Former NFL GM Pat Kirwan had an article where he posed 13 questions every NFL team should ask itself to find out if they truly have depth. Kirwan felt these questions were the greatest ways to qualify if your team has solid roster depth or not.
Kirwan concluded this with 2 top teams and 5 honorable mentions. San Diego didn't make the list, so I thought it'd be interesting to go through and answer these questions as objective as possible to see if depth is still an issue for the Chargers.
1) Do you have a QB that can go at least 2-2 in a four-game stretch?
San Diego brought in Kellen Clemens to compete for the backup quarterback job in the offseason. Clemens started the final 9 games for the Rams last year, going 4-5 down the stretch. Even though he wasn't in the most ideal situation, you don't have to be a QB guru to know that 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions doesn't scream production. Factor in his accuracy percentage is the same as names like Terrelle Pryor and Brandon Weeden, and let's just say Clemens doesn't have my vote of confidence.
Brad Sorenson has a rocket arm and I could see him winning a game just by making a few "wow" throws. Heck, he might even get hot and put together a really good game. I don't see Sorenson putting together a streak of games just yet to where you could confidently put him on the field and expect him to perform and win against starting NFL defenses.
2) Does your team have a real swing offensive tackle, a guy that can play left or right tackle and has experience?
It's unfortunate Mike Harris' 2013 season ended before he could finish his 3rd start. No one will ever confuse Harris with Walter Jones, but he showed that he was worlds better than his rookie season where he was seemingly thrown into a typhoon-type storm without a life jacket and asked to keep his head above water. Harris seemed to really benefit from San Diego's new passing scheme, but also looked better as a run blocker. Harris looked more aware, stronger, and in better shape. Assuming he can get back healthy, the answer to this question is yes, based on the limited sample size we saw a year ago.
3) Does your team have a solid inside offensive lineman that can play guard or center?
The Chargers actually have two. Rich Ohrnberger proved that he can come in and play center during the wild card win against the Bengals. Though 3rd round rookie Chris Watt (who has been taking reps at center) hasn't played a snap in the NFL, he's being prepared for this exact role.
4) Is there a quality second running back that can deliver a 100-yard rushing day if he had to start?
How many teams can answer yes to this? Off the top of my head, I couldn't name too many. Donald Brown has never had more than 18 carries in a game in his NFL career. He has had two 100-yard games, and four 80-yard games. Brown showed that he can run the ball effectively in between the tackles last year and not go down on first contact. Given the fact this was behind a dreadful Colts offensive line, I think Brown could deliver a 100 yard performance if called upon.
5) Is there a good second tight end on the roster?
Yes, Antonio Gates is a Hall of Famer.
(Save your pitchforks, the obvious answer is yes.)
6) Can the 3rd wide receiver step up and start in the 2-WR packages if a starter went down?
This is tricky, but I'd say no. This is where San Diego had problems a year ago.
Based off of last year, Vincent Brown will need to show real improvement coming off injury. He'll have to do so in actual games instead of hearing rave reports that he's tearing it up in practice. This year will be telling, but he was phased out of the offense in the final few weeks of the season last season, and for good reason.
Eddie Royal isn't the same speedy wideout since he's battled so many injuries. He's not a precise route runner and that hurts when it comes to what's asked for the receivers in this offense. When Royal was productive last year, I believe that was largely due to the scheme. Lined up outside, he had a tough time getting open against quality corners.
7) Does your team have a designated pass-rush specialist who could play the early downs if need be?
If you disagreed with my last answer, you're surely going to hate this one. I don't believe so, to answer the question.
Preferably, you'd like to keep Dwight Freeeney on a snap count to keep him fresh for obvious passing downs. Freeney isn't a liability versus the run, but if Jarret Johnson goes down, the run defense is in big trouble. You don't want Freeney, Melvin Ingram, or 2nd round draft pick Jeremiah Attaochu lined up on the strong side to stop the run. Attaochu had trouble against the run in college. Both he and Freeney are ideal pass rushers, but I'm not sold on their value as every down players.
8) Is there a 3rd defensive tackle that not only plays in a rotation but could play the whole game if need be?
This was my biggest pet peeve of the offseason, specifically free agency. Why did the team neglect to bring in bodies up front? Lissemore can play up and down the line of scrimmage, but he's penciled in as the starting nose tackle. I don't see any backup lineman on the roster you could trust playing 40-50 snaps.
9) Is there a quality nickel corner on the roster, since most teams are at least 50 percent sub defenses?
Jason Verrett is probably going to be very good in this role. The fact that he's a rookie and is an unknown makes me answer this a no. After QB, I'd argue nickel corner is the hardest position to play in football. So expecting a rookie to excel in this spot is asking a lot. Quality? No, not yet.
10) Is there a 4th corner for dime packages?
Probably contradicting myself here, but assuming San Diego signs Brandon Flowers, yes. Trotting out Flowers + Verrett + Shareece Wright + Steve Williams might not cause Peyton Manning to check to a run, but for what San Diego wants to do on defense, this is a solid group with young players who can develop.
11) Is there a 3rd safety for big nickel defenses?
This is what the Chargers did a lot last year (probably because they didn't trust their corners). He's no Rodney Harrison, but Jahleel Addae was one of the few bright spots in the secondary last year. He rarely blew coverages, and was in the right position for the most part. For an UDFA, Addae played very well and could potentially be a gem on this defense.
12) Is there a return specialist that can either handle both punt and kick returns or contribute as a real position player?
Yes and no.
I've long wondered why Marcus Gilchrist doesn't get any action as a returner. We know he can contribute as a (replacement level) safety, but in my opinion, the best way to maximize his skills would be to let him return. It seems like he's not that fast because he doesn't come off as the most instinctive player, but he did run a 4.45 40 yard dash. He also had some success in college where he returned 59 kicks and punts.
Is this player on the roster? Yes. Will they use him as such? No.
13. Does your team have a special-teams linebacker that leads the special teams and can play inside linebacker in a pinch?
I think once we get a chance to see him play, fans will be surprised by the athleticism of free agent signee Kavell Conner. He's big, fast, and very athletic. This role is perfect for him.
Does San Diego still have depth issues?
That's 6 solid no's out of 13. The Chargers have certainly improved their depth from a year ago. However, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done if they won't to get back to the mid to late-2000 rosters that were incredibly deep. It's only year 2, and Tom Telesco is certainly headed in the right direction. Hall of Fame coach
Marv Levy has a great quote about depth....
"Depth is good, until you have to play them" - Marv Levy