There have been a lot of small questions popping up about the San Diego Chargers and the direction of their 2010 season in the last few months.
How will Jamal Williams be replaced?
What will the team do without Vincent Jackson? Without Marcus McNeill?
When Will Shawne Merriman report?
However, two big questions have loomed over the Chargers and their fans since the beginning of last season, and they are the two questions that keep people like me up at night in cold sweats.
The first concerns the Chargers' running game. What happened to it? How will they fix it?
What happened to it is a clouded story. Depending on who you ask, you will get a number of different answers.
The first answer, one that a Chargers personnel man will give you, is that San Diego has become a pass first team. Philip Rivers is undoubtedly in charge of this team, and the fact that he is getting a lot of attention now has contributed to the drop in production.
The second answer, one that most fans will give you, is that the Chargers lacked a truly productive back.
They will tell you that LaDainian Tomlinson isn't the player he used to be (which is true to a certain extent), and that Darren Sproles can only do so much. This answer, like the previous one, holds some merit. LT isn't the running back he used to be, and a back as small as Darren Sproles can only take so much punishment.
However, neither of these answers seem to account for the fact that the Chargers were a dismal 31st in the league in rushing in 2009. Here's one that might.
The simple fact is that, when the Norv Turner regime began in San Diego, the Chargers' running game changed.
Turner, renowned for his ability to build successful quarterbacks, turned San Diego into a passing team. This did not just affect the amount of snaps given to running backs, but it changed the way that wide receivers and offensive lineman blocked, and it changed the way the Chargers used sets and personnel (like fullbacks).
So, will the addition of Ryan Mathews change this?
The answer isn't so black and white.
Yes, Mathews will help. He will complement Darren Sproles very well, and will be able to pick up tough yardage on third-and-short situations.
At the same time, though, the offensive philosophy won't change, and that could potentially hold the Chargers' rushing offense back a little bit.
The second question concerns the defense. Mainly, everyone is wondering just exactly where it went. The rushing defense last year was poor at best, and the passing defense hasn't been much better.
Since the amazing turnover and sack production in both 2006 and 2007, the Chargers' defense has failed to stun teams, but rather has old enemies licking their chops.
Some of this can be attributed to personnel problems.
Jamal Williams, defensive tackle extraordinaire, spent a lot of time out or slowed by injury. Quentin Jammer and Eric Weddle were the only constants in the secondary. Shawne Merriman has been recovering from an ugly knee injury.
Some of the problem can also be attributed to coaching changes. Ted Cotrell was fired mid-season in 2008 and was replaced by former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.
Rivera is a great coordinator, but his previous experience was with running a 4-3 and Tampa Two defense, vastly different from the Chargers' 3-4.
The transition had its hitches, but Rivera seems to really be taking hold of his defense.
That is the first in a list of positives that seem to say that the Chargers' defense has the chance to really perform once again.
With a new, promising safety in Darrell Stuckey and great competition brewing with Quinton Teal, Paul Oliver, and Steve Gregory, a new and rejuvenated defensive backfield should emerge.
Shawne Merriman is also one year removed from his knee injury, which should mean that he will begin returning to true form. If not, Larry English and Jyles Tucker have proven quite capable so far this year.
Jamal Williams has been replaced by Cam Thomas, the 330 lb monster from North Carolina.
Everything seems to be looking up for the Chargers defense, so, will the defense return to form?
Maybe not to the level everyone saw in 2006 and 2007, but this certainly will not be a defense to take lightly.