(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Honestly, I can't make up my mind about how I feel about the Chargers heading into 2012. Obviously, there's a lot of off season left including the NFL Draft, but it's more than that. For every reason I find for optimism, I can find one to be pessimistic, too. So, rather than try to actually make a determination one way or the other, I'm just going to give you my reasons.
1. In spite of season ending injuries to their top two offensive linemen and a career worst year by Philip Rivers, the offense was still top five (top two in the AFC) by DVOA last season. It's hard to imagine the line being crippled by injuries the way they were in 2011 again this year and it's practically inconceivable that Philip Rivers won't (at least partially) return to form with a full off season to work out what ailed him.
2. Even with Vincent Jackson leaving for greener pastures (they're green because they're covered in money, I guess), the wide receiver corps is arguably better than it was last season. Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal bring a dimension to the offense with their speed that we haven't seen in San Diego in a long time. Royal, in particular, also opens things up a lot by replacing some of what Darren Sproles once gave the offense. Malcom Floyd is coming off his best season as a professional and if he can manage to stay on the field at least as much as he did in 2011, he'll be a consistently dynamic threat. Finally, Vincent Brown showed flashes of brilliance at times in his rookie campaign and this year will be his first full off season with the team.
3. By the end of the season, Antonio Gates was starting to look like Antonio Gates again. He's getting older, but he looked healthier than he had in years. San Diego Chargers fans know that Gates is one of the all time greatest receiving tight ends in NFL history, but I think they forget just what that really means. The key to the vertical passing game is controlling the center of the field and few players can do that half so well as a healthy Antonio Gates.
4. Le'Ron McClain brings a presence in the running game that the Chargers have lacked since they let Lorenzo Neal walk. Unlike Lorenzo Neal, Le'Ron McClain can actually run with and catch the football, so his being on the field doesn't telegraph to the defense exactly what's coming. There's a reason Ryan Mathews has been seen with a huge smile on his face and it's that his job got a lot easier with McClain in front of him.
5. Norval Turner is still the coach of the San Diego Chargers and Norval can coach up an offense. Regardless of what you might think about his abilities as a head coach and public speaker, the man is simply a phenomenal offensive mind. His offenses are almost always among the best in The League and he has a full off season to prepare and a host of new weapons at his disposal. Air Norval, ladies and gentlemen. Learn to love it.
When I look at that list I can't help feeling good about the offense heading into 2012. Tell me what I missed in the comments. And stay positive. We'll get to reasons for pessimism tomorrow.