There’s a different aroma in the air around the neatly cut grass and white-painted lines of the practice field off of Murphy Canyon road.
The newly acquired rookies of the San Diego Chargers’ 2016 NFL draft class run around flashing their brilliance alongside some 50 other undrafted free agents the team has brought in to try to fulfill their life-long dream of playing professional football.
In the earliest of reports, the first- and second-round picks appear to be men among boys; as they should be practicing among guys who will most likely never wear an NFL jersey on game days in September.
On paper, the Chargers have improved leaps and bounds from a team that was decimated by injuries and lacked enough quality depth to be competitive in an ever-evolving AFC West. The starting offensive line played two games together throughout the course of the 2015 season. The defensive line wasn’t much better even when they were on the field, giving up nearly five yards per carry on the ground.
Fast forward to this year and there’s a completely new picture to look at.
The defensive line has been transformed by the pick up of true nose tackle Brandon Mebane, and the drafting of defensive lineman Joey Bosa. Mebane and Bosa are going to come in and immediately improve the run defense of this team. Mebane is going to clog up the middle of the defense, freeing up the linebacking corps, allowing them to fly in and stop ball carriers before they get through the line. Bosa is as technically sound as it gets for a rookie. He has violent hands, and good strength that allows him to bully offensive linemen and attack the football.
The improvements of the defensive line are going to make everyone else’s job on the defense much easier. Let’s not forget the addition of Casey Hayward who will team up with Jason Verrett as the teams No. 1 and 2 corners.
Telesco has also replaced Donald Butler with two young, hungry linebackers in Joshua Perry and Jatavis Brown. These two young men are going to come in and make the special teams better the second they step on the field. Don’t be surprised if you see Perry and Brown also push Manti Te’o for some playing time on defense.
Speaking of the linebackers, fifth-year pro Melvin Ingram easily had the best season of his career in 2015 by totaling 10.5 sacks. As you well know, that was all without the aid of a Mebane or Bosa on the team’s defensive unit. Opposite of Ingram, Jerry Attaochu also made the best of his opportunities last season, setting a career-high with six sacks of his own.
The offensive line has also been fortified with center/guard Matt Slauson formerly of the Chicago Bears, and third-round pick Max Tuerk of USC. The pick up of Matt Slauson has a huge impact on the identity of this line. Slauson is durable, intelligent and plays with a nasty mean streak. This also allows Max Tuerk to take his time to recover from a knee injury, move Chris Watt back to his natural position of guard, while hopefully eliminating the dead weight that is Trevor Robinson.
Not only has Tom Telesco improved the offensive and defensive lines, but he’s also brought in a couple of new weapons for Philip Rivers to throw to in the speedster Travis Benjamin and the sure-handed rookie tight end Hunter Henry.
Philip Rivers has gone on record saying that Travis Benjamin is the fastest guy he’s ever thrown the ball to. Benjamin is going to come in and take the top off of the defense and allow guys like Keenan Allen, Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates to tear up the middle of the field.
This is the best offseason of Tom Telesco’s tenure as the Chargers’ general manager because he addressed almost every need that was bleeding the team last year.
The national media is sleeping on the Chargers and that’s fine, but don’t be surprised if this team changes that perception as soon as they strap on the helmets and pads come September.
Do you remember how successful Donnie Edwards was in a Chargers’ uniform? How ferocious Steve Foley and Randall Godfrey were while in San Diego? Those guys were great in their own right, but none of those guys would’ve been as successful as they were if it had not been for Jamal Williams.
Now, believe me when I say that I am in no way, shape or form saying that Brandon Mebane is Jamal Williams, but I will say that the Chargers’ defense got exponentially better the second he signed on the dotted line.
I feel confident enough to guarantee you that there are four guys wearing Charger bolts on their jerseys that are the happiest men on the face of the earth: Manti Te’o, Denzel Perryman, Jerry Attaochu, and Melvin Ingram. Those four men must have a glimmer in their eyes like a family of little kids on Christmas morning. It goes without saying that defensive coordinator John Pagano is most likely sharing the same excitement.
San Diego’s linebackers have had to suffer through a carousel of nose tackles such as Sean Lissemore, Antonio Garay, Cam Thomas and rookies that never got a fair shake, like Ryan Carrethers.
Now they have a man capable of stuffing the run, taking on multiple blockers and a man who commands double teams. A man who brings a presence to the middle of the defensive line that the Chargers have not had in years.
Brandon Mebane is going to come in and help control the point of attack right away. A true nose tackle is essential when running a 3-4 defense. The Chargers haven’t had the personnel to run a successful 3-4 until now. Mr. Mebane is the missing piece to a defense that is both young and very talented.
During his nine-year career with the Seattle Seahawks, the 31-year-old amassed 349 total tackles, 15.5 sacks and eight passes defensed. Though Mebane’s impact on the defense won’t light up the box score, his teammates will certainly know exactly how much easier their jobs will be having the belly-rolling defender line up at nose tackle.
As tough as it was for all of us to watch the first four Chargers games without him, the suffering is now over. Antonio Gates has fulfilled his obligatory four-game suspension and has rejoined the team, ready to jump into preparation for Monday Night football in San Diego against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In his absence, back-up tight end Ladarius Green fought through two concussions and stacked up 14 receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns. While those aren’t bad numbers, you can’t replace the presence and respect that the future Hall of Famer commands from opposing defenses.
Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing in at 255 pounds, Gates flashes sneaky speed and uses his basketball background to box out defenders and go up strong, “rebounding” the football at its highest point. Naturally, these attributes make him a prime red-zone target; something that the Bolts have desperately missed during his absence.
Even at 35 years old, Gates is a matchup nightmare and someone who defensive coordinators must take the time to individually game plan for week in and week out. While those defenses try to double-team him and take him out of the ball game, things are going to open up for the other playmakers. The damage that he does over the middle of the field is going to also help out Melvin Gordon and the running game. Not only that, but the rapport that he has built with quarterback Philip Rivers over the course of his 13-year career can not be replaced. Let’s not forget, no other QB/TE tandem in NFL history has connected on more touchdowns than Rivers and Gates.
If there is any silver lining to Gates being out for the first four games, it’s that his body is fresh and ready to go for the next 12 games. He is coming in healthy, as he hasn’t had to take those hits that he normally would have through the first month of an NFL season. He can be the best version of himself for the rest of the season.
Antonio Gates needs only one touchdown to reach 100 for his illustrious career. He is also just 12 touchdowns behind Tony Gonzalez for the most touchdown receptions in NFL history by a tight end. I think it’s only fitting that the setting for the next chapter of his storybook career is written on Monday, October 12th at 5:30 PM Pacific standard time at Qualcomm Stadium in America’s finest city.
Thank you all for taking the time to read this!
It has been a long and difficult wait, but it is almost over. Chargers football returns on Thursday, August 13th, at 7:00 pm at the Q. The team’s first preseason contest will be against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Chargers selected five men in this year’s NFL draft. I am going to break down what to look for from each of them in their season debuts.
The Bolts made a bit of a splash when they traded up to select Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon with the 15th overall pick. After that, it was all defense, as they had a lot of holes to fill. The team selected inside linebacker Denzel Perryman, cornerback Craig Mager, linebacker Kyle Emanuel, and defensive end Darius Philon.
1st round pick – Melvin Gordon: Yes, Gordon is a rookie. But he’s slated to be the main ball carrier for the Chargers this year. Although he is expected to receive the majority of snaps during the regular season, I wouldn’t expect to see a whole lot of playing time for him in this one.
What to watch for: Look to see if Melvin shows some patience, allowing his blocks to form in front of him instead of constantly trying to bounce it to the outside like he did a lot in college. Look to see how his pass protection is, and keep an eye on his hands in passing game. There have reports of him dropping a few balls in practice. Prediction: 10-12 touches with 40 yards rushing.
2nd round pick – Denzel Perryman: Perryman was brought in for one main reason: To knock somebody’s block off. He is here to bring toughness and nastiness to a defense that has been lacking just that since Steve Foley was in San Diego. Look for some big hits from the former Hurricane, but don’t expect him to be on the field during obvious passing downs.
What to watch for: Look for Perryman to be on the field on first and second down, trying to stop the run. Keep an eye on his tackling form and how he brings the hurt. Prediction: 25-40 snaps with seven tackles.
3rd round pick – Craig Mager: There’s no nice way to put it, but Mager has struggled mightily in training camp, getting marginally better as the days go on. He’s got a lot of work to do in order to impress this coaching staff. The only spot that Mager seems to be having some success is at nickel corner.
What to watch for: Look for Mager to be covering kickoffs and sprinkled in at slot corner. Like I said earlier, he’s got a lot of work to do. Prediction: 15-20 snaps with two tackles.
5th Round pick – Kyle Emanuel: Emanuel was drafted to add pass rush and potentially help set the edge against the run. Emanuel has looked pretty sharp in practice, showing off some very good pass rushing moves.
What to watch for: Look for Emanuel to be in there rushing the passer. He’s going in to take the quarterback’s head off. Watch for the spin move, as many people have said that it’s NFL-quality. Prediction: 20-30 snaps, five tackles and one sack.
6th round pick – Darius Philon: Philon was selected to help add some push to the defensive line. Reports from camp say that the young man has worked very hard in camp, shows good push and looks strong.
What to watch for: Look for Philon to be a part of the rotation along the defensive line with Mitch Unrein, Ryan Carrethers and others. Since he is a late-round pick, look for him to play the majority of the game. Prediction: 50+ snaps with six tackles.
Well, that will put a wrap on my Chargers versus Cowboys 2015 draft pick preview.
After six long months, it is my pleasure to say that football is BACK!!
Thank you very much for taking the time to read this article.