Darren Sproles may be gone, but Vincent Jackson is ready for Week 1 this year.
To start the 2011 campaign, the San Diego Chargers return only 32 players from the 2010 opening week roster. That means there are 21 new faces. Two of those "new faces" are 2010 holdouts Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill. Of the other 19, seven are 2011 draft picks, four were post lockout free agent signings, and one was 2011 undrafted free agent. Of the 21 players from 2010 that didn't make it to this year's team, only Shawne Merriman, Legedu Naanee, Darren Sproles, Kevin Burnett,
and Paul Oliver have a shot to contribute to another NFL team this year. The three position groups that saw the biggest change this off season were the wide receivers, secondary, and linebacking corps. Football purists will be pleased to note that both the offensive and defensive lines maintain the best continuity on the team. Let's take a position-by-position look at the Week 1 roster differences.
|2010 (4)||2011 (6)|
|Malcom Floyd||Malcom Floyd|
|Patrick Crayton||Patrick Crayton|
|Legedu Naanee||Vincent Jackson|
|Buster Davis||Vincent Brown|
Does anyone remember the Chargers entering the 2010 season with only 4 wide receivers? I certainly hadn't until I looked at my records. This group is vastly improved in 2011 almost purely because of Vincent Jackson. After VJ, there's a huge drop off with three guys with virtually zero regular season NFL experience vs the loss of Legedu Naanee and Buster Davis. We're carrying two additional receivers this year with emphasis on special teams with those spots (Goodman/Walters).
|2010 (3)||2011 (3)|
|Antonio Gates||Antonio Gates|
|Randy McMichael||Randy McMichael|
|Kris Wilson||Kory Sperry|
I think it's safe to say that Kory Sperry will be an upgrade over Kris Wilson this season, as Sperry has been widely reported to have had an extremely solid pre season, while Wilson developed a case of stone hands when he was most needed during the Antonio Gates injury.
|2010 (4)||2011 (4)|
|Ryan Mathews||Ryan Mathews|
|Michael Tolbert||Michael Tolbert|
|Darren Sproles||Jordan Todman|
|Jacob Hester||Jacob Hester|
The running backs are tough to judge as upgraded or downgraded with the departure of Darren Sproles to go along with the drafting of Jordan Todman. We can't exactly compare Sproles vs Todman straight up because it's so apples to oranges; Sproles was one member of a three back committee, while Todman will only contribute this year in case of injuries. I would propose that the 2011 version of the running backs is better because a committee of two will be have better rhythm and less play calling predictability (we hope).
|2010 (3)||2011 (2)|
|Philip Rivers||Philip Rivers|
|Billy Volek||Billy Volek|
In the quarterbacks, we have super stability and another roster spot lost to special teams. This position group is essentially unchanged.
|2010 (8)||2011 (8)|
|Kris Dielman||Kris Dielman|
|Nick Hardwick||Nick Hardwick|
|Louis Vazquez||Louis Vazquez|
|Jeromey Clary||Jeromey Clary|
|Tyronne Green||Tyronne Green|
|Brandyn Dombrowski||Brandyn Dombrowski|
|Scott Mruczkowski||Scott Mruczkowski|
|Adam Terry||Marcus McNeill|
I won't rehash the Marcus McNeill holdout or reanalyze the virtues of a consistent group of offensive lineman. This group is also essentially unchanged.
|2010 (8)||2011 (6)|
|Jacques Cesaire||Kris Dielman|
|Luis Castillo||Nick Hardwick|
|Antonio Garay||Louis Vazquez|
|Cam Thomas||Jeromey Clary|
|Vaughn Martin||Tyronne Green|
|Ogemdi Nwagbuo||Cory Liuget|
The 2011 defensive line got significantly younger and more explosive via first round draft pick Corey Liuget. The losses from 2010 were at the end of their careers (Alfonso Boone and Travis Johnson), or just struggling to hang in at the NFL level (OG Nwagbuo). It's interesting that in 2010 we talked about the versatility of our defensive lineman, and had a different batch active every week depending on match-ups, but have yielded roster spots this year for special teams.
|2010 (10)||2011 (11)|
|Shaun Phillips||Shaun Phillips|
|Larry English||Larry English|
|Stephen Cooper||Stephen Cooper|
|Kevin Burnett||Donald Butler|
|Brandon Siler||Takeo Spikes|
|Antwan Applewhite||Travis LaBoy|
|Jyles Tucker||Antwan Barnes|
|Shawne Merriman||Jonas Mouton|
|Brandon Lang||Andrew Gachkar|
|James Holt||Darryl Gamble|
The linebacking corps has undergone a complete and total makeover. If our expectations hold, and Stephen Cooper is IR'd after week 1, we'll be left with only two linebackers from 2010. The team has an odd patchwork of high mileage vets and totally untested youth this year. I'm going to label this group as a downgrade from 2010 due to the massive instability and unknowns.
|2010 (10)||2011 (10)|
|Quentin Jammer||Quentin Jammer|
|Eric Weddle||Eric Weddle|
|Antoine Cason||Antoine Cason|
|Darrell Stuckey||Darrell Stuckey|
|Dante Hughes||Dante Hughes|
|Steve Gregory||Steve Gregory|
|Paul Oliver||Bob Sanders|
|Donald Strickland||Marcus Gilchrist|
|Fred Bennet||Shareece Wright|
|CJ Spillman||CJ Wallace|
The defensive backs saw the second largest number of changes. All four personnel changes have been for the better. Bob Sanders blows Paul Oliver out. Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright have much more upside than Donald Strickland and Fred Bennett. C.J. Wallace is going to be a better special teams contributor than C.J. Spillman, because, well, how could he not be!?
|2010 (3)||2011 (3)|
|Nate Kaeding||Nate Kaeding|
|Mike Scifres||Mike Scifres|
|David Binn||Mike Windt|
With all due respect to Mike Windt, we're going to go ahead and label the specialists as a downgrade from 2010. There's no shame in losing out to the Michael Jordan of long snappers.
In summary, five groups ought to be better (WR, TE, RB, DL, DB), two ought to be roughly the same (QB, OL), and two may take a step back (LB, ST Specialists).