Of all the debatable topics with the Bolts this preseason, perhaps the one that fans would rather not address is the most pressing issue of all. With the looming holdouts of both left tackle Marcus McNeill and wide receiver Vincent Jackson, which of these two star players will be missed the most from the Chargers starting eleven on offense?
On the surface, this question may appear to have a relatively easy answer as just how big can the loss of one offensive lineman really be to an entire unit. That question gets substantially more complicated when you take into account the fact that the offensive lineman in question is 6’7” 336lbs. and protects the team’s near $100 million quarterback’s blindside. McNeill’s steady play was one of the bright spots on an offensive line that was devastated by injuries and upheaval in 2009. His potential replacements in veteran Tra Thomas, versatile second year player Brandyn Dombrowski, and second year project Tyronne Green don’t really have the consistency that a team with Super Bowl aspirations would hope for as the season quickly approaches.
Clearly V Jack and Philip Rivers developed quite a rapport last season with Jackson’s emergence as the go-to receiver in crucial situations for the Bolts offense. Receivers come and go in the NFL however as has been demonstrated time after time with a breakout year immediately followed by a descent into oblivion for many in seasons past. Fortunately for San Diego, Rivers is excellent at picking out the open receiver rather than keying on one player in particular which allows him to spread the ball around to a bevy of different players. The organization feels that they have more than enough capable players in house to make up for Jackson’s holdout during the coming year and it appears on paper that they are correct.
Whether it be Malcom Floyd who is expected to take on the number one receiving role or Legedu Naanee who has a wealth of potential to become a dynamic playmaker in the Bolts offense, San Diego has no shortage of candidates to become Rivers’ go-to man this year. Of course the squad still has the all-world tight end Antonio Gates as a terrific safety valve for Rivers to utilize in hot route situations when staring down the barrel of the blitz so his presence will help to neutralize the absence of Jackson as well once the season gets underway. The Chargers other two tight ends in Kris Wilson and Randy McMichael will each offer something to the team’s offensive attack as well giving more versatility to go from a running to passing formation in the blink of an eye.
Fans have to be excited about the all-around game of undrafted free agent pick up Jeremy Williams who looks like a valuable option both at receiver and as a return man for the team this season. His ability to climb that ladder to make catches combined with his willingness make difficult grabs over the middle of the field will be a true asset to the team as the season progresses. He could also emerge as the team's slot receiver should Buster Davis fail to seize the opportunity this year.
What the Chargers have to hope will be the biggest aid in offsetting Jackson’s absence is the new-found presence of a running game with rookie Ryan Mathews toting the rock this year. Mathews did nothing in the first preseason game but build the hype for what he may do when the regular season rolls around as he bowled over would-be tacklers and showed outstanding open field speed. That added dimension will be a huge addition to an offensive attack that at times last year became one dimensional due to an ineffective ground game.
All in all, it seems like the absence of McNeill is of much more concern than Jackson not being with the team this season. If Rivers doesn’t have time to survey the field and pick out an open target then it won’t matter who is running pass patterns. In a perfect world the two sides would come to a compromise, but if that were anywhere on the horizon one would think that some indications would have been by now at least. This stalemate could very well last the entire season and the Bolts just have to hope that Dombrowski, Green, or Thomas are up to the task of protecting Rivers’ blindside.
So what do the fans think, which holdout is going to hurt the Bolts more, Vincent Jackson or Marcus McNeill? Can Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee, and company hold down the fort while Jackson is out or will the Bolts offense sputter? Will Philip Rivers survive the season without his blindside protector on the field or will Brandyn Dombrowski falter? Weigh in with your comments below!
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