Jan 12, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick (61), guard Chad Rinehart (78) and tackle King Dunlap (77) during the 2013 AFC divisional playoff football game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Youth and Change on Chargers Offensive Line


June 2, 2014 – by James Fedewa

One of the San Diego Chargers primary goals this offseason is to get faster, within all position. We saw it in the draft and the Chargers drafted some quick and fast rookies. What generates these results, other than speed itself, is to get younger – youth. The NFL is a game of the young man, and the young tend to flourish and survive longer.

Getting younger and faster is always part in the NFL roster. Younger players can also be cheaper and play longer. Cheaper role players can help NFL teams save their immediate cash to help pay and re-sign their own superstar players, which is correct.  So, high-priced role players can be cut even quicker, which brings up this offseason topic: The San Diego Chargers Offensive Line (who’s the youth and who’s getting better?)

As much Nick Hardwick tenure has propelled himself into the Chargers firm starting center the last ten seasons, Hardwick’s future may end this season for several reasons. Starting with health concerns and multiple concussions, Hardwick’s is due to retire soon. His overall skills might be solid, but in reality he is sub-par and undersized at his position and his best days have been behind him for the last few years. Hardwick’s lack of power, average ability and elder “vet” status seem to be clouded by his upsold leadership and cohesive qualities. Being savvy and smart can only carry “ordinary” for so long, as Hardwick’s game and false praise tenure is easily replaceable and very upgradeable.  Newly drafted, rookie Chis Watt, might be groomed into playing center quicker than anticipated, but Rich Ohrnberger is a very capable (and younger) replacement. The Chargers two current backup centers could already be Hardwick’s replacements.  Hardwick has been a good player over the last ten years, but six years ago was his best year and he has been stagnate.

Most Chargers fans have been excited about cutting guard/tackle Jeromey Clary this season, again (especially with drafting a guard in the 3rd round, Chis Watt). Clary has always been a scapegoat of the team and line by fans, but he has been reliable.  Watt maybe the eventual replacement to Clary at right guard (or Hardwick at center), but cutting Clary now can release some binded up money that might attract an upgrade/available/tradable free agent. Clary did show some much valued versatility last season (at both right guard and tackle positions) but Clary’s versatility is extremely false, as he did not excel (or grade well) at right guard, where he started most of the season.  Versatility should translate into being good (or even average) at two or more positions, but Clary is below average at both positions. Clary is just a guy, not young, not quick or fast or scheme specific. His $4.5 million price tag is disturbing (driven and written by the previous regimen) and Clary’s replacement can be found with youth (and more eagerness).  Will Chargers fans miss Clary when he is gone? Unfortunately, probably not no…

Youth and change are a daily part of the NFL roster, and in the second year under head coach Mike McCoy, GM Tom Telesco and offensive line coach Joe D’alessandris, the Chargers offensive line may evolve, with change again.

Young man’s game, young man’s Chargers offensive line (2014):

  • LT: King Dunlap / Nick Becton
  • LG: Chad Rinehart / Johnny Troutman
  • C: Rich Ohrnberger / Chris Watt
  • RG: Chris Watt / Craig Watts
  • RT: DJ Fluker / Mike Harris

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Tags: San Diego Chargers

  • jamfed

    do it

  • Nick619chargers4life

    Interesting !

  • Mark Viguri

    Great take, you can also throw Gates into that conversation, not cutting the future HOFer but Ladarius Green needs to be the starter and should have been the Chargers #1 TE last year with Gates being Rivers short yardage move the chains possession guy and not a deep threat anymore. Unfortunately the Chargers prefer to include a blocking TE in typical formations along with Gates which means Green had to sit out a lot.

    • jamfed

      Gates feet and old battle wounds are catching up with him,with his age (and ego) advancing… Gates will be 34 and I think he can still play for another season in SD. He’s really only a 5 YPC type of route runner now and Green is still learning from him too, Green is the future and going to be a very good player but he still makes simple mistakes. Green is ready to break though this year and I anticipate this is Gates last year in SD..

      • Sergio Quintero

        I have to agree this is the last year of Gates, hope he proves me wrong but the numbers for his final 13 games are pretty much bad (3.7 catches 34.5 yards), if he continues at that level the chargers will almost have no other choice but to cut him.

        • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

          Hahaha… you are starting to sound like you are on a Gates witch-hunt, like the way I talk about Clary. Except Clary is garbage, and Gates still draws double-teams. I agree with Arnie. Lack of any true deep threat last season hampered Gate’s productivity. Until Allen came into bloom, he was doubled on every play, and still caught the pass… and even after Allen came. I wasn’t a fan of the fumbles… but, I have a feeling that we would be having a different conversation about him if those fumbles didn’t happen. I think he will have a much better season inn 2014… and that’s not based on nostalgia… as Jamfed pointed out on a previous thread.. Gates has been the #1 go to guy for Philip forever. I really don’t see that changing.

          • Sergio Quintero

            Nope I’m a cold hearted bastard, I thought he played bad for the 2nd half, the numbers were even worse than I thought, and I rewatched the playoff games and he was downright bad. 2 games, 3 catches 15 yards, couldn’t get open even against single coverage against linebackers.

            Lets hope that the lack of a deep threat was the reason, my opinion is that he’s a 60 catch 550 yard player right now, and if he’s that he is almost as overpaid as Clary, and should get some of the same criticism, if you ask about his career he’s boderline hall of famer, Gates circa 2014, looks like he aged faster than Tony Gonzalez.

            As they say pay for future performance, don’t pay for past performance. I loved Gates as a player, I’m truly hoping he proves me wrong and returns to a 70 catch 900 yard level, but unless the chargers inform the fanbase of a mistery injury the “useful” and overpaid Gates is here to stay.

          • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

            I remember KC fans saying the same thing about Gonzalez.. “he’s old, overpaid, and lost a step”… and look how that went down. Atlanta laughed pretty hard on that one. I would gladly let Clary go, to keep Gates in SD indefinitely, and retire a Charger. This IS a business… for guys like Clary, Phillips, Merriman, and Jammer. Gates has meant much more to this team than those guys by miles.

          • Stefanie Smith

            You are so right, Pete. Think Gonzalez. Many cannot see a bigger picture and cannot see any further than their nose.

            Dumping Gates now would be downright not good. Think Gonzalez, people. Yeah, KC fans thought he stunk, too. Additionally, it would be a PR nightmare for the Chargers, TT and the Spanos family. Gates is a fixture in San Diego. S

          • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

            He is, Stef.

            I’m not sure KC fans thought he stunk… just that he was getting old , and his best years were behind him, for the money they were paying. Folks can say that Gonzalez is “aging better” than Gates all they want. The truth is that Atlanta put him in a system where he wasn’t asked to be the “go-to-guy” all the time. They had a deep threat in White, unlike KC, who had no supporting cast. He could focus on moving the chains, and being a red zone threat. The defense were forced to double other weapons in Atlanta’s arsenal, so Gonzalez became a miss-match nightmare.

            When you look at the crap wide receiving corps we’ve had over the last two seasons.. filed with guys like Meachem, Spurlock & Parish.. Gates was relied upon heavily, while fighting through injury. Last season, only Keenan Allen was a real threat, and he was a rookie! Behind him, there was nobody.. except for Gates.

            I know practically NOBODY has the kind of faith that I do about Brown being better this season, and Floyd lighting it up.. but, I think that they will both play well. Having Keenan Allen, and Eddie Royal behind that… this makes me believe we will be a juggernaut this season.. possibly top 3 offense. That’s not even counting guys like Green, Woodhead, and Reese. Even Donald Brown, and Mathews will get their catches. I don’t think anyone will have a “blow out season”. I think everyone will have the potential to have solid stats, but there are so many guys that will be targeted, that I think there are going to be a lot of “productive” players this season.. as opposed to one or two stand out superstars, and then a huge drop off. It’s going to drive the eggheads, who point to stats to define production, completely crazy.. lol.

            Then, they will find their “new argument”, saying that we have so many weapons, that we don’t need Gates anymore.. even if he’s productive.

            Bwahaha. I can already see it coming.

          • Sergio Quintero

            They traded Gonzalez for a 2nd rounder and a 5th rounder, I doubt if they put Gates they could get that much, there was the opinion that Gonzalez was getting old but he was still very productive. That KC was going into a reconstruction and it was a good time to trade him for a contender.

            The opinion on Gates is that there is a loss of quickness and speed, and they he will probably drop to the 3-4 option in the offense behind Allen-Floyd and he will be competing with Green & Woodhead for the remaining passes.

            I actually think the Spanos can be surprisingly loyal to certain players, it was an open secret that A.J. Smith asked the Spanos to trade Tomlinson after the 2007 season, and make a concerted effort to maintain Michael Turner, the Spanos denied his request and kept LT. To be honest Smith would have been right, Turner far exceeded Tomlinson in terms of production from 2008 and further seasons.

          • Bolty

            Don’t put Spurlock in that category man! He was very good for us whenever given the chance to play.

          • Sergio Quintero

            I didn’t say he was getting dumped, I’m saying he will be overpaid, he’s getting paid like a star, and he had a very pedestrian at times bad final 13 games of 2013, that showed definite signs of decline.

            If I would bet I say he stays for 2 seasons, this one no questions asked, he’s the starter and expected to be the same player he had always been. If the low production continues, I expect the chargers to try to renegotiate his deal down in 2015, but I think he’s here for the next 2 seasons, I’m hoping for 75 catch 900 yard season of his prime, but its seems unlikely to happen.

            If the chargers have been so loyal to Clary, I find hard to believe they will cut bait after this season with Gates, but I can’t read Telesco’s mind, is there a very definite risk that he will overpaid for the remaining years of his deal, yes, Clary has been overpaid for at least 4 years and he’s still here.

          • tubbs45

            My only thing with Philips was he was still producing. I could stand him, but he walked the walk on the field.

          • Bolty

            Gates was also “held” a lot by opposing defenses and the refs didn’t call it. But, he also averaged a critical dropped pass every other game too along with the uncalled for fumbles. So clearly L. Green needs to be on the field as much or more than Gates this year. He’s such a weapon now.

          • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

            Two fumbles.. yes they were critical, but what fumble isn’t? Before that he had almost never lost the ball. Are we seriously going to look at those two fumbles, and decide that he’s done? That’s ludicrous.

      • Jason Gomez

        really? EGO? do you just pull stuff outta your rear?

        every post drives you closer to moron status.

        • jamfed

          Did you watch Antonio Gates whine about where he was listed (#73) in the NFL’s Top 100 players of 2013? Gates was honestly mad about being number 73. He thought he was entitled to a better number. IMO that is his ego talking.
          So, Mr. Jason Gomez, do you think Gates is lower than number 73 this year? Do you think he’s honestly top 100? Gates “thinks” he’s great, which is good for any NFL Player, but that’s pure ego at this time of his career.
          I didn’t think Gates was top 100 last year in 2013. If Gates can earn 50 catches this season, I’d be disappointed because he’s taking reps away from Green.

          • arnie

            Haha at least you gave an opinion to laugh about here, as well. Haha!

  • Augie Baza

    I don’t know what to say about this. While I was reading this I was thinking about your positive and negatives. Some things that came up were how you are willing to say that we should have some unproven players take over for some players that have years of experiance. Yes we know that Hardwick is at his ends but yet I just read an article where it stated he was one of the top 10 centers in the league last year. DUnlap was a player that came ito his own last year and was awsome when he was healthy at left tackle. That article stated that the Chargers offensive line was the 5th best offensive line in the NFL. So I dont understand how you believe we should just let go of the 5th best offensive line and let the rookis and young guys play. They need to earn the JOB. They are the future but you can’t just give it to them unless they become real pros and learn it from the best. Learn how to be profesionals from the best. THere is no rush. When thier number gets called they will produce. As of right now I hope the Chargers are going to war with what was one of the top ten O lines last year. If one goes down like it did last year I am hoping the young players will be ready to assume their resposibility. Holding that O line to win some games for the Chargers. GO CHARGERS

    • jamfed

      I read that article stating the Chargers O-line was ranked the 5th best, and I could not stop laughing. That’s one persons opinion (who probably isn’t a Chargers fan). It’s amazing how a scheme and different play calling can make a team weakness look like a strength.
      Hardwick might be scheme perfect, but he’s aging and lacks power. Hardwick might be able to point out blocking assignments in the top ten, but in reality, he’s not a top ten center. The only reason he’s starting is because of cohesiveness. Change and upgrades are due…
      I agree about earning a job, and in this game youth tends to win..

      • Jason Gomez

        as much as hardwick may lack power (something that he has dealt with his ENTIRE career), you never see him get bull rushed and planted on his backside like Clary does every game.

        Not to mention he is the brain of the offense, calling coverages….

        Loss of credibility imminent. go watch game tape.

        • jamfed

          I’ve seen every snap in Hardwick’s career and I’ve never been impressed. Excelling at pass protection with poor run blocking proves to me that he’s one dimensional (and old). the only reason why he was resigned (in 2012 I believe) was because there wasn’t anyone else ready to take over for him. Tyronne Greene was going to be Hardwick’s replacement, but he failed at RG before he had the opportunity to play any center.
          I’m not sure why all the “loyalty” toward Hardwick here. He’s been under-preforming since 2007.
          Sure he’s the “god father” to Rivers kids, but again, he’s a concussion away from retirement. Don’t be surprised if Hardwick’s wife makes the retirement decision for him before week one.

  • Catfish Comstock

    If you think Hardwick isn’t going to start this year then you know nothing about the Chargers.

    • jamfed

      2008 was the last good year LaDainian Tomlinson had in San Diego. And 2008 and 2009, LT struggled. Cause: Interior run blocking… IMO: Hardwick was the largest contributor of why LaDainian Tomilinson did not finish his career in San Diego as he’s undersized, not a very good run blocker and a well below average lineman.
      The NFL is a young Man’s game and Hardwick’s days have been numbered since LaDainian was released. Hardwick’s leadership and personality can only carry him for so long.
      Do you remember who Jason Ball was?

      • tubbs45

        The largest contributor to LT leaving was AJ Smith…

        • Nick in PB

          I tend to agree with James on the fact that Hardwick has slipped over the years. He is small for a center to begin with. The thing is, it’s hard to replace leadership and he is the leader of the line. The quarterback of the O Line. His smarts helps the O Line be successful. It’s a tough call. He would have to grade out poorly and awful lot to be replaced. It is a good point though.

          • tubbs45

            there is no denying that Hardwick has slowed and is undersized. my question is cutting him and replacing him with whom… Ohrenberger stats and the running game were not improved with him in there. we mostly all agreed he did a great job for someone who’s not a center. IMO there has to be someone better that is not compromising depth else where to dictate a change. in Clarys situation there are better options that are not a compromise, but a clear improvement.

            The sharp shift in LTs stats had more to do with the shift to the Norval Genius offense and the passing attack, the loss of michael turner/ Lorenzo Neal, than it did the performance of the O Line.

        • Sergio Quintero

          I remember reading some rumor pages that A.J. Smith actually asked to trade Tomlinson in 2008 and keep Turner, that LT was closing in on 30 and that Turner was younger and obviously had less tread on the tires.

          Spanos thought the fanbase would eat them alive even though it made sense from a purely football standpoint. But surly A.J. Smith wanted LT gone even sooner. Not every decision Smith made was wrong and choosing Turner would have been right in the production on the field department.

          • tubbs45

            But what I’m saying is that LT leaving had to do more with AJ than with hardwick and the interior line…

          • jamfed

            I disagree. When LT was drafted, SD had a horrible O-Line. And two years before LT left to NY, the o-line was terrible. A running back is only as good as his line, and Hardwick has been a liability in the run game for 6 years. SIX YEARS!

          • tubbs45

            Yes 2002 OL was horrible. but in the years leading up to LT record setting 2006 season the charger built up the line with McNeill, Dielman, Hardwick, Goff, and Olivea, with Neal blasting running lanes. Schottenhiemer called 522 running plays.

            2007 Norv takes over and the # of running plays drop to 480 and that is with upgrading to McNeill, Dielman, Hardwick, VASQUEZ, and Olivea. with Neal still at FB.

            2008 # of running plays drop to 421 with McNeill, Dielman, Hardwick, Vasquez, and CLARY being the new starter.

            His production declined in each of his final three seasons because of injuries, wear-and-tear and Norv Turner’s desire to run the offense through Rivers. AJ Smith made the decision to cut, even though Dean didn’t want to cut him. AJ cut LT because he was LT was spent and in decline. Hardwicks PFF numbers are consistent through those years. bottom line for me is that I agree, Hardwick needs to be replaced, but that isn’t why LT left san diego or why he was less productive.

          • arnie

            Context. great job tubs.

      • Sergio Quintero

        Even 2008 I would be hard pressed to call it a good year, he looked like LT the first game of the season I remember, then he had a turf toe injury and he never looked the same the rest of his charger career, he ran for 1,110 yards his 2nd smallest total of his chargers career, and his 3.8 yards was slightly below the league average. Still a solid year for any back but he wasn’t the same player.

        I respect that you don’t think Hardwick plays at a high level, I think he’s average to slightly above average, but clearly the chargers believe he’s their starter its not even up for debate, I fully expect this to be his final season, and the chargers will be drafting his successor rather early in the 2015 draft.

      • Jason Gomez

        you mean the cokehead? that jason ball?

        jeez, i realize you dont like hardwick but to compare his worth to the team to Jason Frickin Ball?

        get over it.

        • jamfed

          I do “like” Hardwick and he did have some good moments, but I don’t think he’s a very good center. Jason Ball was fun to watch, and we was a complete center. He could’ve been a pro bowler quickl, but he blew it (LOL).
          SD could use an upgrade at the position and he is very upgradable..

  • Sergio Quintero

    Maybe the most interesting and risky decision of the offseason is the vote of total confidence towards Dunlap & Harris, clearly the chargers believe the concussion issues of Dunlap are not a big deal and far from being career threatening, and to go with that decision, the fact the chargers brought no veteran depth at OT and no draft picks clearly indicates they trust Mike Harris as a credible backup and spot starter for the injury prone Dunlap. If these decisions are sound, will clearly be proven in the field, but I will admit I thought the chargers would have at least have taken a developmental OT by the time the 4th round was over.

    In terms of Hardwick the realities are pretty simple, he is the starter this season, and Ohrnberger is the backup, Watt will be given lessons at the position, but the odds point that he will not see substantial time at that position no sooner than 2015. I expect center to be a position to get a draft pick in one of the first 3 rounds of 2015.

    • tubbs45

      Totally agree with you Sergio. I was surprised that they didn’t fire a pick at a tackle. Though they did grab a couple of UDFA… Two bouncers for you my knowledgeable bolt brethren:

      http://i1088.photobucket.com/albums/i336/petesimages/GIFs/F6V0l.gif

      • FitzWilly

        well done tubbs :)-
        MMMMMMMMMMMMMMM BOOBIES
        Tx for the Mammaries

        • Nick in PB

          I second that. She is a honey X2!!!

  • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

    Loved the article… but, you don’t think Hardwick is starting this season? Could you please elaborate on that? I am having a hard time imagining a scenario where Hardwick takes a back seat to Ohrnberger, or Watt, short of atrocious play (which Hardwick had never been atrocious), a blowout situation ( where they have a huge lead, and try to get Watt experience), or Hardwick sustains an injury. Also, if Dunlap goes down, Harris would start over Becton, unless Fluker was hurt too.. and even then, they might shift Clary to RT, and shuffle the guards.

    • jamfed

      Thanks. I’m suggesting letting Hardwick & Clary go this season. Since 2008, I haven’t been a Harkwick fan. I don’t think Hardwick run blocks very well, and his actual game-play gets clouded by the zone blocking scheme (ZBS). IMHO, Hardwick’s game has been declining since 2007,which lead to LT’s rushing decline in SD.

      Yes, Harris to swing tackle before Becton but…
      NOTE: Hardwick and King Dunlap are both one concussion away from retirement.

      • tubbs45

        CAP wise and for River there is no way in HELL I’d cut Hardwick. Declining game, yes, but cutting the guy who has worked with Rivers directly is a bad call. As for Clary, never been a fan of what he has to offer except for his attitude and toughness.

        http://i415.photobucket.com/albums/pp236/Keefers_/Animated/funny_pictures_i127495D689.gif

        • jamfed

          Upgrade Rivers center, and I will bet that Rivers (and the Running game) would see better results equaling better rushing results (and less frustration with Rivers). Better results equal a happier and more productive RIvers. Rivers relationship with Hardwick is personal, not business…

          • Jason Gomez

            and more missed assignments, and more sacks

            and a definitely more frustrated rivers…..

            only an idiot thinks personal doesn’t affect business…

          • jamfed

            Upgrading Hardwick doesn’t mean “more missed assignments.”
            It means opening more rushing lanes and overall game play.

            Hardwick is the God Father to Rivers kids, so yes, it does affect business… I’m sure Hardwick took a discount to say with San Diego (for Rivers).

      • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

        I’m not disagreeing with your assessment, necessarily. I just think you will be very disappointed if you think Hardwick isn’t starting in game one, and the rest of the season, unless for reasons I listed above. No way on earth McCoy and Telesco are cutting him.

        • jamfed

          In 2012, San Diego’s O-line had 3 new starters (plus Clary changing positions, so really 4). There were so many different starting combinations last season, is was a revolving line.The injuries were really heavy…
          So, what if Clary and Hardwick are gone next year? Coach Joe D held the line together and made every different starting combination work pretty well (not top 5 well, but well). I’m only talking about upgrading with speed, power and youth. Clary and Hardwick have none of the above… Vet Leadership is nice, but Dunlap and Rinehart are those vets too.

          • arnie

            It’s likely they will be gone next year, however, their replacements will know the system and hopefully be ready to step up an be starters. Rookies make mistakes….I have no problem letting them make them, as back-ups.

  • tubbs45
  • philiprules

    Per PFF right before the Denver playoff loss,
    “A big part of the Chargers turnaround this season stems from their offensive line, and Hardwick helped as much as anyone with a career-high +8.8 PFF grade. He was never dominant, but he held his own in all phases of the game and rarely hurt his team.”
    Yeah, that’s the keystone/play caller to an offensive line I’d want to get rid of. Especially when you have a career back up that managed one good game as his replacement and a rookie who never played center in his 50 game career at ND.
    Great call.

    • jamfed

      …young mans game… and if SD did make a change at the position, I’d think you’d see an improvement.

      • philiprules

        Well since according to PFF “he is sub-par and undersized at his position and his best days have been behind him for the last few years”…..NOT, and since I’m not a believer in youth over talent I’ll just take your entire train of thought as the nonsensical ravings of a lunatic mind.

        • jamfed

          …I love house PFF clouds fans minds. “if PPF say’s he’s a plus, then he’s good…”

          Yes, Hardwick did appear pretty good last year, but years prior, he has not been a good run blocker. Sure, McCoys and Coach Joe-D’s new scheme makes Hardwick appear to be decent, but if you paint a turd gold, it’s still a turd.
          Of course Hardwick is not a turd, but a scheme can hide deficiencies. San Diego’s o-line is still a huge concern and I’m only talking about upgrading the position.
          …young mans game.

          • arnie

            Young men don’t know squat. That’s why Hardwick is still here.

  • Carl n’SD

    Who is this writer? Learn to write the english language for heaven’s sake!
    “driven and written by the previous regimen”, Regimen?? I think you mean regime!
    “he has been stagnate”, stagnate?? I think you mean stagnant!
    These are just two of so many grammatical/word choice errors that this article is almost un-readable.

    • jamfed

      …all apologize if you can not understand this article. It was spell checked in Word and Chrome, yet I understand your frustration. Spelling is a bonus when reading, and reading and understanding are two different things. Dramatic Gramatics…

  • arnie

    Haha, nice roster, it won’t happen, but it is something to look forward too. individual evaluations are are easy to pick out players and discard them. Context, the O-line is a “unit”.