There has been a lot of talk surrounding Joe Barksdale being both an option at Right Guard and at back-up Swing Tackle. This is due to both the length and the price of his recent deal. Neither should be the case for two reasons.
The first is the obvious choice: D.J. Fluker should be flipped inside to Right Guard. The argument is always "it's either DJ Fluker or Joe Barksdale at Right Tackle" and that is the wrong way to view the Chargers' Offensive Line. It's not "either or"; it should be both.
It's more about phasing Johnnie Troutman out of the starting lineup than choosing between Fluker or Barksdale. By having both on the field, you have two starting-caliber offensive lineman that could potentially make each other better.
More importantly, you are also maximizing the talent on your roster. Joe Barksdale is a Tackle and not much more. It's not that he can't play Guard, but rather that he'd be much better suited as a Tackle. DJ Fluker, on the other hand, has the skill-set that could translate to a starting NFL-caliber Guard. So having Barksdale at Right Tackle isn't saying Fluker can't play there. Rather, it's that the combination of Barksdale at Right Tackle and DJ Fluker at Right Guard that is better than the other way around.
The second reason Joe Barksdale should be in the starting lineup is because of another Chargers signing this offseason: the addition of Swing Tackle Chris Hairston. Though the Hairston pick-up may not be the most thrilling addition to the Chargers' lineup, it is another sneaky good move by Tom Telesco to upgrade the depth at one of the weakest position groups from a year ago. If either Tackle did go down with an injury, and Chris Hairston was called on to bookend either spot on the line, the Chargers would be in a better position than they have been in years.
Before we take a look at some of Chris Hairston's strengths and weaknesses, I think it's important to mention Chris Hairston is an Offensive Guard in name only. Last year, 6 days into Bills OTA's, Chris Hairston was moved from Left Tackle to Left Guard playing Guard for the first time ever in his football career. Of his 38 total snaps last year with the Bills, none of them were at Guard, and it's even more telling because Buffalo had terrible interior line play in 2014 from both Erik Pears and Cyril Richardson. Of course, Joe D'Alessandris could have other plans but you could go ahead and pencil Hairston in for backup swing tackle duties.
Chris Hairston was drafted by the Bills in 2011 and played under Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris for two years before Joe D left for San Diego. Hairston started 15 combined games in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, Hairston suffered a leg injury in training camp and missed the entire season. Just last year, he was pushed down the depth chart as a back-up Swing Tackle, seeing limited playing time. We're gonna take a look at some tape of Chris Hairston in 2012 when he was starting at Right Tackle for the Bills.
Here, Hairston is lined up at Right Tackle (left of the video) and he is matched up with Vince Wilfork (#75). You can see Hairston get leverage on Wilfork and take him to the ground.
Not only does Hairston show good leverage, he also excels at pinning and turning defenders, creating running lanes. Again, lined up at Right Tackle, this time with no Tight End, it is a designed run to Hairston's side. Hairston works then-Texans Outside Linebacker, Brooks Reed, to the outside and just turns him, creating a giant running lane for CJ Spiller and a gain of 22 yards.
This time, instead of forcing the defender outside, Hairston pushes Rob Ninkovich inside, freeing up Fred Jackson for another big gain.
Flip Chris Hairston over to the opposite side and he shows the same push inside. Lined up at Left Tackle (right of the video), the run is up the middle but Hairston is able to drive Defensive End Justin Smith across the line. Bonus: Look at that hit at the end--nasty.
Chris Hairston held up nicely in pass protection as well. Here he is at Right Tackle and he gets his hands inside and arms extended.
I was curious to see him matched up with J.J. Watt and of the three encounters they saw each other, I had Hairston winning his battle twice. Hairston started off with his hand outside but was able to get in Watt's chest as he went to jump and swat at the ball.
No Spin Zone
One thing that did stand out was Chris Hairston's ability to counteract the spin move from opposing defenders. Hairston stayed disciplined and was able to sustain his block through the spin. Here are two examples:
Brooks Reed no spin move for you.
Rob Ninkovich no spin move for you.
Chris Hairston doesn't always display great balance. There are times Hairston is trying to finish off a block and he ends up falling forward or ends up on the ground. It isn't because a lack of effort; it is because he either is lunging at the end of plays or trying do too much or both, like on this play from last year. Though you'd like for Hairston to stay on his feet, you also like the extra effort.
Chris Hairston's tape isn't going to jump out at you. He is not the first to initiate contact and he does end up on the ground at times. What he won't do is hurt you. Hairston will very quietly get his job done on the field and will not be a liability. He's not a mauler or a lineman that plays with high emotion; he is a guy that'll do "just enough" to win his assignments.
If anyone can get Chris Hairston back to playing like he did in 2012, it's Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris. DJ Fluker and Joe Barksdale are still the two best options to man the right side of the Chargers Offensive Line, but if they should ever need help at either Tackle position, they have a more than capable back-up. A back-up tackle, in fact, that would be the Chargers best in years compared to the likes of former players Willie Smith, Michael Harris or Brandyn Dombroski .
Putting Joe Barksdale on the bench is wasting not only his talent, but Chris Hairston's talent as well, as it forces him further down the depth chart if not off the roster. Tom Telesco wanted to upgrade the roster this offseason, he sure found some good depth on the Offensive Line. Now let's see how the starting O-Line shapes up in training camp.