When you step back and look at the San Diego Chargers 2010 offseason, the are a few themes which become quite evident; The Chargers needed to get more physical, and they needed to get younger at key positions. Using both free agency and the draft, the Chargers were able to address those needs. However, the Chargers still have some question marks in regards to the roster and it will be interesting to see how events unfold. Let's review the major points of the offseason thus far and talk about what challenges lie ahead for the team.
GETTING YOUNGER AND MORE PHYSICAL
Looking back at the Chargers of 2009, the word physical is certainly not a term you could use to describe the Bolts as a whole. Sure there were some physical players on the squad, but the offense wasn't pounding anybody into submission and the defense couldn't stop the run for a majority of the season.
The Chargers released some big-name players who didn't fit their direction going forward; For all the talent that Antonio Cromartie possessed, he didn't seem to quite ever get around to the fact that football is a physical sport requiring contact. And for all the wonderful things Ladainian Tomlinson has done for this team, father time is catching up with the prideful running back and he simply couldn't hold up to the pounding running between the tackles entails. As for Jamal Williams, his body began to break down and it became clear the team needed to infuse some youth into the middle of that three-man front.
For as much as the Chargers seemingly gave up for Ryan Mathews, it may prove to be worth it. I say this after a few nights' sleep and a clear head. Mathews was the most physically gifted and displayed the most toughness of any of the top-ranked running backs in his class. During the draft however, I sarcastically mentioned on Twitter that the Chargers must think Mathews is Adrian Peterson, but the fact is he may be closer than many of us think. There's no question I felt Dan Williams would have been a perfect fit for the Bolts, but when you look at the draft as a whole, the Chargers were able to get their running back of the future and still improve the middle of their defense.
They didn't use their next pick on a defensive tackle, causing my blood to go from a simmer to a boil. Instead, they went inside linebacker and drafted Donald Butler - trading up in the process. Doing some research on Butler, I can see why they were enamored; thickly built, excellent speed, prototype MIKE 'backer. He'll fit in on the strong side and really help against the run, but he is versatile. We may even see Butler use his speed and blitz from time to time. Well spoken, team captain, and All-Pac 10 shows he's a baller and his work-ethic will endear him to his teammates quickly. On top of all of that, he'll contribute right away on special teams.
The Chargers just can't seem to draft a safety they're happy about. They moved up to the top of the second round for Eric Weddle. They participated in the Supplemental Draft and got Paul Oliver. They drafted Kevin Ellison last year. And yet even after all of that, they seem to still be looking for a playmaker. Hopefully fourth round pick Darrell Stuckey is that guy. A standout player at Kansas, he's got a nice size/speed combination and figures to be in the mix at free safety. Although in the Chargers' scheme the safety positions are more or less interchangeable, I still think Stuckey's speed lends itself well to deep coverage more so than in-the-box. Stuckey's arrival will undoubtedly light a fire within Eric Weddle and Kevin Ellison, two tough guys who won't concede their jobs without a fight. I expect the entire safety group to get better through competition.
As the second, third, and fourth round progressed, internally I kept urging the Chargers to draft Cam Thomas, one of the few true nose tackle prospects available in the draft. To see Thomas slip all the way to the fifth round is a bit surprising, but fortunately the Chargers felt my telepathic powers and decided to pull the trigger on the big man. Thomas may very well prove to be a steal, and his contributions to the defense could pay real dividends as the Chargers look to improve against the run. With one of the best performances on the bench press at Combine, Thomas proved his power and strength. What he now needs to display is consistency and endurance, two attributes that will benefit from the rotation in which he'll play.
Rounding out the draft, the Chargers took quarterback Jonathan Crompton, a guy we selected in our mock draft, and Dedrick Epps who is a tight end that could potentially develop into an effective pass blocker/pass catcher.
QUESTION MARKS REMAIN
If you're the Chargers and you have a roster full of young, solid linebackers, why do you draft another one when you could be without two starting wide receivers in 2011? Isn't providing your franchise quarterback with weapons crucial to the success of the team?
On that same note, you're starting tackles are playing on one year, restricted free agent contracts, yet you do not draft anyone at that position. Is this a sign that you intend on resigning them to long-term contracts, or are you willing to gamble that you have adequate depth this year and can draft a starter next year?
Also, with all the talk about being able to find running backs later in the draft, why move up to the 12th overall pick for a running back? Are the fans to expect Ryan Mathews to be an elite, Pro-Bowl player who will revitalize the offense? I have no problem with Ryan Mathews, and indeed I think he will be a good player. But what the Chargers are saying by moving up so high in the draft and making Mathews the 12th selection overall (highest drafted player by the Chargers since Shawne Merriman) is that we should all expect Ryan Mathews to be a very good player, who will have a very good rookie year.
Very interested to hear your takes on the offseason thus far. Have the Chargers made the right moves? Are they headed in the right direction? Did they address all of their needs? Sound off in the comments section below, your contributions are always welcome and appreciated.
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