It goes without saying, Los Angeles Chargers running back Melvin Gordon showed vast improvement during his sophomore campaign in the NFL compared to the disappointment that was his rookie year.
The former Badger was unable to reach the endzone at all during his first season with the Bolts, but he made that seem like a figment of the fans’ imagination during Year 2 of his young career, finding the endzone 10 times in 2016.
Returning for another season to rejoin Gordon in the backfield is third-year ball carrier Branden Oliver.
Despite a switch from No. 43 to No. 32 — long-time number of former Chargers and current Baltimore Ravens free safety Eric Weddle — fans should expect more of the same from the former collegiate stud from Buffalo, who led the team in rushing in 2014.
A new addition to the running-back stable is former Oregon Ducks ball carrier Kenjon Barner. The 27-year-old entered the NFL with the Carolina Panthers before spending time with the Philadelphia Eagles. He was signed by the Bolts this offseason after the team lost Danny Woodhead to the aforementioned Ravens.
A speedster as both a running back and returner, Barner brings an added element to the position in the form of his versatility and possible game-breaking ability. Though he has never started a game since joining the league in 2013, the underused talent has played in 32 NFL games.
With Gordon, Oliver and Barner figuring to fill the top three spots on the ball-carrier depth chart, the team also has the following running backs fighting to prove that they belong on the squad: Kenneth Farrow, Andre Williams, Ronnie Hillman and Dexter McCluster.
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco has already been on record this offseason stating that he would like to add an X-factor similar to that of Kansas City’s dynamic Tyreek Hill. With speed to burn in bunches, Hill makes plays as a runner, receiver and a returner. He is a threat to score from anywhere on the field, every time he touches the ball
Do the Chargers and Telesco already have that answer on the roster? That X-factor that changes games in the blink of an eye?
I am not so sure that they do.
Though I believe the organization has more than enough options to fulfill their running-back needs for the 2017 campaign, I also wouldn’t be surprised if they took a look at the rising draft prospect out of Ohio State University, Curtis Samuel.
Samuel seems to provide the most comparable playmaking ability in this year’s draft class to what Hill does for the Chiefs, also seeing time at running back, wide receiver and as a return-threat.
Telesco and company may believe that drafting Samuel or a player of the similar ilk as of higher importance in comparison to other pressing needs on the roster that can or should be available in the draft. Or he may go ahead and ignore the position altogether due to enough capable bodies already being on the club.
The good news for fans?
You won’t have to wait much longer to find out, as the draft begins in 10 days on April 27 in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia. And, per usual, the BoltBlitz.com staff will be represented by myself and Greg Williams at this year’s selection show at its new venue for ’17.
My take: I don’t necessarily see the need to add a back as the reason the team should or will. But if it comes around to any of their picks following the first round, and they have one rated as the best player available, then pull the trigger and go out and get said player — especially if that BPA is that fast guy from the Buckeye State.
Another name to keep an eye on is running back Joe Mixon of Oklahoma. Should he slip to Day 2 or Day 3 of the draft, that is a name you could see the team take a HUGE chance on by drafting. A player with off-the-field issues like Mixon may watch his draft position plummet, allowing teams in later rounds to snag the man who is possibly the best ball carrier available. Though that doesn’t sound like a Telesco-type selection, pressure is mounting on the entire organization now that there’s an exponentially more powerful microscope in their new home in Los Angeles, as opposed to their former laid-back confines of America’s finest city, San Diego.
Andre Williams wasn’t left out in the cold too long, thankfully. Even better, no one tried to pick him up!
Williams re-joined the Bolts Tuesday. He was waived this past Saturday when the team had to promote tight end Asante Cleveland from the practice squad. The roster moves were necessary because Antonio Gates was not going to see the field against the Colts and there had to be another body out there in addition to Hunter Henry and Sean McGrath.
The third-year back was initially claimed off waivers by the Chargers earlier this month after being released by the New York Giants. That signing occurred after change-of-pace back Branden Oliver was lost for the season after tearing his Achilles’ tendon in the preseason game in Minnesota.
Williams (6-foot, 220 lbs) was a fourth-round pick of the Giants in the 2014 draft. With the Giants having the likes of Rashad Jennings, Shane Vereen, Bobby Rainey and a couple other guys on hand, Williams just didn’t make the final roster cut. This preseason he managed to gain only 91 yards on 25 carries in three games. He was one of 11 running backs on the depth chart in 2015, managing only 257 yards on 88 carries with a lone TD.
Since entering the league, Williams has played in 32 games. He has rushed for 978 yards on 305 carries and scored eight touchdowns — 41 of those carries went for first downs while five were over 20 yards and two were over 40. He also hauled in 19 passes for 137 yards.
Williams is a former Boston College standout. He set a BC school record in 2010 when he made 42 rushing attempts in a single game when the Eagles played Syracuse in that season’s final game. Williams was one of six finalists for the Heisman Trophy in 2013, finishing fourth. That same year he was named the recipient of the Doak Walker Award, an honor given to the nation’s best running back.
Since being in San Diego, Williams hasn’t been in the mix. Things may change this week.
We’ll all just have to play the wait-and-see game.
Thanks for reading!
Before you get out the torches and pitchforks and start hunting me down, allow me to explain how Danny Woodhead’s knee injury could actually be used as a positive from this point on. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Danny. He is a very good running back; extremely valuable as a runner, a receiver, and a blocker for Philip Rivers. He has had a fine career with the Chargers and I am sad to see him lost for the season. I know what you are thinking. “If he is so good, how can his injury be a positive for the team?” Allow me to explain.
With losing Woodhead for the season, Head Coach Mike McCoy and Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt will be forced to become better, more aggressive coaches. If you watched the week one game against the Chiefs, you saw that the play calling was completely differently in the second half than in the first. In the first half, the 2015 first round draft pick Melvin Gordon was given the bulk of the load and pounded the ball down the field. Twice he even got into the end zone. He looked like a completely different back than he was last year.
In the second half, Gordon’s role essentially vanished. Woodhead’s number was called upon for almost the entire second half. Why Woodhead? Because he is trustworthy. Coach McCoy remembers the fumble issues that Gordon had last season and did not want to risk a turnover in a game where the Chargers had a big lead. So, Gordon to the bench and Woodhead on the field; playing a role that does not suit him — the “every down back”.
Delayed draws out of the shotgun formation became the play of the half as they went with it time and time again. Although Woodhead was able to move the ball fairly successfully for much of the half, he was unable to punch it into the end zone. His presence did not make the defense fear the run, so pass coverage tightened up and pressure on Rivers picked up as well – a bad combination to say the least. We all know how that game turned out. McCoy and Whisenhunt played timid, cautious offense in an attempt not to lose. This plan did not work and KC made it all the way back to win the game in overtime.
Let’s move to last week’s game against what most people consider a team going in the right direction, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Again, Gordon started out getting the majority of the carries and punished the Jaguars’ defense play after play. Woodhead was doing what he does best. He was basically a third down back who can protect the quarterback and catch outlet passes out of the backfield. Unfortunately, one of those passes lead to his knee giving out, tragically ending his season.
Melvin Gordon, that’s what! McCoy and Whisenhunt had no real choice but to keep Gordon in the game, even with a big lead, and letting him pound the rock. He continued his effective play and actually tallied his first 100 yard rushing game in his short NFL career. Oh, and by the way, he hasn’t fumbled yet! That second half should go far as to gaining trust from the coaches moving forward.
As long as Gordon stays healthy, there is no reason to believe that he cannot be trusted to keep defenses honest and take a lot of pressure off of Rivers. If Melvin continues to be as effective as he has started out, this could be a classic story of someone going from goat to hero in one season. A story that might never have been told if Woodhead was still there to allow McCoy and company to play it safe.
Of course this goes without saying, but Gordon can’t play every snap for the entire game. That would be asking to get him hurt. So who else can step in to give Gordon a breather? Let’s take a look:
Kenneth Farrow: Farrow had a very nice preseason and earned his way on the roster. With Woodhead’s injury forcing him on the field against Jacksonville, Farrow carried the ball four times for a total of 13 yards. Not an earth shattering debut, but it is a very small sample size. What fans need to remember is that the impressive numbers he put up in the preseason were against second and third string defenders; running vanilla game plans. If he gets the call, he would be facing the best of every opponent. The sledding will be a lot more difficult. Time will tell if the Bolts have a player in Farrow.
Andre Williams: Personally, I’m excited to see what this kid can do. He is a strong, bruising back who can get the short yards that are so important on third downs and late in the game. Last season his production tailed off significantly which is why the Giants let him go. Before that, however, he had a good rookie campaign. The team from America’s finest city is hoping that the Giants made a mistake and will catch lightning in a bottle.
Dexter McCluster: McCluster is the guy the Chargers brought in to replace Woodhead; capable as a runner and receiver. He is also a solid kickoff and punt returner. He is fast on his feet and so quick that he often makes people miss. Obviously, he has not played at the level of a Danny Woodhead, or he would not have been cut by the Chiefs and the Titans. My hope is that he will play as a full-time kick returner so that starting wide receiver, Travis Benjamin, can give up that position and avoid unnecessary collisions. With Keenan Allen out for the season, it is vital that Benjamin stays healthy.
This week, the Chargers play the league’s 32nd ranked defense against the run – the Indianapolis Colts. This is another golden opportunity for Gordon and company to get many carries and gain even more confidence. We have to face the facts: Danny Woodhead is done for the year. He is also on the last year of his contract, which means that there is a very good possibility he will not be back with the team next season. The Bolts need to learn how to call plays and win games without the trustworthy, scrappy Woodhead. If they can do that, his injury will go down as the reason San Diego left the ranks of pretenders and became true contenders.
Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments below, I’ll get back to you ASAP. Go Bolts!!
In order to help fill the void in the San Diego running back group due to the season-ending injuries of Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver, the Chargers are set to sign former Tennessee Titans running back Dexter McCluster, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
To help replace Danny Woodhead, Chargers plan to sign former Titans and Chiefs RB Dexter McCluster, per source. https://t.co/zihxSgd4zt
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 20, 2016
McCluster, 28, has experience playing with Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, who coached him in Tennessee. Due to his time with Whiz, he shouldn’t have a hard time getting the playbook and his duties on track very quickly.
During his six years spent with the Titans and Kansas City Chiefs, McCluster has rushed for 1,040 yards and two touchdowns. As a receiver out of the backfield or in the slot on some occasions, the seven-year veteran has tallied 229 receptions for 1,957 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has solid experience as a returner, returning three punts for touchdowns over his career.
Though he is not Danny Woodhead, McCluster provides a decent fill-in for the 2016 campaign.
This signing would give the Bolts this depth chart at running back: Melvin Gordon, Andre Williams, Kenneth Farrow and McCluster (I must admit that it really hurts not typing in Woodhead and Oliver there).
Dave Booga Peters
After losing wide receiver Keenan Allen to a torn ACL in Week 1, the Chargers have additionally lost running back Danny Woodhead to the same injury, a torn ACL in his right knee, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport.
#Chargers RB Danny Woodhead has torn his ACL, source said. His MRI just came back. He’s out for the season. Bad blow.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) September 19, 2016
This comes as a huge blow to the San Diego offense, who has already lost the aforementioned Allen, veteran wideout Stevie Johnson, running back Branden Oliver and tight end Jeff Cumberland.
Though the team trounced the Jacksonville Jaguars by a score of 38-14 on White Hot Sunday, the loss of Woodhead adds to the litany of injuries this offense has already suffered.
In 2015, Woody led all NFL running backs in receptions and receiving yards. He was also San Diego’s leader in both categories.
Woodhead, 31, missed most of the 2014 season with a broken fibula. Entering what will be his 10th season in 2017, Danny has rushed for 2181 yards and 15 touchdowns, while catching 267 passes for 2,498 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was also averaging 6.1 yards per carry prior to the injury.
The staff at BoltBlitz.com would like to extend its thoughts and prayers to one of our favorite players of all-time, Danny Woodhead.
Get well soon, Woody!
Dave Booga Peters
Finally! The Chargers begin the 2016 regular season today on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Per a report from Marty Caswell of The Mighty 1090 via Twitter, the team has announced its inactives for the game.
Chargers inactives- Max Tuerk, Kenny Wiggins, Tyreek Burwell, Adrian Phillips, Isaiah Burse, Ryan Carrethers, Andre Williams
— Marty Caswell (@MartyCaswell) September 11, 2016
On another note, B.J. Kissel, a Chiefs’ reporter, has reported that running back Jamaal Charles will be inactive for today’s game, too.