There is no denying the fact that the 2012 season is going to be a pivotal one for the San Diego Chargers organization. From the stadium uncertainty to the team’s coaching and general manager positions, this could be the beginning of some real change within the franchise.
The change that fans hope to see more than anything in the upcoming season has to be the team’s recent struggles to make the playoffs. It’s not just fans who are sick of the club missing the postseason as quarterback Philip Rivers recently said: "We had a really good offseason, which I know most teams are going to say, but I like the mindset. We're definitely tired of not playing into January."
That mentality is definitely an appealing one as opposed to the complacent attitude which seemed to surround the team for the previous two years. The roster turnover experienced this offseason may also have something to do with that as the club will most likely field at least five new starters in the year ahead.
Gone will be the attitude and off-field issues of receiver Vincent Jackson, but replacing him will be a plethora of new faces like Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish, and Michael Spurlock. There is plenty of competition at a number of positions from defensive end where much emphasis has been placed in recent drafts to safety and linebacker.
Also departed for greener pastures is bruising back Mike Tolbert, but replacing him will be fellow between the tackles runners Le’Ron McClain and Jackie Battle. Both will allow Ryan Mathews to maintain his role as the feature back while not needing to pick up any slack in short yardage situations.
This roster upheaval was all orchestrated by General Manager A.J. Smith who is one of those among the Chargers’ brass on the proverbial hot seat. He handpicked Head Coach Norv Turner to run the show following the Marty Schottenheimer debacle and to date, that hire has been falling out of favor.
Change has been a theme for the Bolts this offseason, there’s no denying that, but the team hopes that the real difference is found on the field.
While much of the change highlighted has been offensive, there have been plenty of alterations to the defense as well. One position of particular note is at inside linebacker where the team hopes that Donald Butler steps up to be a Pro Bowl level player in 2012. Takeo Spikes will start alongside him, but he is 35 years old and will likely be a player in need of frequent substitution.
That brings us to the enigma that is Jonas Mouton. His selection in the second round of the 2011 draft drew some real criticism, but he never really had an opportunity to prove himself in his rookie year which was cut short due to a shoulder injury. In a similar fashion to Butler and his injury which kept him out for the entirety of his rookie campaign, Mouton will be asked to provide some real depth to the linebacking corps in his second season with the Bolts.
Much of Mouton’s experience heading into the upcoming season is in the classroom, but that work has its benefits. He is realistic about the real thing however as he said: "You've got to actually do it with some of the fastest guys walking the earth. It's a lot different, but it's still football. I feel like I'm progressing every day. I'm getting better every day. I'm feeling pretty good about it. I'm just trying to be the player I know I can be. Everybody tells me I have potential. It'll take a little time."
There are plenty of parallels to the Chargers as a team that could be drawn from Mouton’s situation, but the idea of being told you have potential and then actually living up to it is the most glaring. This is a huge year for the Chargers as a franchise and will likely determine which direction they go in at the head coaching position, the GM spot, and even geographically.
Making the playoffs and making some noise once they get there could go a long way in keeping the Bolts in San Diego as well as keeping Norv Turner and A.J. Smith employed. While those aren’t the primary objectives of the team with training camp just getting underway, they have to be somewhere in the backs of their minds.
Now it’s your turn! Do you expect some real change with the Chargers on the field this year or will it be a continuation of the last two seasons? Does the roster turnover say more about a change of attitude or is it more a sign of desperation? What do you expect to see from Donald Butler and Jonas Mouton at inside linebacker this season? Do you believe the Chargers on-field success is important to keeping the team in San Diego or to having Norv and A.J. return next year? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!
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