Now that the initial wave of free agency has come and gone, there are still many questions that need to be answered and holes on the roster to be filled.
For the purpose of this interview, I’ll be sitting down with the lead writer of this website, Greg Williams.
Booga: Which of the recently signed Chargers’ free agents are you most excited about?
Greg: By the slimmest of margins, I am most excited about the addition of wide receiver/returner Travis Benjamin. Slightly edging out Brandon Mebane, Benjamin had nearly four times as many punt return yards in 2015 than the Chargers did. Giving the Bolts a much-needed advantage in field position, the former Brown can swing the field in favor of the Chargers’ offense, as opposed to struggling mightily in that department in recent years. His ability to take the top off of defenses is something Philip Rivers hasn’t had since the days of Vincent Jackson. His presence dramatically opens up two of the three phases of the game for the Bolts.
Booga: Which position do you feel could still be addressed via free agency?
Greg: The center spot. Due to the fact that San Diego needs a veteran presence in the middle of the offensive line, Stefen Wisniewski should have already received a phone call from Tom Telesco, by now. He’s a Pro Bowl center who (no offense, Trevor Robinson and Chris Watt) is far and away better than the guys filling that spot now.
Booga: With the third pick, in the 2016 NFL draft, the San Diego Chargers select…….
Greg: I want the answer to be Jalen Ramsey. With his size, speed, natural ball-hawking skills and versatility, he is going to be an instant game changer. The problem is his stock is WAY too high. I’m afraid he’s going to go top-two. Also, with the Chargers already signing Dwight Lowery, they may feel they have the safety position suitably covered. I would still want him since he can play corner just as well as safety. Play him opposite Jason Verrett, put Casey Hayward on the slot receiver and Brandon Flowers in the dime package. Unstoppable secondary.
All that being said, I think the Chargers will draft DeForest Buckner. He will be there. He has freakish size, speed and power. He’s got that Oregon conditioning so he won’t gas out. His presence will open up Corey Liuget, Melvin Ingram and other pass rushers to favorable one-on-one conditions.
Booga: The retirement of Malcom Floyd has left a gaping hole in the wide receiving corps. Despite the addition of Benjamin, do you feel the position should still be addressed in the draft?
Greg: Yes. There is a good crop of receivers in this draft and none are projected to go higher than middle of the first round; meaning, there will be high quality guys available in the second and third rounds. The Chargers always seem to be pulling guys in off the street to catch the ball by the end of the year due to receiver injuries. Adding a receiver in the draft is a must. Better to have too much depth than not enough. I’m sure Rivers would attest to that.
Booga: Now that offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is back with the team, do you think he can help steer Melvin Gordon’s career in the right direction? His rookie season left a lot to be desired.
Greg: Absolutely. Whisenhunt is the perfect man for the job. He knows how to use a power back correctly. The most frustrating thing about last season for me was watching how clueless former OC Frank Reich was in using Gordon. This was the man who just had a 2,000-yard, record-breaking, Heisman Trophy finalist season at Wisconsin using a traditional Power-I system. Fullback makes the first crack in the line and Melvin blasts through it to outstanding results. Did Reich sample that formula at all last season? No. He’s so married to his system he doesn’t want to help Gordon along with a system he’s familiar with that showcases his strengths. Instead, he wants to put him as a single back in a pistol or shotgun formation, use him as a receiving back and overuse inside draw handoffs from seven yards deep in the backfield. Gordon was doomed to fail.
Whisenhunt has a ton of experience using the style Gordon knows from his time in Pittsburgh and Arizona, and he used that style to great success. Both of his teams made the Super Bowl. He did it as a coordinator in Pittsburgh and as a head coach in Arizona. He understands using a fullback yields positive results. He will run old-school, smashmouth power sets, and Gordon will be the back we were hoping to see last season. I’m thrilled for him. I met Gordon three times at the NFL Draft in Chicago last year. He is an amazing young man and it couldn’t be happening to a better person.
Booga: If you were to grade Telesco’s free agency period thus far, what grade would you give it and why?
Greg: I would give him a B-minus.
Getting Mack would have given him an automatic-A. Looking at what Atlanta gave him, the Chargers could’ve done that contract and still had the room to sign their other guys. In their defense, however, there’s no way to know how much other guys are going to command. Getting Wisniewski would give them an A, as well.
The center problem is still a problem and the solution is still sitting there.
Mebane is a great add. All his teammates talk about how he is the soul of their defense, more so than the heralded Legion of Boom. He can occupy two defenders, opening up pass rushers, he can stop the run and he can push the pocket into quarterbacks’ laps.
I love Benjamin for the reasons I mentioned above.
Hayward hasn’t reached his prime yet. He’s going to shine because a lot of balls will be coming his way. Quarterbacks are learning to stay away from Verrett. He had six picks his rookie year and he’s shown himself to be a solid, versatile defender.
Lowery has grown into a quality pro, despite becoming an NFL journeyman. He’s going to have every opportunity to write his name in pen for the next three years at that position if he produces.
I like this free agent class a lot.
Booga: Despite a horrible 2015 for the Bolts, both on and off the field, what are your thoughts on the 2016 offseason thus far, and the prospects of the organization moving forward.
Greg: The Chargers needed this past season to happen. They needed it to see what they were doing is wrong on so many levels. The revolving door on the offensive and defensive lines is wrong. The offensive philosophy was wrong for the talent they have.
They needed the stadium fiasco to play out to light a fire under their butts and realize you can’t half-step on these stadium proposals and say they did their part, essentially blaming the fans. Now they see that the way to win back your fan base is bring in names we know to spark interest, not only in the fan base but in their own locker room.
Do you think the defensive captains are happy to hear Brandon Mebane is coming? Do you think Philip Rivers is happy to hear Travis Benjamin is coming? You better believe they’re excited! Rivers has already said he and his son were watching YouTube clips on Benjamin. That’s how you begin building a winning culture. Now the stadium task force will come correct with a viable plan and a stadium will become a reality.
The draft is going to bring in another impact player or two, and this team has a very realistic shot at getting back to a double-digit win season. They will have everyone coming back healthy and they’re playing a last-place schedule. They needed to be smacked down by reality in order to move forward. Now you’re going to see the real Chargers and a front office with their heads out of the sand.
Believe it or not, it’s a great time to be a Chargers fan. I can’t wait for the season to start!
Thanks a lot for reading.
Please follow Greg on Twitter, @LordOfTheGregs.