The frenzied NFL offseason has seen the Chargers resign a number of their players while adding a few key free agents from outside the organization. Guys like Eric Weddle, Jeromey Clary, Vincent Jackson, and Billy Volek are returning, while safety Bob Sanders and linebackers Takeo Spikes and Travis LaBoy come to San Diego to improve a questionable Chargers defense. With all of the attention on the players currently in the Chargers locker room, we wonder how significant the defections of a number of key players will be in the 2011 season?
Running back Darren Sproles signed a four-year deal to replace Reggie Bush in New Orleans. The fan favorite known for his small stature but big impact on the field was a threat on punt and kickoff returns, solid in pass protection, and a great change of pace back on third downs. Rookie Jordan Todman may replace some of the change-of-pace style that Sproles brought to the offense, but as a rookie, don’t expect Todman to get a lot of playing time early in the season. Ryan Mathews will likely get the bulk of the work on third down provided he can stay healthy.
While not official yet, all signs point to Malcolm Floyd leaving San Diego, primarily because the Chargers won’t pay close to what he believes he is worth. Still, the longer he remains unsigned, you have to believe that the more likely it is he could return.
In a big blow to a defense that already had it share of problems, linebackers Kevin Burnett, Brandon Siler, and Stephen Cooper will all be wearing new colors this season. Burnett signed with the Miami Dolphins for more money than the Chargers were willing to offer him. Siler joined the rival Chiefs for the chance to compete for a starting job. Cooper remains unsigned and injury concerns seem to be hurting his value on the free agent market. His chances of rejoining the team seem to be slim. Adding to the losses at linebacker, Antwon Applewhite signed with the 49ers.
Replacing Sproles on returns will be some combination of Antoine Cason, Patrick Crayton, Marcus Gilchrist, and possibly Todman. The Chargers feel comfortable with Crayton taking the number-two receiver position that Floyd occupied, and with rookie Vincent Brown playing in the slot.
Filling the Shamu-sized hole left by they departure of four veteran linebackers, the Chargers have Spikes and two inexperienced linebackers in Donald Butler and Jonas Mouton. Butler and Mouton have tons of potential, but can they start this year? With each passing day it seems that the best inside linebackers on the market get gobbled up by other teams. But do you need a superstar at inside linebacker? I’d settle for smart, experienced, and healthy at this point. Lofa Tatupa became available after his release from Seattle, but he has a recent history of serious knee injuries. Kirk Morrison is available, and he is a smart and consistent- if not spectacular- player. Channing Crowder could also fill the void left by Burnett and Cooper. The entertaining linebacker, who once called referees who missed a call Stevie Wonder and Helen Keller, loves to lay a hit on an opposing player, but may be a little too boisterous for AJ Smith’s liking.
Umenyiora In The Blue And Gold?
With defensive end Osi Umenyiora requesting a trade from the New York Giants, the Chargers have been rumored to have some interest in obtaining the pass rushing specialist. Umenyiora, who would move to an outside linebacker position in the Chargers base 3-4 defense, would immediately improve the Chargers pass rush, a priority for the team this offseason. But with LaBoy, Larry English, Antwon Barnes, and Shaun Phillips already sharing snaps on the outside, the likelihood that a trade is made to obtain Umenyiora is pretty slim. The Giants are asking for a first-round pick in trade, but would probably settle for a second, neither of which the Chargers are likely to part with.
Injuries Already A Concern in 2011
The injury bug has already hit Chargers training camp, much of which could be blamed on the lack of offseason workouts and rehab during the lockout. While it was reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kevin Acee that Ryan Mathews reported to camp out of shape, he has already missed practice due to “soreness.” Antoine Cason broke a finger off of a pass deflection and will miss 2-4 weeks while recovering from surgery. Larry English and Antonio Gates both started training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list due to rehab from offseason surgery. English continues to recover from surgery to repair a foot fracture that ruined his 2010 season. Gates continues to be plagued by a plantar fasciitis issue that may never fully heal, but may be worse off this year due to the lack of attention and treatment received by team trainers.
Hopefully the Chargers eliminate most of their injury issues early in camp and hit the regular season as close to healthy as possible.
Given the many offseason moves, which free agent addition or departure do you think is key to the Chargers success or failure this season? Have the Chargers done enough to solidify their weak spots, or have they lost something with departures of Sproles, Burnett, and others? Sound off below!
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