and quickness in his game. He used those strengths to collect 374 tackles and 17 interceptions in six seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs. Critics might argue that Flowers didn't have one of his better seasons in 2013 despite the Pro Bowl nod, but his arrival in San Diego could be the perfect opportunity to prove himself on a one-year deal.
Chris Wesseling of NFL.com pointed out that Flowers wants to play outside rather than in the slot, and John Pagano's scheme would allow him to do so. The move also sets up a move inside for first-round draft choice Jason Verrett.
The Pressure to Duplicate 2013
After ending San Diego's four-year playoff drought in his first year as head coach, Mike McCoy has built up high expectations for Year 2. Anything short of another postseason run will be a step backward, but the 2014 schedule is no cakewalk—it's actually tied for the fourth-most difficult schedule in the NFL next season.
On top of run-ins with the NFC West, arguably the toughest division in football, the Chargers will have to contend with their own division, which featured three playoff teams in 2013.
The Denver Broncos reloaded following a disappointing loss in the Super Bowl, and Kansas City is still reeling after a solid year under head coach Andy Reid. Even the Oakland Raiders have improved with an expensive offseason to say the least.
McCoy's debut in San Diego was a positive experience for fans, but will they still be sold on his leadership if their team misses the playoffs in 2014?
Position Battles to Watch
Strong Safety: Marcus Gilchrist vs. Jahleel Addae
In just his second year with the Bolts, Addae is ready to legitimately compete for a starting job in 2014. He and Gilchrist will make for a very intriguing matchup during training camp, and fans should feel pleased with either outcome.
Gilchrist has notched 46 regular-season games and two playoff appearances in four seasons. He finished third in tackles last year with 77, had five pass breakups and pocketed two interceptions.
Addae's resume, though brief, is also favorable. As an undrafted free agent in 2013, he worked his way up the depth chart the hard way, making plays on special teams before defensive coordinator John Pagano began working him on defense. He made 38 tackles, deflected three passes and recorded a sack his rookie year.
Defensive Tackle: Sean Lissemore vs. Ryan Carrethers
Pagano used Lissemore and former Charger Cam Thomas in a rotation last season, though Thomas was the real breadwinner of the two with 10 of the 16 starts in the regular season. Lissemore played well his first year in Pagano's system, garnering 24 tackles, two sacks and a pick-six of Washington's Robert Griffin III.
Lissemore could have improved upon those numbers, but a shoulder injury sidelined him for the postseason. With Thomas now in Pittsburgh, Lissemore has a real shot at starting more games in his second year, but a rookie could be standing in his way come training camp.
Carrethers, San Diego's fifth-round draft choice, has a true nose tackle build at 330 pounds and is the better fit from a scheme perspective. His large body would command more double-teams and allow linebackers to be more effective in stopping the run at the line of scrimmage.
Both are expected to see the field this season, but which of the two separates himself in camp and grabs hold of that starting role?
Right Guard: Jeromey Clary vs. Johnnie Troutman/Rich Ohrnberger/Chris Watt
With Clary still rehabbing multiple offseason surgeries, Troutman, Ohrnberger and Watt have had their fair share of reps at right guard with the first unit, according to ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams. Clary's status for training camp is still uncertain at this point, so it's a real possibility the starter emerges from the healthy trio.
Troutman's performance at right guard last season was certainly not his best, though his efforts at left were. Ohrnberger made one start at right guard in 2013, but his heroics at center in place of injured starter Nick Hardwick during the postseason was his most acknowledged accomplishment. Last but certainly not least is San Diego's third-round pick in Watt, who was a three-year starter at Notre Dame.
No. 2 Receiver: Malcom Floyd vs. Vincent Brown
Keenan Allen's first year was enough to solidify his standing as a starter for the upcoming season, but where will the Chargers go with their second wideout slot?
Brown made 12 starts alongside Allen in 2013, but his production wasn't up to par. He was given a grand opportunity to come back from a lost year in 2012, but 41 catches for 472 yards and a touchdown weren't the numbers expected from him. He'll now have to fend off returning veteran Malcom Floyd.
A season-ending neck injury in Week 2 forced Floyd to consider an early retirement for the sake of his long-term health, but doctors officially gave him the thumbs up to resume training in the offseason. He and Philip Rivers have a history of hooking up for big plays, so it's safe to assume he'll be in the running for a starting role.
Feeding the 3-Headed Monster
San Diego's 486 rushing attempts ranked sixth in the NFL last season, and 391 of those carries went to Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead. Now that Donald Brown has entered the fold, how will offensive coordinator Frank Reich divvy up the touches in the backfield?
Mathews finished seventh league-wide in 2013 with a career-high 1,255 yards rushing, Woodhead had the second-most receptions among running backs with 76 and Brown's 5.3 yards a carry was the second-highest rushing average last season. With that sort of production coming from three different options, the Chargers should finish with one of the top 10 rushing attacks next season.
How they perform individually could also help GM Tom Telesco in planning for the future. Mathews and Woodhead will be playing out the final year of their respective contracts.
Bruised Up Bolts
Jason Verrett (Shoulder)
The 25th pick overall in this year's draft was limited in OTAs as he continues to rehab from shoulder surgery. He dabbled in some positional drills the past few weeks but isn't expected to be fully able to participate until training camp, possibly August at the latest, per Eric D. Williams. In the meantime, Verrett will be working with veteran safety Eric Weddle to get up to speed before camp on July 24.
Dwight Freeney (Quad)
According to Williams, Freeney claims to be 100 percent healthy following a torn quad, which he suffered in Week 4 of last season. He too was somewhat limited in OTAs but returned in a more involved role during the team's minicamp. Given his confidence, Freeney should be ready to go by late July.
Manti Te'o (Foot)
Like Freeney, Te'o's involvement in practice came in baby steps. Still recovering from offseason foot surgery, the second-year linebacker slowly made his way back in OTAs. As Williams reported on June 9, Te'o was a full participant in practice and looks to be on schedule for training camp.
Nick Hardwick (Foot)
While not serious, Hardwick's injury in minicamp was enough to give fans a brief scare. He was able to walk off the practice field with help and watched practice from the sidelines the very next day, according to Williams. He is expected to be ready for camp.
Jeromey Clary (Shoulder, Hip)
Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego was first to report that Clary would be absent from OTAs and minicamp following shoulder and hip surgeries. He also reported Clary's status for training camp is unknown.
Improving upon the league's 29th-ranked pass defense was a primary focus of Telesco, and he wasted little time in addressing the need for a corner in the draft.
Verrett's impact will be felt rather quickly as soon as he's healthy enough to take the field. Even with the addition of Flowers, we should still see a large dose of Verrett whether he's in the slot or outside the numbers. This is the same player who had 38 pass breakups in two seasons at TCU.
Getting a pass rush going in San Diego was just as important as improving the secondary. With Attaochu on board, Pagano has a range of options to play with. Georgia Tech's all-time sacks leader explodes off the line of scrimmage and will make opposing quarterbacks pull the trigger just a bit early.
Te'o and Donald Butler have the most to benefit from Carrethers if he's able to crack the starting rotation at defensive tackle. Making tackles gets a whole lot easier when interior offensive linemen get swallowed up by a big nose tackle. Carrethers has the size, but can he get the playbook down?