The San Diego Chargers will be keeping a watchful eye on many positions during camp over the next three months. Many perceived improvements have been made, but as with any team relying on an influx of high-upside yet inexperienced talent, the truth will be revealed once the helmet and pads are donned.
One of the most closely watched positions will be at running back. It was revealed two weeks ago that Melvin Gordon had microfracture surgery on his left knee in January. Gordon is expected to be a full participant when the Chargers begin their full training camp in July. A heavy weight sits on Gordon’s shoulders to be the franchise running back the Bolts traded up to acquire in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Behind a patchwork offensive line that endured 25 lineup changes throughout the course of the year due to injury and inconsistency, Gordon found little room to run. On the year, Gordon compiled 181 carries for 641 yards and 33 receptions for 192 yards. A concern that arose during the season was ball security as Gordon fumbled six times (five fumbles on runs, one fumbled reception). Mathematically, that translates to one fumble every 36 touches.
Almost equally as disturbing is the fact Gordon did not find the end zone once during his rookie season. That can be attributed to the offensive line woes and an offensive running scheme he was ill-equipped to excel in. Gordon set NCAA records at Wisconsin running in a traditional Power-I formation with a lead fullback opening the first hole. Last season, then Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich plugged Gordon into his pistol formation and ignored the recipe that made him a Heisman Trophy finalist.
This season Reich is gone and in his place is Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator the last time San Diego made the playoffs in 2012. A return to a running scheme Gordon can thrive in has been a priority and it became very evident when the Chargers selected fullback Derek Watt with one of their sixth-round picks in last month’s NFL Draft. Watt was Gordon’s fullback at Wisconsin, leading the way for Gordon to lead the nation in rushing his senior season. The selection of Watt sends a message to Gordon and the Chargers’ faithful that a return to power football is at hand.
One more positive sign for Gordon is the fact that despite the offense’s constant state of flux, he still had six runs of 20 yards or more. His yards per game (45), yards per carry average (3.5) and touchdowns can be expected to improve significantly this season.
All eyes will be on Gordon’s knee in training camp but he is firmly entrenched as the starting running back barring any complications.
Danny Woodhead is next on the depth chart. Now two seasons removed from a broken leg, Woodhead is the swiss army knife of the Chargers backfield. Last season he was the leading receiver on the team in catches (80) and receiving yards (755). He was also the second leading running back on the roster with 336 yards on 98 carries. Woodhead led the team in touchdowns with nine, (six receiving, three rushing). He will resume his role as pass-catching specialist and third-down threat.
As for the third spot in the rotation, the coaching staff has indicated a desire to get Branden Oliver back into the mix. Oliver saw very little action in 2015 with 31 carries for 108 yards and 13 receptions for 112 yards. In 2014, with Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead out with injuries, Oliver stepped into the lead role and excelled immediately. The 5-foot-8, 208-pound bowling ball notched back-to-back 100-yard games, earned NFL Rookie of the Week honors and led the Chargers in rushing. If the staff is sincere in its plans to create a three-headed monster in the backfield, this will be a unit to be reckoned with.
The remaining contenders in the running back competition consists of Dreamius Smith and Kenneth Farrow. Smith spent last season on the Chargers’ practice squad after making the team as an undrafted free agent. Farrow is also an undrafted free agent from the University of Houston who signed with the team after the 2016 NFL Draft.
Barring injury the running back lineup is set. We’ll know the progress Gordon is making by the front office’s actions on the waiver wire. If another veteran is picked up, he’s not where they want him to be. Expect Telesco’s first call to go to former Texans four-time Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster if that is the case. Foster is the biggest named, most highly decorated running back still available. A litany of injuries have led to the unraveling of his career. If Gordon is on schedule, a running back acquisition won’t be made. There are many other areas that are bigger concerns than in the backfield, which looks to be stocked better than it has been in years with the running backs and fullbacks that will make the roster.
Do you like what you see in the backfield or should the Chargers make a move to add more depth? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
The Greg One
In the wake of NFL Draft week, fans are laboriously absorbing all the information on their team’s new selections as possible. For San Diego Chargers fans, the outlook is bright when looking at the team’s selections from top to bottom.
On paper, San Diego selected the top pass rusher (Joey Bosa), tight end (Hunter Henry) and punter (Drew Kaser) in the draft. They added an immediate upgrade at the decrepit center position (Max Tuerk) and gave Melvin Gordon company and instant chemistry in the backfield in the form of Derek Watt, the same fullback who blocked for Gordon during his record-breaking seasons at Wisconsin. There is very little not to love about this draft.
However, one name has flown almost completely under-the-radar in the storm of NFL Draft fever. Canadian Football League standout Dexter McCoil could be the future of the safety position. Versatile, the 6’4′, 220-pound phenom notched 76 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions and one fumble recovery as a hybrid inside linebacker/safety on the way to leading the Edmonton Eskimos to the 2015 Grey Cup Championship. In 2014, McCoil was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie. His season was highlighted by his six interceptions, of which three were returned for touchdowns. The team signed him to a futures contract in January.
The Chargers drafted a defensive end and two linebackers to an already loaded linebacker corps. McCoil may rotate in as a linebacker on sub-packages; however, his true worth is elsewhere. The void is in the secondary, particularly in the free safety spot vacated by Eric Weddle. The Chargers signed veteran Dwight Lowery to fortify the position in free agency, and brought in Houston safety Adrian McDonald to vie for the position as an undrafted free agent.
If he plays in America as well as he played in Canada, this will be McCoils’ job to lose. Lowery may bring nine years of veteran experience, but McCoil, 24, brings youth, a vast upside and ball skills any team would feel lucky to have at the cornerback position, much less at safety. This will be a heated position battle as minicamps and OTAs start over the next few weeks. Whomever wins, we all win.
The Greg One
What has been a disappointing season has come to a premature close for San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon. In the midst of his best rushing performance of the season against the Miami Dolphins, Gordon went down in the second quarter with a knee injury and did not return to the game.
Gordon finishes his season with 641 rushing yards and 192 receiving yards. Head Coach Mike McCoy told reporters Gordon tore cartilage in his knee. It’s expected Gordon will need surgery but should be fully recovered by the start of training camps next season.
San Diego traded up in the 2015 NFL Draft to get Gordon, one of the most prolific running backs in NCAA history. The All-World back struggled with his confidence, decision-making and ball security during the season. Operating out of the Pistol formation was an adjustment for Gordon, who played out of the traditional I-formation in college at Wisconsin. To date, Gordon holds the season record for most rushing attempts without a touchdown with 184.
On Monday the Chargers put Gordon on the Injured Reserve list, ending his season. In his own words, Gordon has already promised a better 2016. The rookie has plenty of his game film to evaluate, time to fully rehab and will probably have a new coaching staff to learn from as the Chargers season has spiraled downward.
No matter where the Bolts hang their helmets next season, expect a bigger and better ‘Flash’ in the backfield. Get well soon, Melvin.
The Greg One
“The San Francisco 49ers have traded their first-round pick to the San Diego Chargers and the Chargers are now on the clock. With their first selection in the 2015 NFL draft, the San Diego Chargers select Melvin Gordon, running back, Wisconsin.”
Most of San Diego cheered for joy as their team just drafted the flashiest RB in the 2014 collegiate season. Melvin broke records and rushed for more than 2,000 yards his junior year at Wisconsin. He was supposed to be the guy that took the Bolts to the next level on offense, balancing out their passing attack.
But he hasn’t. Not even close.
I wrote an article about him right after he was drafted, describing his flaws and tendencies. I even stated they should not have moved up to grab him. Gordon has done everything I stated he does, and he doesn’t seem to want to fix it. He has fumbled six times (losing four of them) this season, including two (one lost) on Sunday. His indecisiveness seems to prove that he is taking one step forward, but two steps back. His confidence is shot and, quite frankly, hearing the excuses he uses after fumbling and playing poorly are already getting old.
Gordon isn’t the back the Chargers thought they had drafted, but not all of it is his fault.
I get that.
He’s being used very wrong, but in the league in which the fullback position is dying, can you blame the coaches?
If you follow me on Twitter, you know how much crap I give him. I understand it isn’t entirely his fault, but he also isn’t faultless. I understand that his line is hurting him, but watch his runs and you will see THERE ARE HOLES THERE and he isn’t hitting them when he should, or he is completely missing them, making him look like a deer in headlights.
Now, this isn’t supposed to be a bash-Gordon article, because he gets plenty of that from me on Twitter. But this is an open-your-eyes-and-see article that hopefully helps you realize that the Chargers, Tom Telesco, Mike McCoy, and No. 28, are all responsible for his failure and all will be responsible for him being a bust.
Let me know your thoughts and opinions of him in the comment section. The only thing we as fans can hope for is that he grows up, works hard and turns out to be a guy we can rely on. But, again, if you have paid attention to my musings on social media, I am not expecting to see the young man doing anything that we haven’t already seen, which isn’t worthy of a first-round selection.
– Zak Darman
When the San Diego Chargers did not address the vacancy at running back during free agency, it was obvious that would become one of the top priorities in the 2015 draft. Most of the Chargers’ faithful cheered when the front office moved up two spots, selecting Wisconsin Badger Melvin Gordon with their No. 1 pick.
Telesco and company found it paramount to give up their fourth-round pick in ’15 (big surprise) and fifth-round selection in ’16 to ensure that no one received the right to signing the electrifying Gordon other than the Bolts.
At the University of Wisconsin Gordon rewrote the NCAA record books. In 2014, Gordon led the Nation in rushing (2,587 yards), yards from scrimmage (2,740 yards), rushing touchdowns (29), touchdowns from scrimmage (32), rushing attempts (343) and yards per attempt (7.8). Gordon was a unanimous selection for All-American and All-Big-Ten First-team honors, as well as winning the Doak Walker Award given to the Nation’s best running back.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Gordon was the picture of durability during his days at Wisconsin. After receiving a medical redshirt for suffering a groin injury during his freshman year in 2011, Gordon did not miss a game due to injury the remaining three years he spent on campus. A stellar 2014 season was capped by an Outback Bowl MVP award, additionally earning him second place in the Heisman Trophy balloting.
All of the hype surrounding Gordon upon his drafting by San Diego was well-deserved and well-received among most Chargers fans. To anticipate big things from such an elite collegiate running back was to be expected.
The reality of his pro career through seven games has not been as rosy.
Contributing factors to Gordon’s limited success can be traced to multiple things; an ankle injury has limited his effectiveness in games. The Chargers have been slowly working Gordon into the offense with a running-back-by-committee approach alongside Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver. The Bolts’ offensive line has once again been decimated by injuries. Ball security has also affected his playing time. To date, Gordon has fumbled four times, losing three. In three years at Wisconsin, he fumbled 12 times, losing seven. Gordon had 631 carries during that time. In San Diego, he’s carried the ball 85 times, yet still putting the ball on the carpet at an alarming rate.
It goes without saying that the college game and the pro game are two completely different animals. The defenses are faster, the players hit harder and the game is played at a much higher level.
Nonetheless, fundamentals, like ball security, don’t change. In college, it equated to one fumble every 53 carries. In the pros, it’s an alarming one fumble per every 21 carries. Gordon’s recent fumble issues, and nagging ankle injury, are the most likely reasons why he didn’t enter Sunday’s Raiders’ game until midway through the third quarter.
Despite the growing pains of being a high-profile draft pick in the NFL, Gordon is fifth among rookies in rushing with 328 yards. The Chargers find themselves with a 2-5 record, clinging to slim playoff hopes after an embarrassing home loss to the Raiders.
How does San Diego right the ship and get Gordon on track?
Two simple changes can achieve both purposes.
Abandon the running-back-by-committee approach
Gordon has shown he is capable of being an every-down back at the collegiate level. Let him prove he is capable of being an every-down back in the pros. To achieve this, Mike McCoy and those responsible for the gameplan on Sundays must to be willing to give Gordon the ball. In the last two games, Gordon has carried the ball seven times each. He has averaged 14 carries over the five previous games.
Gordon has to do his job and step up his game in respects to ball security, pass protection and route running. McCoy and offensive coordinator Frank Reich have to fully commit to the running game, giving Gordon twenty-plus carries, allowing him to be the punishing running back that he was in college.
Any running back will tell you being in on every down allows them to get into a rhythm, which helps them run better. Woodhead and Oliver can still be inserted on passing downs to spell Gordon when he needs a rest.
The second solution is presented in the form of a question.
What did Gordon have during his record-breaking seasons as a Wisconsin Badger that he does not have in the pros?
Get Melvin a capable fullback
Gordon accomplished all the gaudy records mentioned above — and a lot more — playing in a traditional Big-Ten power-running scheme. The Badgers almost exclusively ran I-formation with a fullback leading the way, opening the first crack in the defensive line. Gordon was able to use his explosiveness to get through the crack and accumulate yardage at an astounding clip. No back in NCAA history has more than Gordon’s 7.9 yards per carry average over his career. Using that scheme, Gordon is the fastest running back in NCAA history to 2,000 yards. He did it in only 241 carries.
If it ain’t broke…
With the Chargers, Gordon has been the single back on most of his plays.
We’ve watched as he’s shuffled his feet at the line, waiting for that first crack to open. It has been tough sledding for the rookie behind a patchwork offensive line struggling to open running lanes. As a result, Gordon is only averaging slightly above 40 yards per game.
After three-plus years of not having to wait, he’s getting stopped at or behind the line because his downhill running style isn’t conducive to waiting for a lane.
We’ve also seen that when he’s able to turn the corner along the sidelines he has a phenomenal second gear, along with the ability to accelerate for huge gains. Sadly, those moments have been few and far between. It will remain that way until the offensive philosophy changes.
The fullback is a dying breed in the NFL. There are no great fullbacks left, but you don’t need a great fullback to achieve the desired result.
There are plenty of free agent fullbacks who would love nothing more than to sign for the veteran’s minimum (approximately 800-900k depending on years of service) and run into the defensive line looking for contact. Henry Hynoski, Frank Summers, John Conner, Zach Boren and Jed Collins are all experienced fullbacks who would welcome the opportunity for an NFL paycheck.
Establishing a running game takes pressure off of quarterback Philip Rivers.He has already taken a beating this year. Rivers has been sacked 18 times. The Chargers have the No. 1 passing offense and the 29th rushing offense in the NFL through seven weeks because the coaches won’t commit fully to Gordon. A solid running attack keeps Rivers healthy, opening opportunities down the field with play action. But the running game must first be established prior to play action making sense, much less being viable in tricking the defense into deciding whether or not to commit to one or the other.
Forcing Rivers to throw 123 times in the last two games is an indictment of the lack of a consistent, effective running game. Continuing to force Rivers to shoulder that heavy a load will result in fans seeing the same beaten, battered QB we saw limping around at the end of last season.
The Chargers need to do no more than look east of the Mississippi at Gordon’s draft-class counterpart, Todd Gurley, to see what the reward could be. Many considered Gordon better than Gurley. The difference is that in St. Louis, Gurley is getting 19 carries per game and has garnered 442 yards in the four games he’s played. The Rams trust their workhorse, and San Diego needs to do the same.
The window is still open for a turnaround and postseason run with an (on paper) easy remaining schedule, including five division games on tap. The window will shut fast if no change is made soon.
At this point, there is nothing left to lose.
It’s time to release the Kraken. Get Gordon a fullback, let him carry the rock, stacking wins.
What do you think Bolt Nation? Leave your thoughts below.
The Greg One