As we all know, 2010 was a bit of a disappointing season for the Chargers considering the lack of wins that came with having the No. 1 offense AND defense. Some players performed well while others struggled to meet expectations. Whether it was an untimely fumble or missed tackle that spelled doom, the 2010 season came to unfortunate, playoff-less end. Now that a new season has finally crawled out from the depths of the NFL lockout, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with some of the sophomore players looking to solidify their spot on the roster. Let’s take a look at some of those players and what they have to offer in 2011.
Ryan Mathews, Running Back
Despite the fact that Mathews ran for 678 yards and seven touchdowns on 158 carries in 2010, I’d still consider his rookie season a bit of a disappointment. After a pre-season that left fans forgetting about recently-departed LaDainian Tomlinson, hopes may have been higher than Mathews was ready to handle. Fumbles, injuries and strong play by fellow running back Mike Tolbert all contributed to his lack of production. Now, a new season is upon us and a new opportunity awaits him. Mathews definitely has the potential to perform at an elite level in the NFL. He possesses tremendous power that allows him to burst through holes and picks up extra yards after contact with his ballerina-like balance. As long as he can stay healthy and continue to work on his fumbling problem, there’s no reason Mathews can’t prove himself to be the Chargers clear-cut No. 1 running back in 2011.
Donald Butler, Linebacker
Especially with the loss of both Kevin Burnett and Brandon Siler, the Chargers will need a big season out of this second-year linebacker. Butler, who spent his rookie season on the injured reserve list after tearing his Achilles tendon during training camp, will have plenty of opportunities to prove that he’s ready to be an NFL linebacker. Coming out of Washington last year, he was arguably one of the best linebackers in the 2010 draft class. He’s a big guy who finds ways to consistently make plays in the backfield and has great vision. Before the injury, he was expected to battle for a starting job. A disappointing year has now gone by and I can only assume that Butler is hungry for a chance to make an impact for the Bolts. We’ll see in 2011 what kind of answer he can give to all of those question marks hanging over his head.
Seyi Ajirotutu, Wide Receiver
The Chargers’ receiving corps has taken a couple hits this off-season with the loss of two of their players in Buster Davis (Buffalo Bills) and Legedu Naanee (Carolina Panthers). Even though Malcom Floyd has decided to return to San Diego, lingering injuries could limit his abilities to be as effective as he was in 2010. Even though the Chargers managed to secure Vincent Jackson for one more season, depth at the position is rather scarce. That’s where Ajirotutu comes in. After going undrafted during the 2010 NFL Draft, the Chargers brought in Mathews’ old teammate from Fresno State to bolster the receiving unit. Although he didn’t see the field until Week 7, he definitely made his presence felt. During the Chargers Week 9 win over the Houston Texans, he hauled in four passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns. He proved that he could be a viable option for Rivers and I expect more of the same in 2011.
Darrell Stuckey, Strong Safety
Prior to the beginning of the 2010 season, Stuckey was considered by many to be a huge sleeper. After he was drafted in the fourth round by the Chargers, talk immediately started to swirl that he was going to be able to lockdown the Chargers starting strong safety spot. He displayed confidence and swagger during training camp, fitting into the fold well alongside free safety Eric Weddle. Unfortunately, a groin injury hindered his ability to stay on the field, which cost him valuable learning time and set him back when he was finally healthy enough to play. He only saw the field during one game of the regular season, during which he had no impact. Now, the situation isn’t exactly ideal for him to start considering the fact that the Chargers brought in free agent safety Bob Sanders. Now it’ll be Stuckey’s responsibility to provide the secondary with tremendous depth and be ready if injury-prone Sanders goes down again.
Cam Thomas, Nose Tackle
After playing in a limited role in 2010, Thomas should find himself out on the field more in 2011. With the immergence of Antonio Garay as a dominant nose tackle, Thomas won’t be earning himself too many starts in the near future. He will, however, be seeing time as a backup in an effort to give Garay rest. More than anything, he’s a mountain of a man that can plug up the middle of a defense and will keep interior blockers off of the linebackers. He’s still young and will have plenty of time to grow as a nose tackle in the NFL. If he can learn from Garay and continue to build on the physical tools that he already has, he could eventually take over as the Chargers’ starting nose tackle or turn into trade bait.
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