2011 Chargers: A Depth Chart Examination

During an offseason without team activity from the addition of free agents to even the signing of some of the club’s own top players, it’s difficult to discern just what the 2011 depth chart could look like in San Diego when week one kicks off. That doesn’t mean we can’t at least attempt to prognosticate a bit as to what the squad is going to look like position by position once that opening game against the Minnesota Vikings gets underway on the 10th anniversary of the September 11th attacks in 2001.

Obviously the quarterback position is cemented down with Philip Rivers running the show, but the running back spot could be pivotal for the team’s offensive balance. It’s tough to be too critical of Ryan Mathews’ rookie campaign in 2010, but there is no doubt that both Mike Tolbert and incoming rookie Jordan Todman could be competing for carries in the upcoming season. It’s highly improbably that Darren Sproles will be back in San Diego and that really shouldn’t be much of a loss for the team to overcome. Running back by committee is the new philosophy league-wide and will likely find its root with the Bolts in 2011.

On the outside, the wide receiver spot could see some serious turnover with Vincent Jackson warranting the franchise tag, but both Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee unrestricted free agents. Naanee already has one foot out the door with his recent run-in with the law while the team would like to hang on to Floyd, but he could be coveted on the free agent market upping his contractual value significantly. The team did draft local product Vincent Brown in the third round of the NFL Draft, but he is likely to be only a slot target in the Bolts high-flying offensive attack. Trade rumors about Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers remain on the radar moving forward, but a move like that would likely only be a short-term remedy.

Up front, the offensive line will be back in tact for the upcoming season, but that might not be as upbeat of a statement as it once seemed. The Bolts’ big uglies surrendered 38 sacks in 2010 and did nothing to upgrade the unit as a whole. Cohesion and continuity of coming together as a group should allow the five men protecting Rivers to improve their play in the coming year, but the running game is where this group really needs to pave the way for success.

On the opposite side of the ball, the defensive line received the most notable upgrade to date in defensive end Corey Liuget via the first round of the NFL Draft. Liuget looks to aid a group that was thoroughly dominated by several ground-heavy offenses during the course of the 2010 season. His addition as well as some more scheme flexibility should allow this area to enjoy a nice rebound effort in the coming season off of a disappointing conclusion to last year. Keeping veteran Jacques Cesaire for depth purposes should be a priority in free agency and finding another body or two would be nice as well to provide the luxury of a rotation along the defensive front.

Although it is debatable just which area of the Chargers’ team is the most in flux at this point, the linebacker level certainly has to rank somewhere near the top of that list. The inside linebacker position was decimated by injuries during the 2010 campaign and it seems that age has gotten the better of veteran Stephen Cooper. It’s highly unlikely that he will be back this year leaving the re-signing of Kevin Burnett as priority number one. Second round pick James Mouton figures to compete for a starting job as well at inside backer as the Bolts try to get tougher up the middle to defend against a run-heavy AFC West division. As for pass rushers at outside linebacker, this is the put up or shut up year for Larry English and with very little attention paid to the position thus far in the offseason, the team must be banking on English coming through.

In the secondary, re-signing safety Eric Weddle clearly takes precedence over all other concerns after his impressive season a year ago. Veteran corners Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason also performed admirably in 2010, but Jammer will be 32 years old in a little over a month and the team drafted Marcus Gilchrist in round two as well as Shareece Wright in round three to possibly be groomed as replacements down the line. The Bolts did rank tops in the league defending the pass in 2010 so bringing the same secondary back in tact can’t be a bad thing for the coming year, but the additional depth will certainly be a nice perk for the club during the long NFL season.

In a nutshell it really seems that each and every position of need has been addressed in some form or fashion and that retaining the current members of the roster scheduled to become free agents should be at the top of the to-do list for the Bolts’ front office. With more attention to detail in the game’s third phase of special teams during the coming year, this could be a turning point for the Chargers as an organization.

Now it’s your turn. Which running back do you expect to see the bulk of the workload during the 2011 season and why? Do you think Malcom Floyd will be back with the team this year and could Steve Smith be a key veteran piece to a deep playoff run? How do you see the newest member of the defensive front (Corey Liuget) fitting into the Bolts rotation? Will the linebackers or the secondary prove to be the weakest area for the team during next season? Can Larry English finally live up to his 1st round hype or is he doomed to be labeled a draft bust? What other pieces do you see the team pursuing when free agency is finally permitted to begin? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!

May 13, 2011

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Rob Zepeda said... May 14, 2011, 12:03:00 AM

Wow, what an excellent read Anthony!

I've held the WR as a team need for 2 years now, but the Chargers seem to have taken a different approach. Last year, they should have drafted one but were able to get by with signing Crayton. Floyd is pretty much injury prone at this point, and VJ and Leg's futures with the team are unclear at best.

It's true that Philip Rivers makes his teammates better, but it's somewhat surprising that the front office isn't showing him much love in the way of giving him premier targets to throw to. Steve Smith actually makes some sense, especially considering the Chargers' track record of signing/trading for veteran WRs like McCardell, Chambers, and even David Boston.

I'd like to see the team become more balanced on offense and take pressure off the defense. In shootout games, our secondary is going to be tested often and we don't really have any ballhawks out there. If there's one thing that concerns me, it's being able to get back to power football, and the defense's ability to create turnovers and negative plays. I think the special teams will be improved, and as I expected, the Chargers drafted a ton of guys who will play ST so I think that weakness is going to be shored up instantly.

The really talent Chargers teams of a few years ago were teams that had backup players who were Starting Caliber. Merriman as a rookie, Cromartie as the 3 CB, Shaun Phillips as a situational guy, Michael Turner as the 2nd RB, etc. I'm not sure we have that deep of a roster any longer so I think staying healthy is going to be key, along with young guys stepping up and proving themselves, especially the 2010 draft class which we haven't seen much of.

Philip_Rules said... May 16, 2011, 11:25:00 AM

Free agency can turn everything around. It's so odd that everything is backwards this year. Without knowing which FA's are gonna be here and which are bid a found farewell, there's a lot of guess work to be done. Especially since the Chargers have so many they may lose.
Hopefully Matthews can stay healthy to carry most of the load. Talent-wise I think he's head & shoulders above Tolbert (no height pun intended there) and that's with Tolbert being pretty darn good. I'm hoping Todman gets plenty of work in mop-up time, but that may be about it for him unless Matthews continues with the Chargers string of 1st round injury problems.
I'd bet we see Floyd back more than Smith signed. I just don't think AJ is gonna pursue Smith unless he can get him cheap which probably won't happen. UDFA's may be the way AJ goes here. He does have a pretty good record in that area.
Liuget is gonna be a big help on run defense and also provide some help on pass. Despite everyone crying for a pass rushing DE, I think it was run defense that really needed the help. I'm hoping we see him in there for every down except when he needs a breather. This is the guy who may step up to the leadership role the front 7 needs.
Linebackers are gonna be the problem area. Big turnover looming especially in the middle (which may not be that bad of a thing) and no big time leadership stepping forward either. A big concern. If Weddle is signed, I think you have a pretty darn good secondary, a pretty good line. LB's?????
English needs to come thru big time this year or he will be joining Buster Davis on the great potential but no ability to stay on the field heap. Potential only gets you so far, eventually you have to produce or it's see ya later.

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