“Games are won and lost in the trenches.” How many times have we heard that from coaches and commentators alike? I think the 2014 Charger season proved that out.
A patchwork offensive line was tasked with protecting Philip Rivers, was not consistently effective. Too many times we saw #17 running for his proverbial life. The run game was terrible as well. The Chargers lost their anchor, Nick Hardwick early in the season and now for good with his expected retirement. A total of five men played at the center position. Johnny Troutman was awful. DJ Fluker’s inexperience at the professional level was exposed in his Sophomore season. Truth be told, I felt King Dunlap was the only bright spot along the front five.
The defensive front seven wasn’t a whole heck of a lot better. Donald Butler was invisible. The nose tackle by committee was a failure. Kendall Reyes seemed to regress. Pressure from the outside linebackers (pass rush specialists in a 3-4) weren’t helped by their teammates. Corey Liuget was the only consistent performer on the defensive side.
With the Free Agency period beginning on March 10, I’ve been going over the list of pending free agents and have compiled a wish list of whom I’d like to see Tom Telesco pursue. Also, I will look at who the casual fan clamors for and why I don’t see them in lightning bolts in 2015. This, of course, is without considering salary restraints.
On Defense, nose tackle is of particular concern to me. You may say that John Pagano ran a base 3-4 less than half the time. Perhaps because NT was a weak link? Sean Lissemore didn’t impress at all. Ryan Carrethers showed potential until he got hurt, but he needs seasoning. Ricardo Mathews is a serviceable sub, but the Chargers haven’t had a stud nose tackle since Jamal Williams. Personally, I think this is one position Tom Telesco needs to look over the free agent crop. Chargers can ill afford to have the front seven compromised by the nose being the weak link.
Should Denver not retain Terrence Knighton, he tops my list. He’s big, he’s quick and he’s strong. He can take on multiple blockers, which is what your NT needs to do. He’s durable, having started 16 games in four of his six NFL seasons. Dan Williams of the Arizona Cardinals is another. While his numbers (tackles and assists) don’t stack up to Knighton’s, he’s been a force in the middle of the Arizona defensive front. I don’t see Ndamukong Suh in lightning bolts at all. He’s a 4-3 defensive tackle, and I’m not convinced he can make the transition to a 3-4 NT. His inability to control of his temper concerns me as well.
A stud in the middle of the 3-4 has a ripple effect on the rest of the front seven as well, so this position is critical to the success of the Charger defense. Washington’s Danny Shelton looks impressive if they wait for the draft to fill the need at NT. Kid’s got a motor. If Tom Telesco doesn’t want a NT, then perhaps he, Mike McCoy and John Pagano should abandon the 3-4.
On the offensive side of the trenches, signing King Dunlap to a new deal was huge (no pun intended). He was rock solid protecting Philip Rivers’ blind side. As for the interior of the line, I’m really worried. Mike Iupati tops mosts lists. He’s a solid guard, he’s quick and he’s been durable for San Francisco. Denver’s Orlando Franklin is another solid possibility. Again, he’s durable and we all know that Denver’s line has been great in protecting Peyton Manning the last few years.
Depth can be filled in through the draft. The Bolts need to draft and groom for the future. Chris Watt will be better this year, having been forced into service with as a rookie. Fluker needs to improve his footwork and quickness if he’s going to continue to play right tackle. I focused on guards through free agency because all indications seem to point to Fluker staying at RT.
That’s my take on the trenches on both sides of the ball. Next, I’ll look at linebackers and running backs.
Thanks for reading, and let me know what your thoughts are!