Okay, I know what you’re thinking, saying the Chargers special teams unit will be improved in 2016 is a bit like predicting that college students will go out drinking in Pacific Beach this summer. We all know the Chargers’ special teams unit was atrocious last year. If fact, it really couldn’t get much worse. But I have reason to believe that this unit can go from a debilitating liability, to actually helping propel our beloved Bolts back into the playoffs in 2016. Here’s why.
Jacoby Jones is no longer on the field. Let’s take a sarcastic moment and let that sink in; just how lucky we are he got canned last November after appearing in only five games and recording NEGATIVE FOUR YARDS in punt returns. He was worse that a fair catch. Give Tom Telesco credit for pulling the plug early on Jones.
On the other hand, we can collectively boo the fact Mike McCoy and departed Special Teams Coordinator Kevin Spencer decided his replacement on punt returns was going to be Keenan Allen! I literally yelled at my TV every time I saw Keenan back to field a punt. Our future at wide receiver, back deep, just waiting to be pummeled by an onslaught of opposing special teams monsters.
Eventually injuries at wide receiver forced McCoy to promote receiver Javontee Herndon who showed promise towards the end of the season and saved the unit from being a complete dumpster fire. The addition of WR Travis Benjamin from Cleveland this offseason is a major upgrade.
Poor Mike Scifres. Mike, we love you. You are one of the best punters to ever wear the lightning bolts, but over the last couple of seasons you were blown up more than Drake’s cell phone. Not your fault (*cough* Donald Brown), but your body had taken a pounding and you could no longer pin the ball inside the five-yard line like the Chargers were paying you about $4 million dollars a year to do.
By cutting Scifres and drafting punter Drew Kaser from Texas A&M in the sixth round, the Chargers saved money and improved the punt game overnight. In addition, Josh Lambo should be able to build on a strong rookie season, having experienced kicking in division rival stadiums in 2015.
When fans talk about “Special Teams”, we tend to only mention three positions: kicker, punter and return man. There are, in fact, ten other players in the unit, unfortunately for the Chargers these other ten were mostly not good, least of all Nick Dzubnar. After showing flashes in the 2015 preseason and making the team as a backup linebacker/coverage team guy, Dzubnar’s numerous holding and illegal block penalties on special teams really hurt, and contributed to the Chargers being among the last in the league in starting field position.
The goal this year is to get him off the field. Thankfully, the Bolts drafted two linebackers that are already better than Dzubnar and they haven’t played an NFL game yet. The first is 6-foot-4, 254-pound Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry. Perry has the size, durability and tackling skill to be a difference maker on special teams. Second, my personal favorite, and possibly the steal of this draft, is 5-foot-11, 227-pound linebacker from Akron Jatavis Brown. Brown runs faster than some of the wide receivers drafted in 2016 and he can hit! Look for him to make an immediate impact on special teams and defense this year.
Players already on the roster like linebackers Tourek Williams, who is hoping to come back strong after missing most of last season with injury, and Kyle Emanuel combined on a special teams strip/fumble early last year and are going to make plays. Denzel Perryman is hopefully going to continue to lay the boom. I would look for competition at gunner to be between LB Jatavis Brown, WRs Herndon and Tyrell Williams and excellent special teamer Darrell Stuckey. At worst, this unit looks to be on the uptick to average in the NFL. At best, the Chargers’ special teams could suddenly become an asset in the battle to reach the playoffs for 2016. And that’s something we can be excited about!
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