Coming into the year the Chargers had plans on being more athletic. It’s also clear they wanted to do a better job of keeping Philip Rivers upright. We’ll go over how that plan has worked out so far this year and grade each of the offensive linemen. We'll also give a surprise and a disappointment.
When Russell Okung signed on March 9th I thought that he would be an upgrade. I knew he would be good. I had no idea he’d be this good. Okung has added a much-needed level of toughness to the offensive line that’s been missing for years. He’s easily one of my favorite players to watch. He buries guys on a weekly basis. Whether it’s against the run:
Seems like Okung hits someone with a haymaker every week pic.twitter.com/TUh99IoCaZ— KP (@KP_Show) October 11, 2017
or the pass:
okung on the benjamin td pic.twitter.com/dLGcCvJ7Vc— KP (@KP_Show) November 1, 2017
For comparison’s sake, last year running off the left end the Chargers averaged 2.82 yards per carry. This year it’s up to 4.91. I’d say he’s making a difference. They trust him in pass protection as well. Leaving him on an island against some high-level edge rushers so they can help out other guys. It’s hard to complain about much of anything Okung has done this year.
Slow movin’ Slauson
The season-ending injury to Slauson was bittersweet to some. He wasn’t playing very well, but I don’t think he was this abomination that some made him out to be. I thought he was very good in pass protection. In that regard, the move made sense. By in large Slauson was competent. The run game? Not so much. The Chargers still ask their lineman to execute blocks in space quite a bit this year. You have to be agile and that’s just something Slauson wasn’t. He couldn’t get there in time to pull. If he had to redirect it wasn’t pretty. I get why they moved him to guard but when looking at how he performed against the run he was a liability.
Fiend for Feeney
Even prior to the injury, the Chargers were impressed with 3rd round rookie Dan Feeney in limited snaps. He went from getting a series, to getting a couple series, and more and more. When they ran behind him there were explosive run plays. If you’ve seen the offense this year, you know those type of plays come few and far between. Head Coach Anthony Lynn said they always knew he was good in the run game, but it’s the passing game he needed work on. In his 1st game as a starter, Feeney pitched a shutout against the Patriots. I had him getting beat once in 56 snaps. He showed good awareness in pass protection. But his athleticism in the run game couldn’t be ignored. Him getting the 2nd level and cutting off the linebacker on that long touchdown run by Melvin Gordon was a thing of beauty. He made a couple nice blocks on the run. If that game was any hint at future performance for Feeney, the Chargers got a gem.
Pullin’ for Pulley
Through the 1st 4 games or so I felt like Spencer Pulley was the clear-cut center of the future for the Chargers. He was awesome. He might not be a road grader and generate a ton of movement but he does his job in the run game. As a pass blocker, he just kept guys in front of him. Lately, he’s been trending in the wrong direction. He certainly hasn’t been awful but he’s missing more blocks. Not just missing, whiffing. “Look out” blocks, if you will. He’s been late to recognize stunts in the passing game. Hopefully after the bye Pulley gets back on the right track.
For a first timer at the position, Pulley still shows plenty of promise. The team trusts him. They will slide protection and leave Pulley 1-on-1 with the defensive tackle. He’s much better doing that as opposed to being “uncovered” and having to help. He’s a step slow at picking guys on stunts and twists.
Want more from Wiggins
Kenny Wiggins was thrust into the lineup when the 2nd round pick went down at the beginning of the year. He’s another guy that got off to a strong start. A surprisingly strong start, actually. He’s had some rough matchups over the last month or so that showed Wiggins true colors. It’s not really his fault. The Eagles and Giants just kinda overwhelmed him. Throw Ndamukong Suh in there and you can see why there. Wiggins isn’t the most athletic. He has a hard time breaking down on the move. There was a 3rd down run out of the wildcat against the Patriots that comes to mind. Where they asked him to get out in space and he just let a linebacker run right by him.
When they set their pass protection Wiggins is usually the free guy to help. He’s much better in this area than D.J. Fluker was a year ago. He helps out both guys on either side and does a good job of finding work. Wiggins has been serviceable enough, but not to the point where you don’t look to upgrade the position.
Bottom of the barrel Barksdale
Both right tackles for the Chargers have opposite skill-sets. In Joe Barksdale’s case, he has a solid chance of stopping your pass rush. He’s been adequate against the pass this year. It hasn’t always been pretty but he’s been fine. Where he’s struggled mightily is in the run game. Edge rushers cross his face easily. Heck, they flat out stand him up and toss him out of the way. Barksdale is closer to a mess than serviceable against the run. It’ll be interesting to see if the Chargers keep rotating right tackles as the season goes on. I imagine this is the last stand for Barksdale as a Charger.
Michael Schofield was another guy that was already taking snaps from Barksdale. I remember there was a series where Barksdale was getting wrecked against the Chiefs against the run and Schofield came in for a series and was surprisingly good. Then, the more Schofield played the more I was thinking, dang, the team has needed this. Schofield can get to the 2nd level, he can seal the edge, and execute with Wiggins or a tight end on double teams. He’s one of the team’s better run blockers in limited snaps.
Where Schofield struggles is protecting Rivers. It’s kinda weird. He looks fine moving forward. When he’s going to pass set guys will either bull-rush him and catch him with his hands down. Or he’ll just get “out athleted” by whoever he is going against. He’s a liability against the pass. Not getting help from a running back isn’t great but Schofield just hasn’t gotten the job done in pass pro.
There’s a reason the Chargers haven’t been consistent in the run game. As a unit, they don’t stay on their blocks long enough. Usually, it’s 1, maybe 2 guys getting movement. If we’re ranking the Chargers units as a team I think most would agree that the offensive line has been one of the bottom 3 units. Which is unfortunate considering Okung’s play.