Greg Cosell of NFL Films was recently a guest on The Ringer NFL Show with Robert Mays to preview the AFC West. When it came to the San Diego Chargers’ offense, Cosell said:
One of the big questions to me is the running back situation. Melvin Gordon, and I talked about this last year before he even played a down, that I believed he needed to learn to run in the NFL because he was very straight line. When the point of attack was not clean, he really struggled and in the NFL the point of attack is not often clean, certainly not like the way it is in college. And he tended to stop his feet and I think that he has to learn and get more comfortable with how you run in the NFL where the majority of runs take place inside and you've got to be able to run effectively inside and I think that's where again we'll see how he does this year but he needed to really learn and grow in that area.
Mays followed up by asking if Gordon should get a slight benefit of the doubt because of how banged up the offensive line was in 2015, to which Cosell responded:
Well, I think he's a certain kind of runner. I think he's a downhill track runner. He's not really spontaneously agile. He does not have great lateral quickness. He's a downhill track runner. So, those kinds of runners need specific schemes and they need good o-lines. So, Melvin Gordon is not a creator. Melvin Gordon needs a good o-line and a certain kind of run game.
Most of what Cosell had to say should be familiar to those of you who read this blog, listen to any of its associated podcasts, or follow any members of its staff on Twitter. But it’s noteworthy because Cosell is indisputably one of the most respected experts in the field.
One could read the critiques of Gordon’s game as being rather damning, but I think there is room for optimism here. Gordon has clearly evident deficiencies, but those should be at least somewhat mitigated by the changes the Chargers made in the offseason.
Matt Slauson is an enormous upgrade over the likes of Trevor Robinson. He will make Orlando Franklin and D.J. Fluker better because they will be able to focus on doing their own jobs. Also, both Franklin and Fluker should benefit from growing more comfortable in their roles, Franklin on a new team and Fluker learning a new position. The Chargers may actually have the kind of good offensive line that Gordon needs to be successful. He will not need to create as much. There should be clearer lanes for him to run through on a more regular basis, and he ought to be able to take advantage of that.
As for the scheme, Frank Reich was completely overmatched at times last season. Ken Whisenhunt is one of the best in the business at putting players in position to thrive. The difference is enormous and it should have been evident to even casual observers during last night’s first preseason contest. You can feel comfortable betting on Whisenhunt to know what Gordon can and cannot do. You can also expect him to call the game in such a way as to account for that knowledge.
Go back and watch the opening drive against the Titans. Gordon had one of the best inside runs of his short career. He was also given the chance to work in space thanks to some beautiful play design. His will and his ability took over from there and he got in the end zone. I think we can all look forward to a lot more of that in 2016.