The 2013 season has come to a close and the off-season has begun. A nine win season, combined with a playoff victory at Cincinnati, has the Chargers fan base excited once again. Head Coach Mike McCoy and General Manager Tom Telesco have the Bolts franchise on the fast track to reopening a championship window that, under former Head Coach Norv Turner and General Manager A.J. Smith, seemed to have slammed shut. Looking back at the season, one could argue- with a little more maturity by the players and coaches- the Bolts could have finished with at least 12 wins. Some early season stumbles against Houston, Tennessee and Washington handed the Chargers some painful last minute losses. Conversely, the Bolts finished the season like studs by winning 5 of their last 6 games – beating the Chiefs twice and the Broncos in Denver during that stretch. To say things are on the upswing under McCoy and Telesco would be an understatement. With this in mind, I humbly submit the first article in my six part series documenting my thoughts and feelings regarding the state of the franchise.
The 10-year veteran had a rebirth under Mike McCoy in 2013. Recently departed Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s plan was to balance the offense and ask Philip to make quicker decisions in the passing game. “Take what the defense is giving us” was the mantra. Rivers seemed to flourish with this approach and his statistics dramatically improved across the board from the previous season. He completed 69.5% of his passes finishing with 4,478 yards, 32 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. There is no question that Rivers still has plenty of fire in his belly and strength in his arm to compete at an elite level through the remainder of his current contract, which expires in 2016. He remains the unquestioned leader of the team.
“Clipboard Jesus” as he is affectionately known by Bolts fans, has been Philip’s right hand man on the Chargers sideline throughout most of Rivers’ career. They bounce thoughts off of one another throughout games and it seems to help Rivers maintain his focus. The fact of the matter, however, is that Charlie’s contract is up and we have what appears to be a better back-up option in 1st year quarterback Brad Sorensen. Whitehurst’s only real game action occurs in the preseason, so Telesco will need to make a tough decision regarding Philip’s security blanket. Will Charlie accept a significantly lower contract offer to stay in San Diego? I have a feeling that’s what it will take for him to be in a Bolts uniform come this fall.
The rookie signal caller from Southern Utah opened a lot of eyes last preseason by making big play after big play with both his arm and his legs. Sorensen’s agility in the pocket and his ability to run when necessary was exciting. He made numerous throws downfield in the clutch under pressure, all with accuracy and zip. Sure, those throws were made against the opponent’s 2nd and 3rd stringers, but he had 3rd stringers blocking for him too. Charger fans haven’t seen this kind of mobility since a little guy named Doug Flutie donned lightning bolts. There is no question that Brad needs coaching up, but he seems to have that something that playmakers have to have. He’ll give McCoy and Telesco plenty to contemplate as they try to decide what they want to do in regards to Whitehurst.
There is no bigger question mark on the Chargers roster than Mathews. Coming into the season, many experts questioned if Ryan was the long-term answer at halfback for the Bolts. With a long history of fumbling and an inability to stay healthy, it seemed as though Mathews was on his way out of San Diego. Former Head Coach Norv Turner publicly questioned Ryan’s field vision and heart, while former General Manager A.J. Smith boldly stated he would be “somebody else’s fumbler” if his play didn’t improve. Those assessments may have been warranted at the time but I doubt they did much to help solidify a young back’s confidence in himself. 2013 presented Mathews with a fresh start. He embraced the new coaching style of Mike McCoy and had a very solid season in the Whisenhunt offense. Mathews ran for 1,255 yards and added another 189 yards as a receiver. He scored 7 total touchdowns and ran the ball with authority all season. He remained relatively healthy and showed toughness by trying to play through a high ankle sprain in the playoffs. It was a season that showed everyone what he is capable of. Is he the long-term answer after all? That is the million dollar question…
Ronnie’s contract is up this off-season. He has been a decent back-up over the past couple of seasons. His contribution this past season included 157 rushing yards, 60 receiving yards and 1 touchdown. His value has dropped because of the stellar play of Danny Woodhead. The thought heading into the season was that the team ought to hang onto Brown due to questions regarding Woodhead’s small frame being able to take the pounding as a full-time starter if Mathews went down with an injury. As the season progressed, and Woodhead’s workload increased, it became apparent that those concerns were unfounded. Unless we can sign Brown cheaply, I doubt he’ll be on the roster next season.
Coming over from New England, Woodhead was pegged as “the guy who would fill the void left by Darren Sproles”. Sproles is a remarkable, multi-faceted threat out of the backfield. Rivers himself admitted being “depressed” when the Bolts let Sproles sign with New Orleans. Woodhead inherited these high expectations and accepted them from day one in San Diego. It didn’t take long for Danny to rise up and do Sproles-like things on the field. In addition to being small in size (he is listed at 5′ 8″ on the Chargers website), he has the same quickness and low center-of-gravity that Sproles possesses. Danny’s agility while running makes it difficult for defenders to lay a solid lick on him. Lastly, Woodhead has become as big a threat in the passing game as Sproles was as a Charger. Looking at Danny’s 2013 statistics, his dual-threat nature becomes very apparent. He rushed for 429 yards, averaging a respectable 4 yards per carry, and scored 2 rushing touchdowns. He hauled in 76 receptions for 605 yards and 6 touchdowns! He also contributed on special teams averaging 21.8 yards per kickoff return. He was the steal of last year’s free agency crop and a rather large feather in Tom Telesco’s hat.
McClain had another uneventful season. There are few “people-in-the-know” out there that would deny his blocking prowess. The fact of the matter is that most NFL offenses are going away from the traditional two-back set. Being the old-school football purist I am, I was really excited when we signed McClain a couple years back thinking that it would allow Mathews a real shot at becoming what we all envisioned he would be. In reality, his impact has been minimal to say the least. In 2013, Le’Ron carried the ball just 11 times, gaining 32 total yards. Does that level of production justify the 2.5 million dollars he is scheduled to make this upcoming season? If he is unwilling to restructure his deal in some way, I have a hard time visualizing him on our roster in the fall. His cap space will be too valuable as Telesco moves forward rebuilding the team.
Thanks for reading! Be on the lookout for part two of this series… Your comments are always welcomed!
Take heart Charger fans – the Bolt is back!!