This has not, overall, been a positive offseason for the Chargers, especially when you take into account all of the off-the-field issues. No, not a single player has been arrested, nor has one been in the news for breaking the law. It goes without saying, the fact that Charger fans have no idea whether or not the team will remain in San Diego has muddled the positive efforts of Tom Telesco and company regarding their moves via free agency and the draft.
Couple the stadium banter with the earlier trade talks of Philip Rivers and the absence of Eric Weddle — as he sits out of team workouts in hopes of a long-term contract — and you have a trying offseason that hides all of the positives surrounding the team.
In lieu of all of this negativity, I thought it to be prudent to focus on the team itself, and point out some players with the Chargers that are on the brink of surprising all of the fans that support the team.
Here are five players that I believe are on the rise this upcoming season.
DL Tenny Palepoi
As an undrafted free agent out of Utah, Palepoi was not expected to make much of an impact as a rookie. After forging his way onto the practice squad, Palepoi was elevated to the 53-man roster. His presence was known, although the boxscore wouldn’t show you such an impact.
The 24-year-old filled in admirably when called upon to do so. He provided the defensive line with a strong push and solid leg drive in forcing opposing offensive lineman backwards. Due to the descending play of Kendall Reyes, Palepoi may find himself in a position to make more of an impact in 2015. After defying the odds as a rookie, look for the former Ute to come in and make a name for himself, both on special teams and as an inside pass rusher on the defensive line when called upon to do so.
The team has spoken highly of Palepoi this offseason, showing their belief in his ability to make plays going into his second year. Despite only logging nine total tackles in 2014, he did show the makings of a player that can find a place on this team and in this league.
S Jahleel Addae
Some believe that the acquisition of Jimmy Wilson may ensure the relegation of Addae to role player on the Charger defense. That may be the case, but I believe the competition at the strong safety spot will push Addae to elevate his game to another level.
I’ve seen multiple publications, including the U-T San Diego, state that Wilson will be slated as the starter at strong safety. I think that is an error in judgement. Addae is completely aware of what is in front of him, and I doubt that will slip his mind as he works to solidify his place in the secondary. He’s a ferocious hitter that just needs to work on his coverage ability — which did improve as he saw more playing time as the season wore on. If he continues to tune up his pass-coverage skills, he may be named the starter at strong safety sooner rather than later.
DL Ryan Carrethers
Despite dealing with injuries throughout portions of his rookie year, Carrethers showed promise in limited action. You could really start to see flashes of a player that could make an impact on the defensive line in San Diego. The fifth-round pick in last year’s draft had five solo stops in one game last season.
Carrethers has the perfect build for a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. Although the Chargers don’t spend much time in their base defense, he could force his way into the starting lineup with a strong training camp and preseason. If he makes enough progress to take over the starting role at nose, that would allow for Sean Lissemore to kick out to the defensive end spot where he is most likely better suited to play. Both the improvement by Carrethers and move of Lissemore to end would provide Corey Liuget with some much-needed help on the defensive line.
OL DJ Fluker
There has been quite a bit of speculation in the media this offseason regarding whether or not offensive lineman DJ Fluker will be moved to the right guard position. These talks began prior to the team signing Joe Barksdale, a right tackle formerly of the Rams and Raiders. The signing of Barksdale has stoked the fires even further.
Fluker, the 11th overall pick of the 2013 draft, has flashed great ability as a run blocker, punishing defenders while creating running lanes for Charger ball carriers. But he has struggled at times as a pass blocker, especially against speed rushers.
The 24-year-old played last season at a weight that fluctuated around 350 pounds. His size alone would lend itself to the right guard position being the more suited spot, as opposed to right tackle. Fluker is working this offseason to lose weight and improve his foot quickness and his punch. If he is successful in doing so, he could make an impact at either spot, depending on what the team decides on as its starting-five along the offensive line.
Maintaining the proper weight could be the only factor that stands in the way of Fluker making a name for himself in the NFL. He is very powerful and his foot work has improved over his two years in the league. Seeing a 325-pound beast in Fluker man either the right guard or right tackle position would pay dividends in both the passing and running games for the Bolts.
CB Jason Verrett
I tried to not include Verrett on this list because he played so well when on the field. He was ranked as the No. 2 cornerback in all of the NFL for a couple of weeks due to his stellar play. But Verrett struggled through hamstring and shoulder injuries as a rookie, ultimately being placed on injured reserve in the middle of November last year.
What Verrett lacks in size he makes up for with speed, quickness and good instincts. He does a great job of breaking on the ball in coverage. Despite a small sample size as a rookie, he showed that he can lock down receivers and make the necessary plays to make an impact. He is also surprisingly aggressive against the run, unafraid of coming up and securing stops in the running game.
Having Brandon Flowers opposite of him in the secondary, and next to him in the film room, will certainly accelerate Verrett’s play going forward. He has the skillset to become a force at the cornerback spot for many years to come.
Honorable mentions: Jerry Attaochu, Sean Lissemore, Chris Watt and Melvin Ingram
The Chargers have the makings of what could be a very successful team in 2015. The team has added more weapons on the offensive side of the ball, while increasing team speed and physicality on the defense. It will be interesting to see how this squad gels in all three phases of the game.