The San Diego Chargers offense was a mirage of sorts last year, ranking 5th in yards per game, but only 12th in scoring. This comparison directly points to Red Zone inefficiency, as the Chargers ranked 23rd in the league, scoring a touchdown 51% of the time. Sure, they were able to move the ball around, but they weren't as successful moving the ball into the end zone. The question has to be asked: Why were the Chargers in the bottom half of the league when they were inside their opponents 20-yard line?
Answer: The Offensive Line.
The addition of RT D.J. Fluker on draft day shored up the right side of an offensive line that had seen more interchanging then the I-5/State 56 route. Fluker was no fluke and he seems to have gained the respect of his team as one of the lynchpins of the Chargers offense for years to come. That much is certain.
Every other OL position isn't.
On the opposite side of the line is big King Dunlap. And whatever I end up writing in the next few sentences, please don't tell him. I may have to interview him some day. So I'll begin by saying Dunlap easily surpassed expectations as he more than held his own against elite defensive rush ends. But he was only signed to a two-year contract, and year 2 begins in just a few days (March 11). And without the prospect of falling off the NFL map because of terrific 2013 like he very well could have, will Dunlap be as dedicated to make the leap from solid to pro-bowler? His long frame is a fantastic when he's on the field, but those long extremities also lead to the occasional ding here and there. If Dunlap has another solid season, will it be enough for GM Tom Telesco to reward King Behemoth a long term contract? That's a question that may be answered if we see the Chargers skip on OL come draft time. That would be a mistake.
Maybe the most endearing player on the offensive line, C Nick Hardwick has personified toughness and consistency. Luckily, last month he said he was playing for one more year, but beyond that, nothing is promised out of the 11-year veteran. Hardwick will have another hard decision after next year. His backup, Rich Ohrnberger, stepped in valiantly when Hardwick went down at the end of they year, but I'm not sure anyone can say definitively if Ohrnberger will be the one to step right in long-term once Hardwick hangs up his cleats. Surely the Chargers won't go C in the first round, but don't be surprised if they go and grab one in rd 3 or 4.
The Chargers signed LG Chad Rinehart as a free agent last year and the returns have been mostly positive. Rinehart was an integral part of last years' free agent class; the type of guy that you could count on to hold his own play after play. Rinehart was no flashy gem, just a solid chunk of granite. A perfect piece sandwiched between a walking giant and a soon to be Chargers legend.
On the right side was Jeromey Clary, and I can already hear the sighs of frustration. Clary, for his part, has done whatever has been asked of him. He's seen snaps at RG, LG, RT and LT and if the coaching staff asked him to hike the ball a few times, he would probably be more then willing to do that too. Clary just doesn't do it well enough. And that's probably where he falls: Jack of all trades, master of none. Last year, the Chargers ranked 29th in first down runs (20) converted to the right side. We all know Fluker excels in the run game, which leaves only the guy to Fluker's left side to blame. Perhaps that's to blame for the Red Zone inconsistency.
By my count that's 3 question marks (LT,C,RG) for an offense that has shown its hand heading into year two of the Mike McCoy era. Philip Rivers isn't getting any younger and he surely isn't getting any faster. And though the 2013 offensive line exceeded all expectations, its time to invest a high pick on someone who will give Rivers an extra second and a half to get off a pass, or Ryan Mathews an extra seal block to break a Red Zone first down.