San Diego Chargers 2010 Season Preview: Will Missing Men Sink the Ship?
Has there ever been a team that appeared to be on the brink of something big more often than the Chargers? Every year it looks like it is going to be their chance to break through and raise the Lombardi Trophy and then something happens to rain on the parade that's never actually made its way through San Diego.
This year might not be any different. The Chargers have oodles of talent and experience, but the holdouts of Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill threaten to hamstring the offense and scuttle the team's chances along with it. That might not be the safest bet, however.
Offense -- The nice thing about having Norv Turner as head coach is that the man can design an offense. The absence of Jackson and McNeill will hamper the team's ability to throw down field, but it still has enough weapons to dial things down and still score points. First-round pick Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert give the team three different looks in the running game and that should open up play-action passes to big receivers like Antonio Gates and Legedu Naanee. That kind of dramatic shift from explosiveness to ball control wouldn't work with all quarterbacks, but Philip Rivers is talented enough to thrive in any system -- even with a slightly diminished supporting cast. The Chargers will rely on him heavily, but that shouldn't be a problem. Heat Index: 7
Defense -- There's talent here, so long as it can stay healthy enough to avoid dipping too deep into the reserves. Antonio Garay is a big, talented replacement (if oft-injured) for Jamal Williams and it looks like the Chargers got a steal with Cam Thomas in the fifth round as a rotation piece inside. Shawne Merriman hasn't been the same since suffering a serious injury in 2008, but the Chargers need him to start playing lights out again as soon as possible. If not, Larry English has to show more in his second year because Shaun Phillips can't carry the entire pass rushing load by himself. Kevin Burnett, Nathan Vasher and other key players also have health concerns which could wind up leaving the Chargers overly reliant on the offense again this year. Heat Index: 6
Special Teams -- Nate Kaeding has had a long, long time to think about his dreadful performance against the Jets in the playoffs. Hopefully he remembers how well he boots the ball against the other 30 teams in the league and doesn't start seeing Rex Ryan shaking his belly at him every time he goes back for a big field goal. The usual Kaeding, punter Mike Scifres and Sproles make this an awfully good unit and a real strength for the Bolts. Heat Index: 8
Coaching -- We mentioned the good thing about having Turner as your head coach in the offensive section, but the stability he offers on the sidelines is also a plus for a team that always seems to find some way for things to go off the rails. Turner's role in those derailments has probably been overstated over the years since he can't kick field goals, avoid injuries or do much of anything about how his players execute what have proven to be winning game plans time and again. Heat Index: 7
Intangibles -- It's been an offseason of major change in San Diego. In addition to the holdouts, they've waved goodbye to Antonio Cromartie, LaDainian Tomlinson and Brandon Manumaleuna. All of those moves have been defensible, but you wonder if early struggles might give birth to complaints from the players that the franchise isn't willing to spend enough to put a winning team on the field. On the other hand, the departures have some people predicting a big drop for the Chargers and such doubt can give birth to great seasons. Heat Index: 6
Total Heat Index: 34/50 -- Even without Jackson and McNeill, it is hard to find a better team in the AFC West. Throw in four games against the NFC West and it looks like another division title for the Chargers. Rivers, who consistently improves and is a fine leader, will be an MVP contender as a result, but the shortcomings will likely catch up with them in the playoffs once again.