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Why D.J. Fluker Is San Diego Chargers' Best Bet at Right Guard

Marcelo Villa@@_marcelovillaFeatured Columnist IIIJune 11, 2015

Dec 7, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) reacts at tackle D.J. Fluker (76) after being sacked during the third quarter against the New England Patriots at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The San Diego Chargers are standing behind the decision to keep D.J. Fluker at tackle, even if guard is where he should be playing next season.

General manager Tom Telesco was asked in February if the team had plans to move Fluker inside following a dismal performance at right tackle, in which he allowed seven sacks and 36 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (h/t Christopher Hansen of Bleacher Report), but the answer remains the same. "Right now, DJ is our right tackle and we're pretty happy with him there," Telesco confidently stated in front of reporters at the scouting combine (h/t Ricky Henne of Chargers.com)

"We think he has the ability to probably play a couple different spots. But right now, the plan is to leave him out there."

Fluker, a former first-round draft pick, has started every game he's played in since he entered the league in 2013. His first season with the Chargers was a memorable one, as he helped them end a four-year playoff drought. For his efforts, Fluker was recognized on the 2013 All-Rookie Team, as voted on by the Pro Football Writers of America.

Bleacher Report NFL 1000, which ranks the top 1,000 players by position, was also privy to Fluker's dominance. Out of 35 right tackles, he was ranked ninth.

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But as many first-year players have come to find out, it's never easy replicating the success you might have had as a rookie. Fluker experienced a sophomore slump in 2014, or as he referred to it in a press conference last week—a sophomore funk (h/t Henne of Chargers.com). "Everyone has that second year where they are kind of a little bit iffy but this year I’ve been working my tail off to get better."

Fluker faced some of the best pass-rushers in the NFL last season, and more often than not, they beat him to the punch. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, who the Chargers face twice a year, was a prime example of this last season.

In this snippet from Week 7, Houston overpowers Fluker with a bull rush, knocking him to the ground and sacking Philip Rivers for an eight-yard loss. 

NFL Game Rewind

Houston utilized a similar technique in the season finale, except this time he uses the bull rush to stun Fluker momentarily before shifting his path inside, where he manages to grab a hold of Rivers and force a fumble.

NFL Game Rewind

To his credit, Fluker wasn't pleased with his performance in 2014, so he did something about it. Down seven pounds from 350, and hopeful to drop another 10 by the start of the season, Fluker is convinced that slimming down is the key to a bounce-back year, no matter how small the weight loss.

Five pounds actually makes a difference in how you play. You might think two pounds don’t make a difference, but it actually does. If there is a down block you’ve got to get, you’re not quick enough to get there. Or that reach block you’ve got to get. Five pounds makes a difference.

But even if Fluker reaches his goal of weighing close to 330 pounds, that still doesn't change the fact that the Chargers had some of the worst guard play in football last season. Johnnie Troutman, last year's starter at right guard, received the lowest grade at his position from Pro Football Focus. The offensive line can only be as good as the weakest link, and Troutman isn't setting the bar real high right now.

Moving Fluker to guard eliminates Troutman from the equation while playing to Fluker's strengths as a run-blocker. Joe Barksdale, who the Chargers signed in free agency, would be the top candidate to replace Fluker at right tackle. He logged 29 starts over the past two seasons for the St. Louis Rams and has five years experience under his belt.

Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune believes the Fluker-Barksdale combo could work in theory, but he brings up an important point—Fluker has never played guard before. Asking him to do so now when his confidence isn't at its highest may not be ideal, but if he and Barksdale are convincingly superior to what the Chargers played with last season, why should that matter?

As it turns out, Fluker revealed that he got a little work in at guard during OTAs, so at the very least San Diego is considering it. And Fluker himself is open to anything, telling reporters, "Honestly, to me, it is whatever the team needs me to do. To play right tackle, right guard or left tackle, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m just going to play. That is how I see it."

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