After years featuring tumultuous offseasons from feuds within the organization to disgruntled players as well as coaches and general managers taking part in some verbal sparring, is it possible that this less eventful 2011 version is just what the Bolts needed?
On paper it certainly seems that way from GM A.J. Smith’s solid first round draft choice in Corey Liuget addressing the team’s top offseason need to adding some substantial depth at linebacker while still taking care of the team’s own priority free agents. This year has the feeling of tranquility around the Bolts as even the annual headache of Vincent Jackson’s contract demands have been muffled with the $11 million he will be cashing from the franchise tag.
There is no denying the fact that this Chargers team has finally decided to place its emphasis on making the defense stronger. The aforementioned drafting of Liuget was just the first step in a relatively involved process which saw the team re-sign the vital safety Eric Weddle as well as picking up a pass rusher in Travis LaBoy and a tackling machine in Takeo Spikes to man the linebacker level.
Not to be forgotten, the addition of veteran safety Bob Sanders has provided a proverbial kick in the pants to everyone on the defensive side of the football. The intensity that Sanders brings to the table has been noted by nearly every player to ever suit up alongside of him and that desire can be an infectious disease that the rest of the team should be dying to acquire.
Much is going to be expected of the youth on this Chargers’ roster for sure with a starting role for second year inside linebacker Donald Butler very much within his reach. Butler suffered a torn Achilles tendon early in training camp last offseason, but he hasn’t lost a step in his return to the field this year. He was noted for his high football IQ coming out of Washington in last year’s draft and seems to be winning over the coaching staff thus far in practices rarely taking the wrong angle on tackles while showing top notch instincts in play diagnosis. It won’t be a surprise to see a large scale rotation at inside backer this year involving Butler, Spikes, and rookie Jonas Mouton, but Butler could make it tough to take him off of the field if his progress continues.
Obviously first round picks are always considered impact players from day one and it looks as if Liuget playing on the end in the 3-4 is going to live up to the billing this year. San Diego brought back incumbent starter Jacques Cesaire in a mentor role with Liuget for two seasons and the veteran has been quite impressed with what the rookie has to offer thus far. The praise for Liuget has ranged from his football acumen to his impeccable technique for the 3-4 scheme and each of those aspects can only continue to improve with more reps as the year wears on.
It’s not as if either side of the ball was in dire need of an overhaul from last season when they ranked atop the league in both total offense and total defense, but the majority believed the offense to be the Bolts’ strength in 2010. Nothing should change those sentiments in 2011 with quarterback and field general Philip Rivers still calling the shots threading the ball into tight windows with that quirky (yet effective) delivery of his on a week-to-week basis and his top three receivers in VJ, Antonio Gates, and Malcom Floyd back in the fold for yet another year. Gates does have his lingering foot issues that could render him less effective than years past, but the team is still banking on him being a big part of their offense once again.
The running game is clearly where the club needs to improve with Ryan Mathews entering his second season and the entire offensive front just another year more familiar with one another. That continuity along with Mathews’ ability to learn from his hiccups a year ago could give the Chargers a potent ground attack this year even with the departure of third down specialist Darren Sproles given the fact that the bruising Mike Tolbert is still available to lighten the load for Mathews when necessary.
Obviously the biggest question mark resides on the sidelines where Head Coach Norv Turner returns for his fifth season with the Bolts and should be standing on some fairly thin ice at this point. Turner has steadily declined in terms of progress into the playoffs since taking over in 2007 all the way down to missing the postseason a year ago. Slow starts have been to blame for the majority of the team’s self-inflicted wounds during Turner’s tenure so a fast start with some wins in September and October will be imperative if the Bolts want to buck their downward trend.
It’s easy to encapsulate the most important aspects for a team to succeed before any games have been played, but perseverance and toughness are going to be important things for this Chargers’ team to focus on if they are going to make 2011 a success story. All of the steps have been taken in the offseason to make the upcoming year a joy for Bolts’ fans so it’s all about living up to the potential from this point forward.
Now it’s time for you to be heard! Do you think A.J. Smith’s newfound inner-Mother Teresa as a peacemaker brings positive vibes to the Bolts for the 2011 season? Which defensive free agent signing (Sanders, LaBoy, Spikes) will make a bigger impact on defense this year? Do you see rookies playing key roles for the Bolts this year or will they be learning more from the sidelines? Which unit is the most formidable on paper for the team, offense or defense? Can the Chargers win in spite of Norv Turner’s jellyfish-like coaching style or will their choice in leaders again be their demise? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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