The age old saying that a team is only as good as its weakest link has been a time-tested mantra that seems to resurface on a regular basis throughout the NFL. Given the Bolts statistical superiority over the majority of the league in most categories last season, it is a difficult process to try and identify just where the team’s weakest links lie. Even with their remarkable achievements as a team last year, there are plenty of areas where the club could use an upgrade if they want to take the next step to an elite level.
Perhaps the best place to start is with the defensive front seven where the team performed admirably in stretches yet showed some extreme inadequacies through the latter half of their schedule. The drubbing at the hands of the divisional rival Oakland Raiders was perhaps the most extreme and embarrassing of these deficiencies when the Bolts surrendered 251 yards in a 28-13 defeat week 13 at home.
Antonio Garay held down the nose tackle position for the majority of the year in 2010 and figures to get the bulk of the snaps again in 2011, but the defensive ends are a position in flux. Jacques Cesaire and Travis Johnson are both free agents and likely to be playing elsewhere next season while Luis Castillo remains the only constant on the defensive line. After some near Pro Bowl level seasons during his first handful of years in the league, Castillo has leveled off and subsequently dropped in terms of production for the Bolts. Even during injury plagued years in 2006 and 2007 he managed bigger numbers than in both 2009 and 2010 in terms of tackles and just overall performance. Castillo may be the only constant on this team on the first line of defense, but his play really needs to improve in 2011 or he could find himself falling out of favor on the depth chart.
The same could be said on the offensive side for right tackle Jeromey Clary who has basically been the starter on the right side by default over the past few years and has proven to be a liability in pass protection. Even his strength as a run blocker has seen a dip recently with the team not being nearly as productive on the ground in recent years. Granted some of that is due to a philosophical shift more toward an aerial attack recently, but Clary’s been penalty-prone at inopportune times in addition to his decline as a run blocker which makes him a prime candidate for an overhaul.
It is highly likely that the Chargers will come into the 2011 season with both of these guys on the roster, but their positions on the depth chart aren’t nearly as cemented as they have been in years past.
That brings us to the idea of upgrading at both defensive end and offensive tackle as the Bolts are in prime position to do just that in round one of the NFL Draft in a little over a week. Beginning with defensive end, the Chargers have been linked to two main possibilities at 18th overall in the first round hoping that either Cameron Jordan of California or J.J. Watt of Wisconsin falls into their lap at that position. Both have experience in the five-technique and offer a tremendous amount of scheme versatility should the Bolts choose to mix it up under new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky at times.
Chances are great that either one of these guys would be a starter from day one given the current uncertain free agent climate in the league and the Bolts’ lack of bodies on their depth chart on the end. Adding a versatile difference maker to a defensive line considered to be in decline over the past few seasons is just what the team needs to rectify their issues in stopping the run.
Moving on to offensive tackle, many believe that it is a toss-up between Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi and Boston College alum Anthony Castonzo for the most pro-ready tackle in this year’s draft class. Most scouts feel that either one comes equipped ready to start from day one on the right side and could quickly be groomed into a Pro Bowl level blindside protector. The Bolts don’t really need help on the left side now that Marcus McNeill is signed long-term, but depth and versatility is always a nice asset to have in your back pocket during a long and taxing NFL season.
With the average performance that Clary has given on the right side during his career with the Chargers, Carimi or Castonzo would provide an immediate upgrade at that position. The upside that each possesses is much greater than that of Clary as well which gives the Bolts a legitimate draft option if all of their desired targets at 3-4 defensive end are off of the board by pick number 18 overall.
The possibilities with the first round selection are still limitless if you listen to General Manager A.J. Smith discuss which direction the Bolts may go during this year’s draft. According to Smith: “The only positions I've closed out, as I've done for a while now, are kickers and punters. We're doing just fine there. Everything else is possible. When I used to say that in the past, people thought I was filling notebooks with GM-speak. But now, because of the circumstances, there are a lot of people who believe that's truly the case."
In an attempt to help Smith out just a bit, it seems the deliberation has been narrowed down to four viable candidates. Without any unforeseen curveballs it seems highly probable that one of these players will be putting on a Chargers cap on April 28th. Whether it is one of the defensive ends in Jordan or Watt or one of the two offensive tackles in Carimi or Castonzo, the Bolts really need their first round selection to provide an instant impact on their 2011 roster. That is the only thing not up for debate at this point.
Now for your take. Do you agree with these two perceived weakest links for the Bolts or are there different areas you feel need to be addressed? Do you believe GM Smith when he says that every position aside from kicker and punter are up for consideration or is he simply giving some misdirection to his fellow GM’s around the league? Of the four players mentioned, which do you feel is the most ideal fit on this Chargers team and why? If you would rather see the team go in a different direction, what area do you feel is a bigger need and which player would you target? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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