I intend to look at reasons to be optimistic and pessimistic about the San Diego Chargers offense and defense. A couple years ago, I ran a poll asking whether readers preferred to have their good news or bad news first and good news won rather easily. I, of course, responded to that by going with the pessimistic posts first. Well, I'm older and less interested in hearing people complain, so today we begin with optimism.
1. This year's offensive line is significantly more talented than last year's
The best player on last year's line, King Dunlap, remains at left tackle where he should continue to have success. Free Agent Orlando Franklin, one of the best guards in the NFL, will replace Chad Rinehart following Rinehart's disastrous 2014. Second-year player Chris Watt, backed up by Trevor Robinson, can reasonably be expected to solidify what was a revolving door position after the career-ending injury suffered by former stalwart Nick Hardwick. Last year's struggling right tackle, D.J. Fluker, has been slid inside to right guard where his skills project to have a significantly higher ceiling. He has been replaced at right tackle by the very solid Joe Barksdale. Overall, that's a superior talent at every position but left tackle where the Chargers were already set. That's difficult for even the most cynical fan to complain about.
2. Danny Woodhead is back
Throughout Philip Rivers' career, he has been at his best when he has a dynamic pass-catching running back to rely upon. Woodhead is arguably the most dynamic pass-catching running back in the National Football League. The return of that threat to the Chargers' backfield is difficult to overstate. Dump-off throws to avoid a sack can be expected to become positive plays.
Knowing exactly where his running back will be allows Philip Rivers to play with greater confidence. Having a running back that can command a double team frees up the other receivers to make plays against one-on-one coverage. Woodhead's ability as a receiver allows Frank Reich greater freedom in calling plays and also makes the no-huddle offense more dangerous. Rookie Melvin Gordon has been the back that has received the most press this offseason, but Danny Woodhead is the one that will have the biggest impact on the offense.
3. Stevie Johnson is the team's #3 wide receiver
I repeat, Stevie Johnson is the team's #3 wide receiver. The depth at this position this season is crazy good. Johnson is no longer a #1 receiver, but he is still an amazing talent, and his style of play is a nearly perfect match for Philip Rivers. Johnson is the third receiver on this team because they also have wideouts #1a and #1b in Keenan Allen and Malcom Floyd. Both are among the most efficient receivers in the NFL, and Floyd is one of the best intermediate-to-deep threats in team history.
Players like Jacoby Jones, Dontrelle Inman, and Tyrell Williams will be role players that only see a few offensive snaps per game most weeks, but are the caliber of player that in past seasons frequently found themselves in the starting lineup.
4. Frank Reich is in his second year as offensive coordinator
In his first season as an offensive coordinator last year, Frank Reich at times looked completely overmatched. In his defense, he was asked to work with an offensive line that featured a different cast of characters nearly every game, and it actually seemed to change from half to half at times. Also, jumping from never having called plays (outside of calling his own at times when he was a player) at any level to doing so at the highest level available is a pretty steep learning curve.
To his credit, Reich flashed real talent on occasion. Some of his play design and choice of route combinations were nothing short of brilliant. With a second full offseason, there is plenty of reason to believe that Reich could take a big step forward in his development as a play caller in 2015.
5. Philip Rivers is still the quarterback of the San Diego Chargers
When healthy, Philip Rivers is one of the very best quarterbacks in the National Football League. His pocket presence is otherworldly, and his ability to make throws with defenders at his feet or barreling down on him is unmatched. Just go back and watch the game against the Seattle Seahawks from last year. Some of the throws he made while being hit or unable to completely step into them defy reason. Rivers' touch and anticipation are incredible. He throws one of the more catchable balls of anyone. Chargers' drop rates are consistently lower than you'd expect from the caliber of players he has to work with and that's all El Capitan.
That Rivers will actually have a real offensive line, a full complement of receivers, and a competent group of running backs should have every Chargers fan excited for the 2015-16 NFL season. There is no reason that Philip Rivers can't have one of the best years of his career. I can't wait to see what he can do with actual help again.