2015 Season Preview: San Diego Chargers

In Tom Telesco’s two seasons as General Manager of the San Diego Chargers they have had back-to-back 9-7 seasons. In 2013 the Chargers made the playoffs, but they fell short a year ago. With Denver seemingly starting to go downhill and the Chiefs and Raiders progressing, the Chargers have to at least stay even with the rest of the division. Quarterback There was a lot of talk about quarterback Phillip Rivers being traded during the off-season but it never came to fruition. Rivers, at 33 years of age, is still is at the top of his game. Last year he completed 379 of 570 passes for 4,286 yards and 31 touchdowns. While he lacks the movement skills he had earlier in his career, he still has a very quick release and is extremely accurate. The backup is Kellen Clemens, who going into his 13th season, is a very reliable player to have in that important backup position. Running Back The Chargers running game was horrible a year ago. The leading rusher was an undersized rookie free agent, Brandon Oliver, who ran for only 582 yards. To change that, the Chargers drafted explosive Melvin Gordon from Wisconsin to be their lead runner. Gordon has a running style similar to the Chiefs Jamaal Charles but he isn’t the receiver that Charles is. Like most backs coming out of college, Gordon will also have to improve his pass blocking. The primary backup at running back will be either Oliver or Donald Brown, who was a disappointment in his first season with San Diego. Danny Woodhead is coming off an injury and is also in the mix. Tight End and Wide Receiver The bad news is that the Chargers have lost long time starter Antonio Gates for four games due to a league suspension. There are some in the Chargers organization who feel that this could be a positive. The Chargers have relied on Gates for the past 12 seasons and it’s time to develop another player. The next guy in line to start at tight end is Ladarius Green who has shown flashes of talent in his three previous seasons. The starters at the wide out positions will be Keenan Allen, who already has two strong seasons under his belt. The other wide out will be veteran Malcom Floyd. Another possibility could be Stevie Johnson who San Diego signed as a free agent. While Johnson is very talented, he has a way of wearing out his welcome. Jacoby Jones appears to be the fourth receiver, and he is also a reliable returner. Offensive Line The line will have a different look than a year ago since center Nick Hardwick and guard Jeromey Clary retired. To replace Hardwick, the Chargers have moved Chris Watt over from guard. Watt started five games as a rookie. I thought that when he was coming out of Notre Dame, he was a natural center. We will soon find out. To replace Clary, the Chargers gave substantial money to former Denver starter Orlando Franklin. He should be a huge upgrade. The other guard is Johnnie Troutman, who needs to play with more consistency. The tackles will be King Dunlap, who last year may have had his best season, and former first round pick D.J. Fluker. If Troutman struggles at guard, Fluker could move inside, and former Buffalo Bill Chris Hairston could play right tackle. Defensive Line The defensive line has to get better. As of now, they have one legitimate star in end Corey Liuget. Liuget is still young, and this will only be his fifth year in the league, so he can still get even better. The other end going into camp is Kendall Reyes. Reyes has the traits to be a very good player, but he has never been able to play with complete consistency.  Behind Reyes and Liuget are Ricardo Mathews, Tenny Palepoi, and free agent pickup Mitch Unrein. The rookie sixth-round pick could surprise, but he is more of an undersized pass rusher who looks like a role player. While the starter at nose tackle going into camp is Sean Lissemore, I expect second year man Ryan Carrethers to mount a strong challenge. Carrethers should see a good amount of playtime. Linebackers There will be a bit of a different look at linebacker in 2015. Dwight Freeney is gone as is inside starter Jarrett Johnson. The starters inside will be Manti Te’o who has been set back by injuries but played well towards the end of last year. He felt good about his off season and is looking forward to camp. Opposite Te’o is Donald Butler who has not lived up to his contract numbers. Butler needs to show vast improvement this year. If he falters even a little, rookie Denzel Perryman is ready to step in. Perryman might be undersized, but he is all football player! For the outside linebackers,  former first round pick Melvin Ingram has to put injuries aside and play to his first round talent level. His play picked up some last year but it still wasn’t enough. Now in his second year, Jerry Attaochu should show improvement. He has some very good pass rush talent. An interesting rookie to watch is Kyle Emanuel. He was one of the better FCS pass rushers while at North Dakota State. He played down in college and will need to adjust to playing on his feet. Secondary Brandon Flowers played very well in his first year as a Charger and was given an extension. He will hold down the left side. On the right side will be last year’s first-round pick Jason Verrett. Verrett is undersized, but plays an aggressive game. Although, that style of play could hurt his durability. The third corner should be free agent acquisition Patrick Robinson, who came over from New Orleans. Nine-year vet Eric Weddle is the free safety, while the strong safety position will be a camp battle. Third-year man Jahleel Addae played close to 400 snaps a year ago as a reserve and nickelback. He is a playmaker and will be tough to keep off the field. Coming over from Miami is free agent Jimmy Wilson who started 13 games for the Dolphins. While Addae is undersized, he may be too good to keep out of the starting lineup. Outlook As I have mentioned in the other AFC West write-ups, the division title is up for grabs. I feel Denver’s days as the champ are over and the division will be a battle between Kansas City and San Diego. The Chargers have to get much better play on defense this year in order to challenge for the title. Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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