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Stat of the Day: Young Blood

One of the things I've criticized the Chargers for in the past was not getting enough of an impact from their rookies in Year One.  Not because having success in that first year is a tell-tale sign that the rookie will have a production career, but because having a rookie (or several) in the starting lineup seems to invigorate everyone.  There's several reasons for this:

  1. The prideful veteran.  NFL players typically believe that they're great and invincible, even if neither is true.  They also try to ignore their age, as they know that 30 is like 60 in the NFL.  If a rookie comes in, playing their position or a similar position, they are determined to prove that they can outwork, outsmart and outlast the kid who might be 10-15 years younger than them.  It'd part personal pride and part worry that drives them to some of their best seasons.
  2. Getting back to basics.  This one is not hard to understand, but it so rarely happens without an impact rookie joining the team.  A successful veteran player, like all successful people, has habits.  Up to this point in his career, those habits have either helped or at least not hurt him in his job.  However, most people play better when they get "back to basics" and play the position the way it should be played.  While mentoring and teaching a rookie starter, many times a veteran player will remember something that he was told by a former coach but ignored.  Often times the veteran player will try it himself when he sees it working for the rookie.  This, more often than not, leads to a better season for the veteran player (who has now developed a new move, and therefore a new passion for the game/position).
  3. New personality, new roles, new fun.  One thing you always have to keep in mind is that these guys are coworkers.  Just like your coworkers, they have ones they like and ones they don't like.  They hang out during the week and go out after games.  If you've ever worked somewhere, or gone to school in an area, where the people surrounding you don't change for a few years you know how stagnant and boring things can get.  In those situations, nothing is more fun than meeting a new friend that fits right in with the group and has a bevy of stories, jokes and talents to raise everybody's spirits.  A football team is the same way, and a rookie starter has the potential to raise everyone's spirits because they're not out there thinking "I've done thing before."  Adding a new piece to the puzzle makes things new, fresh and exciting.
  4. Young talent helps old talent.  Nothing takes the pressure off of a football player quite like another talented football player at another position.  Antonio Gates wants to stop being triple-teamed?  Vincent Jackson can help with that.  Steve Foley wants to stop being double-teamed?  Nothing like a stud rookie OLB on the other side of the field.  As long as you're not playing their position, veteran players will love you as a rookie starter because it means you have the talent to take some pressure off of them (which obviously the last guy wasn't doing).

So why am I going through all this?  See for yourself after the jump.

2009 Chargers Starting Rookies (have started at least 1 game)

  • Kevin Ellison, SS
  • Louis Vasquez, RG
  • Ogemdi Nwagbuo, DT
  • Vaughn Martin, DE
  • Larry English, OLB

2009 Chargers "New Blood" (first-time starters or new-to-the-team starters)

  • Brandyn Dombrowski, RT/RG
  • Jon Runyan, RT (starting in the playoffs...probably)
  • Ian Scott, DT
  • Travis Johnson, DT/DE
  • Alfonso Boone, DE
  • Kevin Burnett, ILB
  • Brandon Siler, ILB
  • Steve Gregory, SS/CB
  • Scott Mruczkowski, C
  • Paul Oliver, FS (2 games in place of Weddle)

I know that second group doesn't seem as important, but it is.  Guys like Mruczkowski, Dombrowski, Gregory and Oliver (all switching positions with none or very little starting experience) still need help from the veterans around them, and guys like Scott, Burnett, Johnson, Boone and Runyan are all still learning a brand new defense and bring brand new personalities to the team.  A lot of these guys got starts as a result of injuries, but what I'm trying to say is that perhaps this team is better than the Chargers of years passed because they had those injuries and the new guys have come in and solidified themselves as viable starters.


2008 Chargers Starting Rookies

  • Jacob Hester, FB
  • Mike Tolbert, FB
  • Antoine Cason, CB

That's the whole list.  Cason starting one game in place or Antonio Cromartie.  Tolbert started the year as the starting FB and eventually lost his job to Hester when he was injured.  So outside of the FB spot, on a team that was moving away from the running game, there was not a lot of rookies on the field for the Chargers.

2008 Chargers "New Blood"

  • Eric Weddle, FS
  • Jyles Tucker, OLB
  • Tim Dobbins, ILB
  • Jeremy Newberry, C
  • Steve Gregory, SS
  • L.J. Shelton, LT (2 games in place of Marcus McNeill)
So not only are there a lot more rookies and new guys starting in 2009 than there was last season, but they're getting a heck of a lot more starts and there's more talent/production in the group.

Credit AJ Smith for finding replacement guys that not only are playing well, but fitting in with the locker room and invigorating the players that were already here.  Credit Norv Turner for making the whole thing work.  Credit the veteran players on the team for welcoming in the new guys instead of trying to shun them.  Any way you slice it, I think one of the biggest keys for the success for this Chargers team is the amount of new players that are being put in the starting roles each week and performing well.