It seems like we've been asking the same question for a decade now, "Why doesn't Ladarius Green play more than he does?" As much as we talk about it, I don't think we've ever got a straight answer. Having a hall of famer ahead of you on the depth chart certainly doesn't help, but I've always believed it was independent of playing behind Antonio Gates. People tend to throw out "he's a bad blocker." Thing is, Green can look like Lorenzo Neal at times as a blocker when you compare his blocking to Gates. So I went back and watched Green play last year, which took roughly 7 minutes, and I think I got to the root cause as to why we don't see Green more in the box score.
There's 2 reasons, and we'll start with the 1 that he can control.
Evading Contact at the Line of Scrimmage
We know this already, but from an athletic standpoint, Green is a specimen. He's probably the fastest pass catcher on the team and we've seen what he can do when they throw jump balls to him in the red zone. Physically, he's an animal. For god sake he ran down Tavon Austin from 30 yards away. But one thing you notice, which is odd for such a good athlete, is that coming out of his stance he's knocked too easily off balance. Too often he allowed the defender to initiate contact. He's already a giant and suspectible with the way he runs so tall, so DBs can get their hands on him and just like that he's eliminated from the play.
Look how easily Green goes down in traffic. He is the number 3 WR to the trips side. He needs to use his hands or better yet, his size, to create separation at the top of his route there.
Coincindentally, most of his occurences came out of the formation above, or when he was attached to the line of scrimmage and was asked to run a simple "drag" route across the field. Towards the latter part of the year the well coached defense teams adjusted to San Diego's crossing routes and had their middle linebacker reroute anyone coming across the middle.
Green never seemed to adjust. You'd like to see him have his head on a swivel and avoid the linebacker. This happened against the Broncos a couple times as well.
This is the clear-cut area where Gates is superior to Green. His elusivness at the line of scrimmage to not only avoid contact, but not get rerouted during his routes. Gates has much more wiggle than Green and it shows when watching the 2 back to back. Green will need to really hone his skills on the fly, and it doesn't have to be anything drastic. It can be something as simple using the "Gates lean", where I'm sure everyone knows what I'm talking about. Gates will run at the defender, literally lean into them, and go the opposite direction to create space.
Moving Green around the formation the 1st few weeks should help, but he's going to have to get more physical and show more intitiave at winning at the line of scrimmage if he's going to earn Philip Rivers trust.
If Ladarius gets a free release off of the line of scrimmage, it's RIP, roll the credits and kiss the baby. Whether it's the getting open immediately under 5 yards:
TE to the bottom of the screen above.
Or getting open in that intermediate part of the field where the Chargers will so desparately need Green early on:
I'm sure it's equally frustrating for Green as it is for his fans that he's not getting a look.
What makes it even tougher to swallow is these end up as punts. I have more than a handful of these but I don't really feel I need to beat a deadhorse. What's odd is, even though he is a young WR, quarterbacks tend to lean on bigger targets, specifically over the middle of the field.
It was apparent that Rivers and Green just didn't have the same rapport, and that is obvious due to the lack of reps the 2 have had together over the years. If you want to chalk it up to Rivers not trusting his line for Green to get open down the field, I wouldn't argue that, either. This training camp is as important as ever for these 2 to get on the same page. We know Ladarius can be a beast if he is regularly targeted. This isn't your typical August hyperbole talk, either. The guys that have been to practice have had nothing but good things to say, but all this is doing is reaffirming what we already knew.
In my opinion, Rivers needs to give Green the "he's open, even when he's not open." The biggest area where Gates will be missed is in the red area. For whatever reason teams left him single covered and he made them pay. Green will have numerous 1-on-1 opportunities and with his abilities and Rivers accuracy, there's no reason to believe he won't be able to put up Gates-ish numbers in the red area.
That was an "I trust you throw." But those were few and far between. We should be able to tell early on just how much trust Green has gained from his QB. Remember the Rams game last year? Green makes a huge catch down the sideline in the 4th quarter for 20 some odd yards. He was even with the defender. Rivers knew Green being even with a defender means he was open. Rivers gave him a chance, he created separation while the ball was in the air and hauled it in.
Week 1. Same situation. El Captain comes off Ladarius a split second too soon. It's the 3rd quarter, the defense just got a stop, and you are in prime "shot play area." These are the ones that sting. Let's walk through it.
Come out in 13 personnel(1 WR, 3 TE, 1 RB) and get the ideal look that you want. Even post snap, Rivers does an excellent job of holding the safety, and the plan was still in place to take a shot down the field.
The blue circles tell us we have man coverage because each red jersey has their back turned to their opponent. I hate to be the "Monday morning QB", especially know the amount of great plays Rivers does that goes unnoticed during each game. He does come off of Green a tad early, and it's not neccessarily the wrong play, but look what he had if he looks to his right not even a half count later. You can watch the play full speed here.
I've seen 17 reset his feet to the other side of the field with more pressure than this in his face. Green gets to the 47 or so and has already created 4 yards separation. As long as Rives doesn't throw it out of bounds, or grossly under throws it, it's 6.
Against the Dolphins on the opposite 40, a similar shot play was set up, and again, Green didn't get a look. Watch the play here. This one Rivers has more time, and I'm not sure if it was because Ladarius was lined up against Brent Grimes, who Green ran right by, but didn't even sniff a look.
I highlight both of these "shot" plays for a few reasons. They both ended with the offense punting. While they come off as 50/50 passes, it's evident Green has established himself as being open. The offense will need a vertical threat and Green is that. Though limited sample size, he's shown he can get open at every level of the field. It all comes back to trust. Rivers trusts Malcom Floyd and will pull the trigger in these exact situations for M80. I don't expect it to be the same for the 1st month of the season by any means for Ladarius. I do think Rivers should give him the, drum roll, green light, when it comes to giving him these type of opportunities.
Make no mistake, Gates is a big loss. You don't replace his underneath skills or ability in the red area. I may be in the minority here, but knowing what Green is capable of, and with a handful of weapons already in place around him, Ladarius playing full-time will ameliorate the Chargers offense for the 1st month. I can't wait to see them take off the training wheels and let the kid shine.