The San Diego Chargers need to make a splash now.
The Chargers are probably the hungriest we've ever seen them. After too-early playoff exits and a failed bid to the 2010 NFL playoffs, the Bolts are ready to go on a tear.
The team needs it desperately.
Of course, the Bolts are going to need some key players to step up. And aside from the obvious dude who can produce big for San Diego in his sleep—Philip Rivers—others are going to have to take the spotlight and excel beyond expectations.
Those that do are going to make the Chargers instant Super Bowl contenders.
Each player is thrown into a different situation. Some players' situations may be a bit easier to handle than others, but regardless, some players have the tangibles—and usually, the intangibles, too—to succeed and have huge impacts on the Chargers' Super Bowl race in 2011.
Here are five San Diego Chargers who are going to have the biggest impact this season.
Philip Rivers has established himself among the elite class of NFL quarterbacks and has cemented himself into the top five quarterbacks in the league today.
Not only is he consistently in the race for league MVP, but he's also been the biggest reason for the San Diego Chargers' success the past three years.
Rivers' throwing motion may look like your five-year-old son trying to throw a pro-sized football, but somehow (after jumping!), he found success with it. He may the cockiest sucker on the team, but he has a right to be.
Rivers has thrown for 92 touchdowns and just 33 interceptions over the past three years; consider that he's also thrown for nearly 13,000 yards in that time span, and you just realized how great Rivers really is.
He's going to get his numbers; that's a no-brainer. What he needs is more from the rest of the players on this list.
Antoine Cason is a beast.
I'd leave the argument at that, but it's low class of me to not give you reasons as to why he's a beast or why he's going to have such a huge impact this season.
Cason proved that teams could no longer count the Chargers' secondary as only anchored by Eric Weddle and Quentin Jammer. In 2009, the Chargers finished 11th in passing yards allowed with Cason starting just one game. In 2010, the team finished first in passing yards allowed with Cason starting 15 games.
And that's not all: Cason hauled in four interceptions last year to go along with 57 solo tackles and—get this—a forced fumble. That's quite a stacked stat line for the team's second option at cornerback.
Now that Cason has established himself as a solid corner, he'll get to defend some of the best wide-outs in the game, especially considering the fact that Jammer is another year older.
If Cason builds up on last year's success, the Chargers' secondary is going to be hell for opposition.
Takeo Spikes was picked up by the Chargers this offseason, and for good reason: Spikes is one of the best tackling linebackers in the game, and last year the Chargers couldn't consistently stop the run to save their (playoff) lives.
Spikes is older now, but he's just as effective. He won't need to be the anchor on defense now that he's working in a 3-4 system (which is primarily suited to boost linebackers' statistics, because the defensive line does a lot of the dirty work) and the secondary behind him is set to work like a charm.
Spikes is going to be the spark plug on the Chargers' defensive unit for a plethora of reasons. He's going to be the dude that plugs up holes and stops big runs dead in their tracks, and he's also going to be the emotional veteran that gets his team pumped, much like he did with the Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers.
In essence, Spikes is going to bring an intangible that the Chargers really have never had but always needed: toughness.
Vincent Jackson wasn't exactly missed last year when he held out for about 75 percent of the football season; Rivers had one of the best seasons of his career and was on pace to break Dan Marino's passing yards record before VJ stepped in.
But if Rivers was throwing to Jackson as opposed to guys like Patrick Crayton and Malcom Floyd all season long?
Jackson is still an absolute freak; he's 6'5'' and can get past just about any defender. He uses his size extremely well and has the hands of a monster.
Rivers should have an MVP-type season, but if Jackson can get back to playing football and not thinking about dollar bills, the Chargers offense in 2011 should be one of the most explosive units in the past 10 years.
Mike Tolbert turned a lot of heads in San Diego when he rushed for four yards per carry and banged in 11 touchdowns in 2010.
Tolbert was a pleasant surprise in a tumultuous season in San Diego; he provided hard running and smash-mouth football when Rivers wasn't airing it out for touchdowns. Tolbert isn't afraid to put his head down and power the ball for the yards he deserves.
The Chargers haven't had a running back that's capable of turning San Diego into a tough team that's capable of running the ball down the opposition's throat, in their faces for the past 10 years. (LaDainian Tomlinson may have been legendary and elusive, but he sure as hell wasn't smash-mouth.)
Tolbert could absolutely push the Chargers into the category of "tough" if he gets more reps and builds on what he did last year. He's 26 years old and, typically, running backs have their best seasons at the age of 26.
This might be bold, but if I'm right, the Chargers might be stepping into entirely new territory come February.