Okay Chargers fans, lets face it despite the reasoning, the Chargers have lost a handful of good players over the past few years. Shawne Merriman, Antonio Cromartie, LaDainian Tomlinson, Brandon Manumaleuna, Chris Chambers,Igor Olshansky,Kassim Osgood, and Jamaal Williams amongst others. It looks very much Like Darren Sproles is on his way out as well.
Sure, there are a lot of variables to factor in, and I also know that some of their performance was slipping, some were locker room distractions some weren't affordable and some were getting old. But lets face the facts, The Chargers have dumped 8 pro bowlers over the past 3 years. Outside t he Charlie Whitehurst trade with Seattle, I cant remember a trade where the Chargers got anything that remotely resembled a good deal.
So I turn to the draft. Wow, the Chargers used to dominate. The 2005 and 2006 draft classes were perhaps the best in the NFL. A.J Smith became known as a scouting genius, and the Chargers won the AFC West four times in a row. However, since 2006 , I don't even think the Chargers have fielded a " moderate' draft class.
If the Chargers continue to filter good players out, and draft guys that spend most of their time on Injured reserve, the Chargers will continue a downward spiral. And before you start thinking I've forgotten about Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates, I haven't. I just am starting to think they are starting to resemble Dan Fouts , Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow.
Tremendous individual talents who didn't quite have the supporting staff to pull off the Lombardi trophy. Ironically its Philip Rivers who gets all the blame when the Chargers don't succeed in the playoffs. Articles get written saying his legacy is like Fouts or Dan Marino, best quarterback without a ring, the Chargers window of opportunity is closing. etc..
But guess what. This could be the year that all of that talk is proven to be garbage. If the Chargers have a chance to win the Superbowl , it is going to take more than a few great players, its gonna take a bunch of new guys to rise up and contribute for something more than just the salary cap. Something has to be different than the previous years, and new players must fill the voids and complete the puzzle.
Taking a look at the inventory:
Quarterback play- Excellent
Receiving corps- Outstanding
Offensive line- Above average
Running game- Average
Defensive Line- slightly above Average
Linebackers - Good but not great
Secondary- Above average
Cornerbacks- Above average
Special teams- Horrendous
Okay, that last one was a given, and I think that will be addressed. Assuming the personnel change and new special teams coach just become average, the Chargers will make the playoffs.But still somehow, they need the extra spark to be truly electrifying. Lets start with Bob Sanders.
If he plays up to expectations, and stays healthy opposite of Eric Weddle,the Chargers secondary will be a lot more exciting. Big hits do more than just excite the crowd, they change the momentum, and fire up the defense.
Marcus Gilchrist- CB
I imagine he will be used quite a bit this season in nickle packages, and probably safety blitzes. He will bring a lot of speed and athleticism to the Chargers secondary, and will be doing the kick returning as well. A guy like Gilchrist is in the perfect system. He will be experimented, and not expected to be a starter. Some people thrive in these settings and make a huge impact.
Donald Butler ILB Butler is also a young strong and extremely fast athletic linebacker who never hit the field due to injury last year. He has had time to learn the playbook, the calls, and I look for him to explode onto the scene this year. This might also create more opportunity for Larry English as well. Butler was the strongest linebacker in the entire 2010 draft, and had an incredible career at Washington. He is coming onto the scene hungry, and eager for his chance, also most offenses wont factor him, so he's in the perfect setting to make his mark.
Corey Liuget Looking at the Chargers Defensive line, as a fan, I'd have to call them lackluster. Although their current roster boasts three first round picks: Travis Johnson, Luis Castillo, and Corey Liuget, the duo of Jacques Cesaire and Antonio Garay have been making the bulk of the big plays. Liuget must come in strong as a rookie, and give the Chargers that spark they are missing up front. If he draws double teams as expected in the 3-4, he could really open up some play for Ogdembi Nwagbuo and Vaughn Martin. As well as free up some lanes for the linebackers. Liuget doesn't need to be dominant, but if he applies the pressure that is expected of him, the whole defense could benefit form it.
Although much more was expected of him than he showed last season, I look for him to have a breakout season this year. He's a guy with something to prove. Yeah, he fumbled 9 times last season, but so did LaDainian Tomlinson his rookie season. Mathews also spent a bit of the season with a sprained ankle. Coming back 100 percent and with something to prove, I think Mathews is going to light it up. If so, that will free the receivers up, and with Gates at Tight end, safeties are going to be thoroughly challenged, and exposed often.
Its crazy to see how the Chargers got this guy in the 6th round, he has one apparent weakness, his size, standing only at 5'9". But in the Chargers offense this guy could contribute huge right away. He can pass protect, huge for the Chargers (a passing team). But his greatest role will be catching out of the backfield. He's very similar to Darren Sproles. Very dangerous in the open field, and I imagine the playbook will have a few plays drawn specifically for him to do so. Before you start thinking I'm jumping the gun on Todman, lets just review how he stacked up to the 2011 drafts #1 selected running back Mark Ingram who was taken in the first round.
Bench Press : Ingram 21 reps Todman 25 reps
40 yard dash: Ingram 4.62 Todman 4.4
Vertical Jump: Ingram 21 Todman 38
Still not convinced?, just look at some youtube video on Todman. If this isn't a spitting image of a 2007 Darren Sproles, I don't know what is, or at least I couldn't find anything closer.
Seyi Ajirotutu WR
Ajjirotutu is very similar in stature and style with Malcom Floyd, and Vincent Jackson. Tall athletic, runs the deep routes well. With all the uncertainty of free agency, Jackson's demands, Floyd's contract expired, etc.. Ajirotutu may well become the Chargers number 1 receiver of the future.
Will it happen this year? Doubtful, I think personally Jackson will do great and Floyd will sign a deal. But in three receiver sets, and injury situations, this guy will come through big for the bolts.
As I look around Qualcomm stadium, I still see Cromartie, Merriman, and Tomlinson jerseys everywhere. I often wonder who the next batch will be. I think of the old Tina Turner song " we don't need another hero", but we need a handful of guys to come in and make a solid impact, after all it's a team game! With the leadership firmly in place, its up to these guys to complete the puzzle and bring the Lombardi to San Diego, Not Rivers or Gates.