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Chargers' Roster Full Of Contenders Or Pretenders?
Once again, the Charger’s weaknesses were easily exposed when it counted, in the playoffs. Clearly, their Defense is in bad need of overhaul, and their Offense isn’t perfect either. But obviously the Defensive side was the Achilles heel of this franchise, again. Very disappointing, yet predictable; because with the exception of a fine-but-aging Jamal Williams at nose guard, the entire center of the Charger’s defense STINKS!
Anyway, rather than grind my last remaining teeth, I decided to write down my oh-so-insightful thoughts and forward them as a possible cure for insomnia. Now it’s 2:30 a.m. and I'm finally finished. It took a long time, yet it still isn’t very good. I guess sometimes Practice just makes for more practice. :)
For clarification: this partial list of the current Charger's Roster separates it into four lists; CONTENDERS (the men you most definitely want to keep ON the team), PRETENDERS (the guys you wasted your time and money on this year), UNKNOWNS (those guys who were not great, but who may have some special contingency effecting their play), and finally; the guys ON-THE-BUBBLE (those players who showed some obvious weakness and/or didn't show the NFL "knack" enough to make it clear they deserve to be brought back in '09.
In all lists, the higher the number, the more obvious the reasons to include the player under their respective listings. Those with an asterisk "*" denote Special Circumstances or notice.
Please respond as you deem appropriate.
CONTENDERS (the sure-fire Keepers):
1. Philip Rivers – QB – There is no doubt that Rivers is slow and clumsy of foot, but he is a keen competitor and he definitely doesn’t hinder the Charger’s progress. He’s easily one of the 5-6 best quarterbacks in the NFL right now. Color him Comfortable, and don’t bother about giving him too much blame or credit for the Charger’s finish in ‘08.
2. LaDainian Tomlinson* – RB – *No longer the Dominant Running Back in the NFL, he is still a very good back whose extraordinary extra talents (the ability to pass, be a receiver in the slot, and his total focus and competitiveness in games) are now mostly being wasted by a cavalier Coaching staff (i.e. Norv). As a fading superstar, management apparently wants him off the team so they won’t have to pay him top dollar; chicken shit.
3. Kris Dielman – Left Guard – Mean, nasty, and strong is what a football player IS, and they found a place for him here. He is the psychological epicenter for the OL; necessary, and a gift from the Marty era.
4. Antonio Gates – Tight End – Still Great, but increasingly injury-prone and not always in tip-top physical shape (both due to injury and –perhaps- lackluster training?)
5. Chris Chambers – Wide Receiver – A bonafide All-Pro and a Jewel in the Charger’s WR Crown. Any thought of getting rid of him in 2009 is foolish.
6. Vincent Jackson – Wide Receiver – A tremendous deep-ball threat, another Jewel, but also another talent which the coaching staff rarely uses to his full potential. Quick question: Can Jackson throw a pass? He’s tall and strong, and if so, I’d use him extensively in a Charger’s version of the Wildcat Offense. He can dominate physically, so make him a clever player too and he’ll multiply that advantage.
7. Jamal Williams* - best-ever NTE-Nose Tackle Extraordinaire – *Easily one of the Top 5 players at his position for a decade, Jamal is now in the twilight of a great career, and definitely needs to be replaced soon. But even with all that, he is the *ONLY* defensive lineman the Charger’s have who could start on the first-string of any upper-echelon NFL defense. Worse than that, Williams is probably the only Charger defensive lineman that should receive his total salary this year. If “leading by example” were really possible, the Charger’s D line should be great by now, but it isn’t; so it isn’t.
Stephen Cooper* - Inside Linebacker – Smart and competitive, Cooper does what he does mostly on the strength of “the intangibles” because he is not particularly strong, fast, or large. However, those intangibles make him a “must have” on the roster because his competitive fires burn too bright to ignore. He may never be fully Great, but he is the type of player you always, always, always want on your football team.
8. Quentin Jammer – Left Cornerback – A coverage-corner disappointment for much of his early career, Jammer is now the best DB the Charger’s have, period. He is a fairly solid tackler in run support, but only so-so in the open field. His mental lapses and waffling competitive fire are his drawbacks at this point in his career, and he’s also aging.
9. Eric Weddle* - Safety – A very heady, relatively young player, but he perhaps stands out mostly because his Charger DB peers are so routinely mentally lost as a group. Undersized and outmuscled too much for a Safety, Weddle should be moved to Cornerback; otherwise he will have a short career. Right now, he’s taking a beating. But with help, he could easily be part of a smart, swarming, and better-than-capable defense. He could easily star on other teams.
SPECIAL TEAMS STANDOUTS (All Keepers here):
1. Mike Scifres – Punter Extraordinaire – One of the best ever, period. Enough said.
2. Nate Kaeding – Placekicker – Very good, but not Great... yet. He is more on-the-bubble than I’d like to admit, but he is good.
3. Kassim Osgood* - Special Teams – Although a repeat All-Pro on Special Teams, Osgood is one of the MOST WASTED TALENTS in the NFL, being punished by dick-headed management for not being an Uncle Tom. Kassim could definitely be a Wide Receiver, but the team is deep at that position. However, the Charger’s *STINK* at Safety, where a large, fast, strong, proven hitter-with-good-hands like Kassim could really help this team. A potentially great career is being wasted, ala Marcus Allen. Can you imagine Osgood and Jammer as our Safeties, with Weddle at one Corner and (perhaps?) a fast, much braver, stronger, much smarter Cromartie on the other corner? That could be AWESOME (too bad Cromartie is actually such a pussy), but I’m sure there’s somebody to replace Cromartie (or perhaps we should just play without him, which might be an improvement) and play a 3-5-3 alignment?
4. David Binn* - Special Teams/Snapper – A consistently GREAT, under-appreciated player who has contributed greatly to any team successes.
5. Darren Sproles – RB/Special Teams – Sproles is ½ the size of most of his NFL peers, but has twice the heart of most of them. He is now officially an integral and essential part of the Charger’s chances for success, mostly because he is a Football Player, no matter whatsoever his size. Pay the man!
PRETENDERS (On Sale Now - 50% - 75% off!):
1. Antonio Cromartie – Right Cornerback – A long-armed track athlete masquerading in a football uniform, “Cro” is a football equivalent to Deion Sanders’ gangly little sister. Fast of foot but slow of mind; he has the physical skills of a juggler…, but he can’t remember where he parked his car. Cromartie is now officially the butt of his own joke, but it’s just not funny anymore. He has to go, and the sooner the better. He should give back his salary this year, because he’s an embarrassment to the history of his sport and position. Now this morning the news says he played most of the season with a "broken hip", but sorry to sound heartless; I just DON'T BUY IT. Only an Idiot would try to play football on an ACTUALLY broken hip, and the possibility of lawsuits and repercussions (anybody remember former Charger Houston Ridge here?) would make the scenario impossible. I foresee a 90% chance of a bullsh*t storm here.
2. Igor Olshansky – Left Defensive End – Originally drafted to be an eventual replacement for the great Jamal Williams, Igor has one of the greatest names ever devised to hear on a public address system…, but despite his size and supposed strength he’s nearly invisible on the football field much of the time. Moved to the outside, Igor is too slow and easily taken off his feet. His supposedly superior strength is rarely applied. It’s official; he’s a Bust.
3. Luis Castillo – Right Defensive End – “Cute”, photogenic, and a media darling to the Mexican-American demographic, Castillo is stuck in a rut of being “almost” good, while staying very ordinary. Couple that with the fact that he’s currently the *highest paid* guy on the team, and you have a tragic waste of resources for what you’re getting. At that money, and thinking it’s unlikely he will improve much, he should also be rated as a pretty expensive Bust. The two Charger’s defensive ends this year really hurt the team.
4. Matt Wilhelm (already largely replaced by Tim Dobbins) – Linebacker – If it wasn’t for Cromartie, Matt Wilhelm would be a universal choice for Most Over-rated Pretender in a football uniform. Supposedly cerebral (which is okay), Wilhelm just doesn’t measure up as being either strong, fast, mean, aggressive, efficient, or intimidating enough. At the linebacker position, any ONE of those should get you demoted, so if you add ‘em all up Wilhelm should be working in the gift shop. Add to that the fact that he has that “deceptive speed” (meaning he’s even slower than he looks), what you have is a future football coach, but his future is now.
5. Jyles Tucker – Linebacker – The hilariously presumed replacement for injured Shawn Merriman, Jyles Tucker was “force-fed” a fat contract in hopes he’d magically turn into somebody worthy of the dollars. No dice. Tucker is not a sure tackler, often displaying suspect speed and balance; particularly in the endless mystery that is pass coverage. There may (?) be an outside chance Tucker will make the team covering kicks next season, but otherwise his play and big contract will make it likely he’ll be cut next year (See: Lorenzo Neal). The Lords (A.J./Spanos) Giveth, and the Lords taketh away.
6. Clinton Hart – Safety – There is an outside chance his poor play was partially somewhat due to being injured in the first part of the season, but what to make of the mental blunders the rest of the way? Rarely should a player in his position be OUT of position so routinely, so completely. Unless he was caught trying to “help” and/or “find” Cromartie during pass plays, Hart was caught off-guard much too often, arriving at least a step late, and only very, very rarely making a solid hit.
7. Steve Gregory – Safety – See: Clinton Hart (whom he often replaced) it became apparent that the Charger’s “best defense” was to substitute and rotate-in as many of their defensive backs at different positions as possible, thereby hoping to “confuse” the opposition as to which weakling to pick on during any given play. Oh, the choices!
1. Marcus McNeill – Left Tackle – Marcus, perhaps like Cromartie, may be a victim of his own early success, and his hand/wrist injuries. But nowadays he looks more than a bit pudgy, slower, and less committed to each play…, and his career. He definitely needs to improve, or he’ll definitely be trade bait by this time next year. And if he gets any worse, perhaps he’ll be filling in for Wilhelm on weekends in that Charger gift shop.
2. Nick Hardwick – Center – Trying to come back from an awful foot injury, Hardwick definitely still has the brain and heart of a great player, but football is played at high speed on the ground, and that requires extraordinary balance and foot speed. I know he isn’t back to what he once was, and we’ll all know for certain by this time next year. I hope he can recoup, but it doesn’t look so promising right now. Very unfortunate.
3. Mike Goff* - OL – Like Hardwick, injuries have reduced Goff significantly from his earlier play; and he’s also an older player. This may have been Goff’s last year in the NFL, and his knee hampering his ability to run outside and block was a major weakness in the Charger’s running game. The team cannot afford to have the same performance next year, although Goff has consistently shown great heart and determination. But unfortunately, that isn’t enough by itself. Although a warrior, it is also sadly true that at this point in his career his heart and mind can no longer be supported by his body.
4. Jeromey Clary – OL – A part-timer whose reps multiplied over the season, Clary rarely stood out as an extraordinary blocker, but he did “okay” most of the time. It’s hard to say how good/average he is because he was coming in late and because no doubt some of what he needed to do was to help cover the inherent physical weaknesses of injured line-mates. He will need to improve significantly to be a dominate player, but there is still an outside chance he could pull it off.
5. Legedu Naanee* - Wide Receiver – Next to Kassim Osgood, Naanee is the most intriguingly UNDER-USED PLAYER on the Charger’s roster! Naanee was originally a Quarterback in college at Boise State, who shined as an extraordinary athlete (a weight-lifting champ and sometime defensive back) who has shown some interesting ability as a receiver. However, the Big Question about Naanee (who, like Igor Olshansky, has a name tailor-made for the airwaves) is why-oh-why hasn’t this guy been brought into a Charger’s version of the Wildcat Offense?!? Good Lord! Can you imagine trying to defense a Charger’s passing set that had THREE potential *passing* threats (Rivers, Tomlinson, and Naanee) on every play, two of which could actually hurt you with a straight run or hand-off at any moment?!? Put ‘em both (at least) in motion and add Vincent Jackson (a tall receiver and a strong down-field blocker) both wide and tight (can you say, “pick play”?) and include Antonio Gates?! Holy Crap! Bring Coryell back in here and he’d show you all how to do it in five minutes. They’d be nearly unstoppable, and please, definitely rotate in the dynamic Sproles as needed.
6. Tim Dobbins – Linebacker – The one thing I like consistently about Dobbins is he clearly knows that the Number #1 minimal job of a linebacker is to HIT somebody HARD every play. He still makes too many mistakes, and physically he doesn’t usually dominate, at least yet. But he’s willing and plays with bad intentions, a tactic essential to his position and potential future in the NFL. He has easily supplanted the more experienced but flaccid Wilhelm, and will (hopefully) continue to improve, because improvement is necessary.
7. Antoine Applewhite - Linebacker - As an undrafted walk-on, SDSU's Applewhite may be a real big-time deal for the Chargers. He is quick, aggressive, and has a decided nose for the ball (again, the essentials for someone playing his position). There is definite intrigue about seeing how he will respond to another Spring of NFL-level coaching, because he might actually evolve into a starter here. My biggest worry is that he'll get lost in the shuffle should Rivera leave, wherein installing another Defensive Coordinator and scheme would take time, and perhaps Applewhite could "fall through the cracks". But the guy can play, I think, and somebody smart enough to take advantage of the situation might find a real diamond in the rough with Applewhite.
1. Jacob Hester – Fullback – Neither nifty enough to evade NFL-level defenses, nor strong enough to overpower them, Hester’s niche is that he has fairly good hands as a receiver…, for a fullback. But when the basic job is basic fullback tasks (such as consistent blocking and picking up blitzes) the relatively weak aspects of his abilities are quickly apparent. His will be a marginal, short career unless he learns some new tricks, and does so very quickly. I think he’s trade bait.
2. Mike Tolbert – Fullback – A little bigger and stronger than Hester, Tolbert was pushed too hard and too fast to fill the much-too-big-shoes-to-fill of the departed former All-Pro fullback icon Lorenzo Neal. And Tolbert was a rookie to boot. That’s just way too unrealistic, and on several levels. Bound to fail, Tolbert did fail; and ended up having to shoulder more blame for the early running attack failures than he realistically deserved, because he really had no chance. Since Charger management “needs” a scapegoat for their breaches of sound judgment, it’s unlikely Tolbert will get a fair chance to either reclaim his starting job and/or get paid a decent wage for having it. He can’t be colored “gone” quite yet, but he should probably be labeled a “project”, and that’s unfortunate; an unfinished project on the shelf of an uninterested tinkerer.
3. Brandon Manumaleuna – Tight End/H-Back – Slow, stiff, but very large and with surprising good hands, Brandon Manumaleuna is primarily used as a “blocker” that will occasionally fool a defense and catch a pass too. Not a bad plan, *if* he is the dominating blocker his supposedly superior size would indicate. But he’s not, at least on a consistent basis, and he’s much too passive in general. He needs to be much, much meaner and threatening on the field, where he should be *hurting* the opposing linebackers and defensive backs. Instead, he seems mostly an aging veteran content to string-out a few more games and paychecks while he can. He’s okay, but only that, and plays at a lukewarm intensity that hurts the team overall. Time for replacement.
4. Ryon Bingham – DL – The supposed heir-apparent to the great but aging Jamal Williams, Bingham is not bad, but that’s all so far. It still remains to be seen how much energy and drive he can sustain as a consistent starter. But the man does have potential.
5. Jacques Cesaire – DL/LB – One of the most likable and charming Charger’s on-and-off the field, Cesaire’s play runs unfortunately hot and cold on it. He sometimes makes GREAT, extraordinary plays, done with great enthusiasm. But that rarely happens against top-level competition, and that is especially troubling, because sometimes he just disappears. That should never happen, and if it continues at the present ratio, his career will be short. The only thing that keeps his grade from being lower is that it is hard to know how much of his failings are part of the defensive “system” that was installed at the beginning of this season by Cottrell, then tweaked later by Rivera. Much improvement is needed in all defensive departments though, or else. Cesaire needs to play meaner, stronger, faster, and with much more explosion at the point of contact; and he may (?) be able to do that. Time will tell, but the clock is ticking.
6. Shaun Phillips – DL/LB – Ditto for Shaun Philips. While dynamic as a compound force with the missing (this year) Shawn Merriman, Philips’ year has definitely been a disappointment overall. Formerly an outstanding pass rushing specialist, he is not nimble enough of foot to be a true pass-coverage linebacker, and not strong or intense enough to be a straight-up gangster run stuffer. He tries, but he’s not particularly fast of either foot or brain (football wise) and too often ends up looking a bit foolish and a step behind. He’s either thinking too much out there, or not thinking fast enough; but it shows up in missed plays. He often doesn’t miss by much, but miss he does; and that’s everything. This year, his play has been average at best; and the team needed his pass rushing expertise at the obviously inadequate D line. When/if the other Shawn comes back, it should help Shaun Phillips, but unfortunately his other weaknesses have been displayed and are likely to be exploited by clever offenses.
7. Brandon Siler – LB – A Special Teams player who tends to define that description, Siler shows flashes of promise that he may be something more, but is way too inconsistent too much of the time. He needs to improve a lot overall, and to be able to get separation from blockers and close-and-complete his tackles much better, or else.
8. Marques Harris – LB - Similar to Siler, Harris seems to be a tad quicker and more athletic than most of his middle-tier peers, but he also needs to take it up several notches to really be a top-level, dominating NFL linebacker. He does play smarter than most though, so that gives a glimmer of hope to his future; if he can hurry up and develop. Right now, he’s mostly average with only occasional burst of intriguing talent. He must play meaner, stronger, and with more intensity. If not, you can color him Gone.
9. Paul Oliver – DB – An “accidentally” good player, Oliver doesn’t seem very confident on the field, as if he doesn’t really and truly know what the hell he’s doing. That’s too bad, because he obviously has some real potential. It seems he needs to work much, much harder and smarter in pre-game preparation in order to apply his new-found knowledge in real-time out on the field. Oliver looks like a guy that could really be helped by a vocal and challenging veteran willing and able to challenge/instruct him in conjunction with top-notch position coaches (which, it’s presumed, the NFL sidelines routinely have, right?). However, the clock is ticking and Oliver must improve quickly, or he too will be gone.
LAST-AND-SURELY-LEAST: WR "Buster" Davis; 'bye.
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