The poll found in favor of going optimism first, but cameronm was more persuasive than poll results. Today, we begin addressing the San Diego Chargers' offensive line and we do so by first focusing on the negative.
1. Four new starters
Now, this might sound like good news at first because last year's offensive line was incredibly awful. In that sense, it is a positive. However, continuity is at a premium along the offensive line. Returning last year's line would have been worse than turning over 80% of the starters, but that doesn't change the fact that starting five guys that have never played together is unlikely to return great results. Chargers fans can only hope that this unit sees better in-season continuity than last year's which was among the worst in football by that (and just about any other) measure.
2. Max Starks is a very average player
Starks is a big, strong, slow offensive tackle. All three of those adjectives deserve roughly equal weighting. For our purposes, though, we'll be focusing on slow. Starks' immobility does a lot to detract from his more positive traits. He struggles to get to the second level when blocking on running plays. His strength is in the passing game, and as a pass protector he is only average. He has shown the ability to start all 16 games, but that's more thanks to his willingness to play through nagging injuries than an ability to stay healthy. And while he'll play in all 16 games if given the chance, those nagging injuries have a tendency to make the average tackle perform well below average. Granted, below average is still better than what the Chargers had at left tackle in 2012.
3. D.J. Fluker is playing out of position
The only player on the Chargers' offensive line this year that could project as an All Pro is D.J. Fluker. Unfortunately, he projects as a potential All Pro at offensive guard. He won't be playing offensive guard. He'll be asked to start at right tackle as a rookie where he'll get to face Von Miller twice. Fluker's weakness is his slow feet. He struggles with speed rushers because of this weakness. He's an absolute mauler in the run game and is difficult for defenders to get around if he can get his hands on them. This is why he's potentially an All Pro talent on the inside. Fluker will likely be a passable right tackle, but he'll only be forced to play there due to the lack of another true right tackle on the roster.
4. Louis Vasquez is gone
The big offensive guard out of Texas Tech was by far the best offensive lineman on the Chargers last season. He was the only regular not to give up a sack. He was also a solid contributor in the running game. It's understandable that this year's team couldn't afford to spend cap space on a player like Vasquez, but that doesn't change the fact that they'll miss him on Sundays. The players that will compete for Vasquez' spot are an unproven second year player coming off an injury, a converted right tackle and a journeyman backup. You might be a fan of the potential of Johnnie Troutman, Jeromey Clary or Chad Rinehart, but they've done nothing to show you that they're capable of filling the shoes of Vasquez.
5. Nick Hardwick is old
The only remaining starter from last year, Center Nick Hardwick, has already started showing signs of age and he's unlikely to be any younger this season. Hardwick has been a very solid contributor for the Chargers since he was drafted in 2004. Even in 2012 with Tyronne Green lined up to his left, Hardwick wasn't the problem. However, it was still his worst full season as a professional. Time runs out on even the best players, and unless the Chargers are lucky, it appears to be running out on their long-time Center. I've been a fan of Hardwick's for years now, and it pains me to admit it, but he's visibly not the same player he once was. I'm holding out hope that he was just dinged up and forced to make up for a terrible supporting cast last year, but age 31 isn't typically a big bounceback year for guys that have to carry as much weight as an offensive lineman.
Here's to hoping I'm wrong and we'll look at the reasons to be optimistic later.