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Chargers Training Camp: Life After Jackson and McNeill

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This morning I woke up early to do an offeseason/preseason discussion about the Chargers with Fox Sports Radio 1340 in New Mexico (audio coming later today, probably). One thing you should know about me is that I am completely incapable of speaking coherently for the first half-hour or so immediately after waking up, so to get ready for the interview I had to get up a half-hour before the thing even started. This left me with plenty of time to think.

As I sat there contemplating what questions I might be asked, I started thinking "How will the Chargers offense look without Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill?" Before I could think up an answer myself, one came to me. It was in the voice and the words of a Chargers legend. I was remembering something he had told me last year. Suddenly, everything was clear, and I was no longer scared of playing football without our Pro Bowl WR and Pro Bowl LT.

If you remember, or were around, towards the end of last season you remember me interviewing Chargers' great Kellen Winslow. It was the following exchange from that interview that popped into my head while pondering the 2010 Chargers offense this morning:

If you're looking at Don Coryell's offense, the one that you were a part of, and comparing it to the Chargers' current offense...do you think one is better than the other?

It's the same thing.  It's just different terminology, it's the same thing.  It's based on the same premise.  Spread the field, find the mismatches and take advantage of the mismatches.  Put together personnel that gives you that mismatch. 

The only difference, in our offense against the current Chargers offense, is that we didn't do as many personnel changes.  For example, in my early days with the Chargers, we would start the game with two Tight Ends, two Wide Receivers and one Running Back.  And from that personnel, we would run every formation that we wanted to without changing personnel.  We could go to three wide, we could go to single-back, we could go to two Tight Ends, we could go to a flank position where two Tight Ends are on the same side and one's off the ball. 

We just ran everything we wanted to run from that situation, which made it very difficult for defenses to say "Okay, what are they going to do now?  How do we shift personnel?"  They had to go out and draft for that very specific need of "How do you stop the San Diego Chargers?"  Most teams, when they bring in two Tight Ends you know they're going with a two Tight End formation.  When they want to switch to three wide, you would know they were going to three wide because they'd bring in another Wide Receiver.  When they want to go to an I-formation, you'd see the Fulback come in.

Mind? Blown. Thank you again, Mr. Winslow, for your inspiration nearly 10 months later.

The Bolts have three Tight Ends that could be starters elsewhere in the NFL, all of which are excellent receivers and above-average blockers. Kris Wilson has spent time at TE, FB and WR. Antonio Gates and Randy McMichael have spent time at TE and WR. What if the Chargers were to always have two TEs in the game? Sometimes three? What if, instead of hoping Brandyn Dombrowski can play LT well-enough, the Chargers were planning on always having a TE next to him? That would certainly give Philip Rivers more time and more options, right?

The name of this game is versatility. Look at this:

Antonio Gates - TE/WR
Randy McMichael - TE/WR
Kris Wilson - TE/WR/FB
Mike Tolbert - FB/HB
Jacob Hester - FB/HB
Darren Sproles - HB/WR

Think there might be some mis-matches in there? We haven't even factored in the mis-matches the top 2 WRs create with their size and speed, nor have we even considered how well Ryan Mathews might be running behind a line with two TEs and a FB in front of him. Hell, we haven't even started discussing former QBs Gary Banks or Legedu Naanee. These are all toys for Norv to play with.

This year could be Norv's homage to the late, great Don Coryell. Imagine on one play, the Chargers come out with 3 TEs, with Malcom Floyd on the outside and Mathews in the backfield. On the very next play, with nobody subbing in or out, Floyd and McMichael are on the outside and Wilson becomes the FB in front of "Bam Bam" (with Gates playing TE). After that play, Wilson or Gates could slide out and the team would have 3 WRs in the Singleback formation. There's not a defense in the league that could defend all of those offensive sets with the same group of defenders, yet that is what Coryell forced teams to do and it's exactly what Norv could be thinking about doing.

In the words of #80, "We would start the game with two Tight Ends, two Wide Receivers and one Running Back.  And from that personnel, we would run every formation that we wanted to without changing personnel.  We could go to three wide, we could go to single-back, we could go to two Tight Ends, we could go to a flank position where two Tight Ends are on the same side and one's off the ball."

I'm not saying the 2010 San Diego Chargers offense will be nearly as explosive or good as the 2009 offense, but perhaps there's less here to worry about than a lot of people think. Josh Reed wasn't Vincent Jackson's replacement and Tra Thomas wasn't McNeill's, but with the addition of Randy McMichael and a slight shift in philosophy the Chargers may have found a way to replace both. A team that can be this good, and this versatile, will keep the defense on it's toes and dictate the pace of the game.

I'm excited, how about you?