Making The Cut: 2011 Roster

With week one of the season now looming plainly on the horizon, the Chargers need to focus in on changing their underwhelming track record in the months of September and October under Head Coach Norv Turner. Turner’s 13-16 record during his four seasons with the Bolts in those opening two months is inexplicable really considering the fact that he has a 41-23 overall record in the regular season since taking over the job in 2007.

Certainly it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that the Chargers have repeatedly finished strong under Turner’s tutelage with a sparkling 28-7 mark in games after October 31st in the regular season. The overall maturity of this year’s group leads one to believe that the days of slow starts are in the past with Turner’s leadership (or lack thereof) not even factoring in to the club’s mentality in 2011 as veterans like Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Takeo Spikes, and Bob Sanders have the ability to captivate a locker room and inspire the troops this time around.

To even further illustrate Turner’s inability to prepare a team early in the season, the Bolts are just 2-2 in season openers under Norv and have began each of the previous four seasons with a 2-3 record. Even though the team has won the division three times under Turner and reached an AFC title game, a slow start in 2010 kept the Bolts from realizing their full potential as they failed to reach the postseason for the first time since 2005.

All Bolts fans are already aware of these shortcomings and hope that a strong rookie class with a dash of veteran infusion can right the wrongs of a year ago. The team took the first step toward solidifying its identity for the upcoming year when the final 53-man roster was announced with some surprising names left off the list.

Obviously the idea of saying that one player in particular should have been kept is convenient, but the task of deciding who should have in turn been let go is much more difficult. Still one name that came as a surprise in the trim down was former Arizona center/guard Colin Baxter who had seemingly created quite a niche for himself with the team in the preseason. The Bolts raved on and on about his versatility being such an asset to the team, yet the club failed to find room for him on their final roster. Baxter was quickly snatched up by the New York Jets off of waivers and added to their squad.

The other young and surprising roster casualty was third string rookie quarterback Scott Tolzien from Wisconsin who showed some very positive things in mop up action during the preseason. Current Bolts’ backup Billy Volek is 35 and probably has a few years left in the tank, but it’s still puzzling that the team couldn’t find a spot for Tolzien on their final 53-man roster. Tolzien wasn’t without a team for long as the San Francisco 49ers quickly added him to their muddled mess of a quarterback situation.

Despite the Bolts losing two potential contributors down the road from their roster, this can be spun in another direction all together. The Bolts have such a deep collection of talent on their current assembly of players that they just don’t have the room for any developmental projects in their limited window with Super Bowl aspirations. There is no denying that it would have been nice to stash these two guys on the practice squad for a year of growth, yet the team can’t be all that disappointed in losing them given their current situation.

Three other players unexpectedly let go that were all with the Bolts a year ago are defensive lineman Ogemdi Nwagbuo and both wide receivers Seyi Ajirotutu and Kelley Washington. Nwagbuo offered nice depth to the defensive front while Ajirotutu provided Rivers with a solid weapon down the stretch last season and Washington was a special teams dynamo. Still the team couldn’t find a place for these three proven commodities when push came to shove in the roster cut either.

On the other side of the spectrum you have two relative unknowns coming into camp who made strong pushes that were ultimately successful in making the Bolts’ roster. Both dynamic linebacker Darryl Gamble and kick return specialist receiver Bryan Walters were given spots on the 53-man collection of 2011 San Diego Chargers. Gamble brings a fire and intensity to the Chargers defensively that will be quite beneficial in spot duty while Walters has a game-breaking element that was shown in the kicking game with his return for a touchdown early in the preseason.

Even with all of the ups and downs of roster cuts, the Chargers should be thrilled with how they currently stand as a football team headed into the regular season. As astounding as it may seem, perhaps the Bolts Head Coach summed things up best as Norv Turner told the North County Times: "This is a tough day. You know that a lot of these guys will get opportunities somewhere else, but you go through the morning explaining to (27) different guys why you're moving in a different direction and that's not easy. It's certainly disappointing for them, and going through it so many times also takes its toll on the coach. I'm excited about our team and the guys we have left."

Now it’s your turn to be heard. Which omissions from the 53-man roster were you most disappointed in? Will the 2011 Chargers start slow again or will this year’s version win despite the lackluster preparation of their head coach? Do you see rookie free agents Darryl Gamble or Bryan Walters emerging as household names at some point during the season or will they simply be necessary glue guys for the Bolts this year? Fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!

September 6, 2011

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