There has been a lot of moving and shaking going on at Chargers Park this season, thanks to new General Manager Tom Telesco. The moves he has made with roster additions and cuts have surrounded the Chargers with a palpable buzz that even has the NFL media outside of San Diego talking. A lot of that talk is centered around second round pick Mantei Te’o but the important thing is people are taking notice. That being said, the extra attention only brings the noisemeter to a 3, compared to the zero offseason attention the Chargers usually get.
The changes made have been in the Chargers key areas of need. Offensive line first and foremost, cornerback, linebacker. Depth still needs to be added and that will occur with the crop of undrafted free agents and draft picks that found they were going to be playing in America’s finest city. Telesco has been Johnny-On-The-Spot, finding valuable unnoticed or underappreciated players such as cornerback Derek Cox and running back Danny Woodhead as well as working out sweetheart deals with free agent defensive end Dwight Freeney and offensive tackle Max Starks when they were demanding a much higher dollar from their previous teams.
While the holes look to be plugged as well as can be expected right now, one area still deserves one more look. Running back. The buzz with the new coaching staff is of a departure from a traditional to zone blocking scheme. We all know the offensive line was the key component in the failing of Philip Rivers and the Chargers to a sub-500 record for the first time in over a decade. In the same breath, it is also a big reason the running game NEVER got off the ground last season.
Anyone who has been following my writings here knows my patience in Ryan Mathews ran out long ago and Mathews numbers back my reasons for jumping ship on #24. Each season his touchdowns have declined. Seven in 2010. Six in 2011. One in 2012. Frequently injured. Yet to complete a full season. Mathews has missed 8 of 38 games to date, 21%. That’s one of every five games. Not a good trajectory. That’s not even considering the games he does play and puts lousy numbers on the board. In those 30 games, Mathews has only ran for over 100 yards five times. Once his rookie season and the other four in 2011. Of the other 25 games, he only eclipsed 90 yards twice. Hence, my frustration with Mathews.
As I said before, the patchwork offensive line may have been a big reason for Mathews troubles and I would side more to that end IF it weren’t for the fact that he is so injury prone. Mathews has had lots of knee, ankle and collarbone issues. Those aren’t injuries you get by getting planted by defensive tackles. Those are injuries you get because you train the wrong way, don’t know how to train or are just plain fragile. Not every man who makes it to the NFL is created equal. Mathews injury issues go back to college where he missed half his sophomore season due to injury.
With the new regime in place and Mathews horrid three-year body of work, this is his make or break season and this is his contract year. Perform now or lose any real chance to become a starter on any team is the way he should view this season. That could definitely work out to the Chargers advantage. With the beef Telesco has added to the offensive line and the new blocking scheme, this is his best shot to prove himself. Will he?
Who else is there?
Danny Woodhead is the new safety valve. Woodhead is also the anti-Mathews. Woodhead played every game last season and over the same three-year period, has only missed 3 out of 51 games. Woodhead averages almost 5 yards a carry and over 10 yards per catch. For all intents and purposes, Woodhead could be the biggest acquisition of the offseason. Still, Woodhead is not a every down back. He will be all over the field. He will be in the slot one play, in the backfield the next, split at wideout the next. His presence will have to be respected by defenses or his unexpected speed will burn you. Here’s a fact I bet most don’t know. Woodhead ran a 4.38 in the 40 on his pro day at Chadron State and a 4.4 at the combine in 2008.
Ronnie Brown is a serviceable running back who was the best playmaker out of the backfield last season but his best days are far behind him. Le’Ron McClain was brought in last offseason to be a blocking back for Mathews but he only saw game action in seven games, never got more than two carries in a game and his high in touches was six in game one. Hopefully, Mike McCoy will find better use for McClain, who is only four seasons removed from being a running back in the PRO BOWL.
Behind them you have Edwin Baker, who only saw game action from the sideline. Fozzy Whitaker was brought over from offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s former team the Arizona Cardinals. Whitaker has not seen a down of NFL action having missed last season with a knee injury, suffered in his last season at Texas. Michael Hill is an undrafted free agent from Missouri Western State who won player of the year in his Division II conference.
Running back has plenty of depth but the Chargers will not carry all these players onto the active roster. Do you feel confident about this squadron of players? Some will get relegated to the practice squad while others will get cut. Frankly, a everydown back such as free agent Ahmad Bradshaw would be welcome. Bradshaw is a name that has been bandied about by Chargers faithful for a while. While has a better body of work than Mathews, Bradshaw is just as injury prone.
This writer would love to see San Diego crowd favorite Michael Turner return. Turner is a lot more durable, not missing a single game in 4 of his last five seasons and is as sure a thing from the goal line as there is today. Turner has posted double-digit touchdowns every season since he became a starter in Atlanta five seasons ago. While it looks like Mathews will get his last chance to be the every down back in San Diego, this position could still warrant one last look from Telesco.
What do you think Charger Nation?
The Greg One