There has been much made about the Chargers uncertainty at the right and left offensive tackle spots, and for good reason. But lost in that conversation is the realization that getting Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick back should be a real boon to the offensive line as a whole.
Hardwick missed most of right guard Louis Vasquez's rookie year, so it's important for he and Kris Dielman to continue to work together as a unit and build a strong working relationship. Early results on that work have been encouraging, and it seems that the Chargers interior line could prove to be one of the team's strengths.
"We're out here working really hard everyday, working on our individual techniques, working on our combo blocks, and things are really coming together," Hardwick told BOLTHYPE. "Obviously it's only the fifth day of camp so we have some ways to go and some improving to do, but we're looking forward to do that."
Second-year offensive lineman Louis Vasquez showed real flashes of dominance last season, and he has the tools to get even better. Coming from a spread offense at Texas Tech, there were some questions about Vasquez's ability to run block. But as the season went on he continued to improve and impressed his teammates in the process.
"He's a tough kid, he works hard. He's a big strong guy, tough, nasty dude and I'm pumped to play next to him," Hardwick said of Vasquez. "I've got the two best protectors next to me [Dielman and Vasquez] in the league."
Kris Dielmen and Nick Hardwick are both established, veteran players who have made it to the Pro Bowl. But Vasquez isn't too far off himself. As long as he continues to work and improve, he'll be a dominant player in this league. He's got incredible power and is a pretty good athlete. As he grows more and more comfortable out there, we could see him involved more on stunts and pulls. And having Nick Hardwick there playing next to him will only help Vasquez mature that much faster.
"Getting Nick back helps us a lot," Vasquez told us. "Nick is unbelievably smart. He sees things that even Dielman doesn't see. Anytime I have a question about what's going on in a certain situation, Nick is always ready with the answer. He's incredibly smart and whenever we need a guy to rely on, he's the man to go to."
Watching the trio of Hardwick, Dielman, and Vasquez work in practice, it became clear to me that these three guys are poised to have a strong year. The Chargers drafted Ryan Mathews to help them in the run game, and his style suits the interior linemen perfectly. Look for lots of inside runs and a return to power, smash-mouth football from the Chargers.
"We'll definitely be doing more inside runs this year," says Louis Vasquez. "Ryan is unbelievably fast. He makes some smart decisions. He still has some things to learn as a rookie, but he's going to be a great addition to our running game."
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