The starting offensive line of the Chargers have top-five caliber potential when healthy, and are all under contract for at least three seasons. Continuity and talent should provide Justin Herbert with the best protection he’s had in his career, just in time for him to set the NFL on fire after signing a record-setting six-year extension.
The elephant in the room remains the disastrous injury luck repeatedly linked to the Los Angeles Chargers, and the lack of experienced (or talented) depth in the offensive line room. Despite the high volume of starts backup lineman see across the Bolts front five, Telesco rarely makes moves to backfill the depth with reliable vets on affordable contracts.
Let’s take a look at previous seasons, and see how many games were started by offensive line depth pieces.
- 2022: 20 games (Will Clapp: 3; Foster Sarell: 3; Jamaree Salyer: 14)
- 2021: 32 games (Trey Pipkins: 2; Scott Quessenberry: 1; Senio Kelemete: 2; Michael Schofield: 12; Storm Norton: 15)
- 2020: 16 games (Tyree St. Louis: 2; Cole Toner: 3; Storm Norton: 3; Ryan Groy: 3; Trey Pipkins: 5)
- 2019: 23 games (Trenton Scott: 9, Trey Pipkins: 3; Forrest Lamp: 2; Scott Quessenberry: 9)
- 2018: 6 games (Joe Barksdale: 5; Trenton Scott: 1)
Just look at 2018! The Chargers lost Melvin Gordon for four games, Hunter Henry for the whole season, Corey Liuget for ten games, and Denzel Perryman for seven. Special teams were chaotic; they went through an in-season kicker carousel before finally landing on Michael Badgley, and replaced punter Drew Kaser with Donnie Jones mid-season. Yet, the injury bug didn’t reach the offensive line group, and it’s hard not to correlate this anomaly with the best record the Bolts have had since 2009.
Some names on the above list might invoke an instant gag-reflex for fans remembering turnstile performances from some of these replacement pieces. Currently, the Chargers field Foster Sarell, Will Clapp, and Jordan McFadden as their top depth pieces, with Isaac Weaver, Brenden Jaimes, and Zach Bailey as the front-runners for backend roster or practice squad spots. While hopes are high for McFadden, expecting a fifth-round pick to start meaningful games in his rookie year is an unrealistic expectation for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. It’s concerning to imagine Sarell, Clapp, and McFadden collectively starting 16-23 games.
Fans and pundits had a front-row view to how thin the Chargers are at tackle during yesterday’s scrimmage, and it’s been a repeated storyline on X/Twitter. Apparently, the defense was able to beat up the offense with Trey Pipkins and Rashawn Slater sidelined.
Final thoughts from the Chargers scrimmage:— Daniel Wade (@dantalkssports) August 7, 2023
• Khalil Mack is still that guy
• Sloppy day for the offense
• Not concerned about the whole offense but the line depth really struggled in a big test for them
• Tuli and some young rushers wreaking havoc
The Chargers could upgrade their depth immediately with familiar faces sitting in free agency. Oday Aboushi was signed midseason by the Rams last year, and ended up playing 339 snaps, with four starts, and earned a 65.2 PFF score with 98.1% pass-blocking efficiency. The Bears signed Michael Schofield leading up to week two of the 2022 season to backfill some injuries, and he ended the season with 418 snaps, five starts, along with a 66.9 PFF score and 97.7% pass-blocking efficiency. It’s also fair to note that neither the Rams or the Bears signed these players to fill an immediate starter need; they were signed to backfill depth when players went down in week one, and both didn’t see action until week six.
Additional players that would be worth kicking the tires on could be center Ben Jones, guard Justin Pugh, left tackle Taylor Lewan, or guard Dalton Risner.
The injuries on the offensive line were devastating last year, but if you look at the games missed over the last five years, it was actually a fairly average year in games missed for the unit. Telesco needs to address this issue, and remember how significantly the offense regressed last year when the likes of Clapp and Sarell were on the field.