With the San Diego Chargers' 53-man roster set, I want to compare where the team is today compared to where they were one year ago. How do the position groups match up to each other? On talent alone, has the team gotten better or worse?
QB (2009): Philip Rivers, Billy Volek, Charlie Whitehurst
QB (2008): Rivers, Volek, Whitehurst
Verdict: Equal. There's been no change, but Rivers enters 2009 with no questions about his health (as he did in 2008) and a year of learning how to carry an NFL team on his back. Volek looks more polished as he gets even more comfortable with Norv Turner's offense. Still, any improvements here have more to do with time and chemistry rather than any talent improvement.
See the comparisons and verdicts of the rest of the position groups after the jump.
HB (2009): LaDainian Tomlinson, Darren Sproles, Michael Bennett, Gartrell Johnson, Jacob Hester, Mike Tolbert
HB (2008): LT, Sproles, Hester, Tolbert, Andrew Pinnock
Verdict: Better in '09. The Chargers went into 2008 thinking that Hester could fit the role of power RB and backup to LT. He has shown himself to be a fine FB, but not an NFL-caliber running back. So, based on the fact that there is at least one decent backup to LT in 2009 (Bennett) and possibly another (Johnson), 2009 wins.
WR (2009): Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson, Buster Davis, Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee, Kassim Osgood
WR (2008): Chambers, Jackson, Davis, Floyd, Naanee, Osgood
Verdict: Equal. Same players, same result. Jackson, Floyd and Naanee may be better than they were at the start of 2008, but there's really no way of predicting that. The expectations for Chambers and Davis have dropped in the last year.
TE (2009): Antonio Gates, Brandon Manumaleuna, Kris Wilson
TE (2008): Gates, Manumaleuna
Verdict: Better in '09. Kris Wilson offers great blocking and good hands out of the 3rd TE position. Having a player like that on the end of the line (possibly next to Manu), offers a great improvement for goal line packages. Expect a lot of "Off Tackle" runs to his side when the Chargers are inside the opponents' 5 yard line.
OT (2009): Jeromey Clary, , Brandyn Dombrowski
OT (2008): Clary, McNeill, L.J. Shelton, Corey Clark
Verdict: Better in 2008. Although I really like Dombrowski, I'd certainly prefer to have 2 legitimate backup Tackles and a veteran mixed in there (like Shelton) makes me more comfortable as well. Shelton did a decent job filling in for McNeill in 2008, and it's always nice to have a proven commodity sitting on the bench should anything happen.
G (2009): Kris Dielman, Louis Vasquez, Tyronne Green
G (2008): Dielman, Mike Goff, Scott Mruczkowski
Verdict: Better in '09. Dielman is healthier than he was going into 2008, Goff was a train-wreck last season and has since flopped in KC, and Mooch is still on the team. Louis Vasquez brings a massive presence to the right side of the line that should eventually help balance it out.
C (2009): Nick Hardwick, Mruczkowski
C (2008): Hardwick, Jeremy Newberry, Cory Withrow
Verdict: Better in '09. Hardwick is healthy, which is the biggest improvement here, and Mooch is a better blocker than Newberry and Withrow combined. The reason the Chargers were able to go with only 8 offensive linemen is because Mruczkowski and Green can both play Center and Guard. Dombrowski can also play either Tackle or Guard.
DT (2009): Jamal Williams, Ogemdi Nwagbuo
DT (2008): Williams, Brandon McKinney
Verdict: Equal. Both McKinney and Nwagbuo are young and have shown themselves to be capable in the preseason. Regular work in the season will let the team know if Nwagbuo is ready to fill that backup NT slot long-term.
DE (2009): Luis Castillo, Travis Johnson, Vaughn Martin, Jacques Cesaire
DE (2008): Castillo, Igor Olshansky, Cesaire, Ryon Bingham
Verdict: Incomplete. For as bland as Igor was as the Chargers' DE, he stayed healthy and was consistent enough to almost never get bowled over. Cesaire's health will help determine if this group has been improved over 2008, as well as how well Travis Johnson can transition back to the 3-4 and if he's improved work ethic. Since neither is a starter, I'll call Martin and Bingham a tie.
ILB (2009): Kevin Burnett, Stephen Cooper, Tim Dobbins, Brandon Siler
ILB (2008): Dobbins, Siler, Matt Wilhelm, Derek Smith, Anthony Waters
Verdict: 2009, better by a long shot. Cooper wasn't on the initial 53 man roster from 2008 because he was serving a 4 game suspension, so that's a big improvement. Burnett has shown himself to be a major playmaker in the Chargers defense, which puts him leaps and bounds ahead of Wilhelm, Smith and Waters.
OLB (2009): Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips, Larry English, Jyles Tucker, Antwan Applewhite
OLB (2008): Merriman, Phillips, Marques Harris, Jyles Tucker
Verdict: 2009 wins. A healthy Merriman (remember, the Chargers knew he was planning on playing 2008 on a bad knee), plus a first-round draft pick, makes this an easy choice.
CB (2009): Quentin Jammer, Antonio Cromartie, Antoine Cason
CB (2008): Jammer, Cromartie, Cason, Cletis Gordon, DeJuan Tribble
Verdict: Tie. Gordon and Tribble don't bring anything to the 2008 group. Figuring that out helped the Chargers to take the risk and go with only 3 CBs in 2009.
FS (2009): Eric Weddle, Paul Oliver, C.J. Spillman
FS (2008): Weddle, Oliver
Verdict: 2009, but just barely. I don't know that Spillman will see a lot of time as a FS in '09, but he should be a force on special teams and could eventually develop into the backup FS or a starting SS.
SS (2009): Clinton Hart, Steve Gregory, Kevin Ellison
SS (2008): Hart, Gregory
Verdict: 2009, but just barely. Ellison brings something to the table in goal line situations (where he can't get burned deep), and I hope he can do something for special teams, but that's about it right now. If he continues to develop, keeping him this season will pay dividends in the future.
Special Teams (LS/K/P): David Binn, Nate Kaeding and Mike Scifres are rocks in this group. The Chargers, and their fans, are hopeful that this trio stays together for another five seasons.
Do you have a question for next week's mailbag? Don't hesitate to e-mail me directly with your question and I'll make sure to answer it before next week's game.