Chargers 2012 Season Hinges On The Offensive Line

Discussing a team’s offensive line isn’t really a way to get anyone’s attention, but everyone knows full well just how important the unit is to a club’s overall success. How well those five guys up front play determines the outcome of every single play on offense. The San Diego Chargers are currently feeling a bit perplexed for what to expect from that area of the team in 2012.

A year ago, we all remember the struggles of the line to give quarterback Philip Rivers an adequate amount of time to deliver passes and enough space to step up in the pocket. It led to a career-high 20 interceptions for the generally accurate Rivers in 2011. While the addition of Jared Gaither at left tackle alleviated some of those issues during the latter half of the season, the unit as a whole still struggled to find any sort of consistency.

Gaither was the reason for celebration just one year ago, but now he is the cause of some trepidation as he hasn’t been able to even practice much this offseason due to back and full body spasms. San Diego rewarded Gaither’s great play to finish out 2011 with a four-year contract worth $24.6 million which has led some to question his motivation this year. He has made stops with the Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs prior to landing with the Bolts and some feel his track record speaks for itself in terms of laziness.

The man competing for the backup role beyond him can be accused of anything but being lazy as undrafted rookie free agent Mike Harris from UCLA has only continued to improve practice after practice. Rivers said: “As a rookie you can drastically see a difference in a month's period of time. I think he is in the boat where each and every day he gets better at something.” If Gaither is still bothered by his bad back when week one rolls around, the Chargers won’t be happy, but they won’t be caught off-guard given Harris’ continued development.

Left guard Tyronne Green is entering his first year as the full-time starter after Kris Dielman’s retirement, but he too has been bothered by an injury. His foot has been an issue and will likely keep him out of this week’s preseason game with the Minnesota Vikings. The Chargers are thin behind Green on the depth chart so his return to the lineup will be highly anticipated.

Nick Hardwick suffered a concussion in a shared practice with the Dallas Cowboys earlier in the week and will be out of the game against the Vikes. He is arguably the most important component of the Bolts’ trench dwellers and his absence means someone else has to take on the responsibility of making line calls and protections. Rookie David Molk is the only body behind Hardwick on the depth chart, but the Chargers hope that Hardwick has no issues from this incident and can continue on after being cleared by the doctors.

Run blocking is the specialty of the guys on the right side of the Bolts offensive front in guard Louis Vasquez and tackle Jeromey Clary. Both are capable of being roadgraders in the ground game, but each has their limitations in pass protection as a result. There will need to be improvement on this side of the line for the offense to function as well as possible in the coming season.

After last year, it’s hard to forget just how rattled Rivers looked at times and just how little room to run Ryan Mathews had during stretches of the season. This season will be one more year together for the same group of linemen though and continuity is one of the most important things for successful line play. The chemistry that these five players have to perform as one unit will be vital to just how good the offense can be in the year ahead.

With the proper amount of time, Rivers should be able to survey the field and dissect defenses given the bevy of weapons at his disposal this season. If injuries continue to ravage the line and force a makeshift lineup more often than not, the film may look similar to 2011. And that is the biggest fear for the team looking forward.

Now it’s your turn! What do you think about the O-line: better or worse than a year ago? Are you concerned about Gaither’s reluctance to return to the field? To you, which position on the line is the most important? Can the Chargers avoid the chronic or catastrophic injuries this year or do these early issues point to signs of things to come? Please fill up the comments with your thoughts!

August 24, 2012

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