San Diego Chargers: 5 Success Stories Waiting to Happen
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Here we go again.
The San Diego Chargers have started a new season and the slate is clean once again. Last season, Antonio Garay proved that the hype surrounding his potential was warranted as he did a good job replacing beloved All-Pro defensive tackle Jamal Williams.
If the Chargers want to have any postseason success this year, they'll need a few more success stories along the way.
An obvious pick is Bob Sanders potentially returning to top form and leading the Chargers highly-ranked, but at times ineffective, run defense back to its glory days of 1998 when teams wouldn't even try to run the ball.
However, there are five other guys who also make for interesting stories.
Malcom Floyd Finally Starts the Entire Season and Stays Injury Free
Malcom Floyd makes another spectacular catch.
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Malcom Floyd is an elite receiver for the Bolts when he actually makes it on to the field, but he wasn't viewed that way in free agency. Floyd was well on his way to putting huge numbers in 2010 before he was once again struck down by the injury bug.
Last season, Floyd looked explosive at the beginning of the year and even had a 200-yard receiving game against the Oakland Raiders. That early-season play got him a look, but not a bite, in free agency. Floyd will be motivated to show other teams what they missed out on, and he'll also be playing on an incentive-based contract that could earn him up to $7 million over the next two seasons.
Floyd has big play and big payday potential, but will his body hold up?
Ryan Mathews Needs a Chip on His Shoulder If He Doesn't Have One Already
Ryan Mathews has the talent, but does he have the legs.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Mathews is being painted as lazy by some members of the media and nothing could be further from the truth. He is a 23-year-old guy who needed the guidance of the Chargers' training staff in the offseason and didn't get it.
The result? Mathews' legs cramped up during a conditioning assessment and he couldn't finish the drill.
I'm not concerned.
Players go down with leg cramps late in the season all the time, usually due to not having the right balance of salt and water in their system.
With that said, head coach Norv Turner passive aggressively made his disappointment clear when Mike Tolbert started Thursday night's game against the Seattle Seahawks. That's a ploy. If Mathews stays healthy, he's the unquestioned starter.
Mathews could use this "slight" as motivation for this season, but like Floyd, Mathews has to beat the injury bug. Unlike Floyd, Mathews also needs to beat the fumble bee, who stung him repeatedly in his rookie campaign.
Mathews exploded with five touchdowns over his last 71 carries of the 2010 season. If he can carry that production over into the 2011 and improve in the passing game, there is no reason why this guy can't be a superstar for the Bolts sooner rather than later.
Bryan Walters or Some Other Young Player Becomes an Effective Return Man
Bryan Walters shows off that incredible balance needed to be an NFL kick return man.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
To me, the kick and punt returner should be an extremely high priority for every team in the NFL, every season. The Chargers went years without having a Top Five offense, yet repeatedly finished in the top three in scoring because they always won the field position battle.
We all saw what happened last season. The Chargers finished No. 1 in both offensive and defensive yards and worst of all time in special teams, missing the playoffs in the process.
I was no fan of Darren Sproles last year because he had all the talent to be an elite kick returner, but put on weight in order to be a better running back. He may be a rare talent as a third-down back, but he's quite mediocre as a conventional running back and should not have given up his inhuman quickness by adding the extra 10 pounds to get to 185 pounds.
Did Sproles have an explosive return in all of 2010?
Enter first-year wide receiver Bryan Walters.
Walters shot through the middle on his first return of the season, used his blockers brilliantly and exploded into the endzone, which electrified the entire stadium.
Walters is nowhere near Sproles talent-wise (who is?), but if Walters can stick to being an effective kick returner and not worry about being an elite receiver, he can make more of an impact than the overweight Sproles did last season.
Coach Turner has said that people have been in his ear about Walter's knack for returning kicks and he was extremely pleased to see that show up in a game.
I won't rule out any of the other young players vying for a chance to make it as a returner, but Walters has won me over.
Eric Weddle Develops Sticky Fingers and Takes His Place Among the Elite
Eric Weddle is among the best safeties in the league, but he's not elite yet.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
AJ Smith haters love to bash the Chargers GM for trading up to draft Eric Weddle. I even heard some people say that Smith only paid Eric Weddle so much money in order to save face.
That is ridiculous.
The Chargers pass defense has been among the league's best since Weddle was drafted in 2007, and he's been a big part of that success. Big names like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady struggle when facing the Chargers secondary.
Unfortunately, Weddle's also been a big part of the insane number of dropped interceptions the Chargers have suffered since leading the league with 28 in Weddle's rookie season.
Weddle seems to be a smart guy and he has Quentin Jammer as a mentor, so I'm fairly certain he's working on his hands. His ability to catch the football is the only thing separating him from...
Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens.
Weddle is frequently in position to make a play, but he's lacked Reed's explosive playmaking ability. It's what makes Reed a Hall of Famer and Weddle a fondly-remembered Charger great.
The number of touchdowns that have been allowed after one of the Chargers defensive backs, namely Weddle, drops an interception is alarming, but have no doubt that Weddle can overcome this flaw in his game.
Jammer was able to do it.
Of course, by the time Jammer finally developed hands, there were no more passes being thrown to his side of the field. Weddle won't have that problem at safety.
Like Chambers Before Him, Spikes Is Determined to Make His First Playoff Run
The great veteran Spikes is hungry for playoff success.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
When I heard about the signing of Takeo Spikes by the Chargers, I was not excited. That is, until I heard him speak and this veteranship simply rang from his voice. He has the type of voice that says leadership.
I was surprised to hear that the Chargers were not interested in bring back Stephen Cooper until I read online that "No one hosts a party like Stephen Cooper and Shaun Phillips, of the Chargers."
I was equally surprised to hear that Cooper has re-signed with the Chargers, but that's not a bad thing.
In Spikes, the Chargers hope to bring in a great veteran who has never tasted the playoffs (Cooper has rarely missed the playoffs) and knows how lucky he is to be playing with an offense lead by Philip Rivers. If he can get the younger players to focus, along with Bob Sanders, his mere presence on the team makes the entire squad better.
It should be fun to watch the young guys try to get this great veteran to the playoffs for the first time in his career.