Taking The Next Step
By Peter Thompson
Oct 15, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers outside linebackerShaun Phillips
(95) during pregame introductions before a game against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
This is going to be a long article, but I have been uber-busy over the last four days, and the draft is coming quickly. So, please hang in there, as I may not get time to post again before Thursday. I will give my unsolicited opinion on what I think about each position, and how we should handle it. There are still so many questions unanswered… So, I thought this would be a good time to take a quick audit of what we still need to address as a resurgent organization. Obviously, we will see how it plays out over the next few weeks. Having said that, this will be one of our final opportunities to have a little fun, before we get the draft results. Let’s entertain our last thoughts, and scenarios about how we would like to see this roster come together!
To say that there are still a lot of holes, is an understatement. Now that Danario Alexander is not leaving, we can finally exhale for two seconds. However, I am curious to see where everyone stands on which steps to take next. What holes can be addressed with each step, and how? Here are the team needs, and different directions we could go. Please feel free to add anything I may have missed:
Left Tackle: Let’s get the inevitable off of the table first. If ANY of the the top 3 tackles are available (and there may well be), you can expect Tom Telesco to have a faster time racing to the podium, than Lane Johnson did in his 4o at the combine! However, what if they aren’t? What then? You can draft the second rounder, or third rounder of your choice… and hope that coach Joe-D can whip them into starting shape quickly. If not, you are relying on the Dunlap / Clary show to hold down the fort. Let’s not kid ourselves.. Dunlap is an upgrade from Harris, but I would be very unthrilled if that’s how we rolled into the new season. So would Philip Rivers. We still have the “dangling carrot of hope” that we sign Bryant McKinnie… but, that only makes it more uncertain. We MAY be able to head into the draft with McKinnie in our back pocket, see if we can get an elite tackle, and sign him if we don’t. However, his price would go up post-draft, I would imagine. I would feel comfortable signing McKinnie to a 2 year deal, as a stop gap. They can wait until next year to draft a Lewan, or a Matthews, or another LT. That would free up more picks in the draft. If TT doesn’t select a LT in the first 2 rounds (or MAYBE 3), I would bet that they are going that route. If TT drafts a LT in the 2nd round, I think you can pretty much pencil in Dunlap as the starter. I would be surprised if the McKinnie talks continued, after that point. Barring a decision to trade up, this will be a “you get what you get” kind of situation. It doesn’t seem like there is much control over it, other than to see how the draft plays out. All I know, is if we don’t get a top 3 tackle… or sign a 2nd rounder… we better be darn sure we have laid the groundwork to get McKinnie (Or SOMEBODY better than Dunlap)!
Strong Safety: Getting a safety like Kenny Vaccaro through the draft would be awesome! If you take Vaccaro, you will almost certainly have to do it at 11, as I don’t think he would be there at 16, even if we traded down with St. Louis. However, we drafted a strong safety last year, when we picked Brandon Taylor. It remains to be seen if he can be the starter next to Weddle. He got very little time on the field last year, in Norv’s “Vet-Heavy” system. However, he was a great leader of a dominating LSU defense. A torn ACL late last season couldn’t have come at a worse time for the kid (not that there is ever a good time for that injury). But, the new regime has virtually no NFL film to go off of, and his timeline for recovery is foggy at best. The Chargers have not signed Lynch back either, who could potentially be a stop-gap until Taylor is up to speed. This is going to be one of the hardest decisions for management to make, as a lot of uncertainty surrounds the whole situation. We could go with Vaccaro… a first round talent, who is versatile, and can be an immediate starter against a wicked Denver offense. Or, you can get Lynch in there, wait for your third rounder to get healthy, and give him the opportunity to prove himself. If that is the case, Taylor will have to learn (and heal) very quickly. He would need to get up to speed STAT! If any of the left tackles are there, you may be going with the Taylor plan… whether we like it, or not. People have talked about signing Jammer back, and moving him to strong safety. But, we need to realize that he hasn’t played a snap at safety since college, and not much of it back then. Could he start at safety? I just don’t see it happening. Even for the short-term. If none of the three elite tackles are there… Lotulelei & Milliner are gone, and we can’t trade down…. I can see TT pulling the trigger on Vaccaro.
Outside linebacker: If you feel comfortable with our pass rush right now, then you are in the minority. Johnson is great for the run, but has almost no pass rushing skills. Ingram is coming into his second year, and should get plenty of playing time, but fell well short of what people had hoped his numbers would be last year. English… well… I don’t even need to go into that, as he is in a make-or-break season. Shaun Phillips has one foot out the door. So, you let the dust settle from the draft, and pick up some cheap depth in Free Agency… hoping that Ingram & English produce the results we have all been dreaming of. Or, you turn to the draft in the later rounds (possibly a promising undrafted FA). I see Telesco going younger, so the later rounds make more sense to me. But, I have been wrong before.
OLB Side Note: Shaun Phillips is a longtime fan favorite… a solid leader in the locker room… best pass rusher on the team last year. If Shaun Phillips is still available, and could not get a good contract anywhere else, do you think he would take a much lower salary to remain a Bolt? If he stayed, would the new regime even want to bring him back? Do you think he would take less time, so Ingram could develop into a starter? A lot of fans didn’t like the fact that SP took valuable snaps away from Ingram last year. Or, do you think it’s just time to move on? If we have any chance to get him for the veteran minimum (or close to it) with a reduced role.. I say yes, let’s do it. He knows the system.
Middle Line-Backer: Takeo Spikes is gone. I’ll just come out, and say it… Alec Ogletree would be awesome to have… IF we can pull off a trade down! I wouldn’t even hate the idea of Te’o or Minter wearing a bolt if Ogletree is gone. If we don’t trade down, this need will probably be addressed in the 3rd or fourth round with Alonso or Bostic. I don’t trust the options in the FA market, and you need a starter. We all would LOVE to see Mouton step up, and ring the bell… or, Bront Bird, or Andrew Gachkar for that matter… but, I don’t think you can put all of your eggs in that basket. You just can’t. So, that means you either draft one in the first three or four rounds, or you take your chances. One thing is for sure.. SOMEBODY has to be Butler’s wing-man!
Cornerback: Cox was a nice addition to the roster, no doubt! But, is that enough? Shareece Wright, and Marcus Gilchrist will both battle it out for the second starting job. Wright showed some pretty good play-making ability before he got hurt, so you hope he can be the guy. Gilchrist hasn’t been all that bad as a nickel CB, but I have seen him in deep coverage, and he needs…. let’s just say… he needs to work on that. Granted, we haven’t seen a whole lot of either of them, they are both still raw, and they could improve greatly under the coaching of our new defensive backs coach Ron Milus. It looks like we will have to use a draft pick on a CB at some point, but which round? There has been a lot of talk about Mcfadden in the 3rd, as not many people are talking about going CB in rounds one & two, unless Milliner drops to us at eleven (and all 3 tackles & Lotulelei are not available) I would take him, no doubt. If he doesn’t, I would take a CB in the 3rd, or 4th round. I would take Vaccaro over Rhodes, and I would take Ogletree if we drafted down, and we could get Armstead AND Warford in round two. The draft is very deep at CB this year. I think we could still possibly come up on Mcfadden in the fourth, or somebody as good. Beyond that, I would sign a stop-gap veteran to accomplish the same thing we would get with a 5th / 6th / 7th round CB.. which would be depth. I wouldn’t sign Jammer, as I don’t think he could play strong safety, and I wouldn’t want him taking over Gilchrist’s nickel spot.
Nose Tackle: If Star Lotulelei is there, TT will have to think hard about the fact that Cam Thomas will be your starter, if you pass him up. Cam MIGHT be able to step up. But, even Weddle was making comments about Star being a beast yesterday! That let’s me know that he would probably prefer a nose tackle, over a safety in the first round if Star is there. This COULD also be a vote in Taylor’s corner. Maybe he has faith in the young man. We have kicked the tires on Antonio Johnson. But, he was just replaced by Aubrayo Franklin. That doesn’t exactly scream “starter”, but he could add depth. However, with Cam’s contract expiring next year, do you want to be stuck signing another veteran stop-gap? Or, possibly starting a late round 2013 rookie nose tackle, and draft another depth guy behind him? If TT is not sold on Cam Thomas being the future starter.. passing on Lotulelei is almost suicide. Overpaying average players out of desperation is what got us into this mess in the first place. When I see the lack of depth behind this position, I almost have to assume that Telesco is going to see if he can get a NT in the top 3 or 4 picks.
Guard: Aside from Warford in the second, if we got an extra pick, I would be irritated if we took a guard high. It wouldn’t be the end of the world.. I guess… but, I would MUCH rather have a play-maker, than a guard. You can find good guards in all rounds. The curve doesn’t “drop off” like it does with other positions. Not to mention we went out and got Reinhart, Ohrnberger was signed, and Troutman is healthy. Dunlap can play guard, as well (assuming we get that left tackle) Yes, Cooper & Warmack are beasts. But, they probably won’t be there, and I wouldn’t pick them if they were. But, that’s TT’s decision, not mine… so don’t get too flustered, m’kay?
Wide receiver: I feel similarly about wide receiver. I wouldn’t hate it if they took Tavon Austin.. he is awesome, without a doubt, and Rivers would have his own little Welker to throw to. Realistically, a year under the belt of this receiving corps, and another training camp, can make a big difference. Joiner is gone, but we have a new face in town, and a superbowl caliber play caller to boot. Vincent Brown is going to be healthy, and will be a shot in the arm of this crew. I would stick to my guns here, and possibly take one in a later round. However, even that doesn’t seem necessary.
Running back: I wouldn’t be mad if we can get a bruiser of a running back in the later rounds, if we can pick one up, I will say this.. we already have a ton of guys competing. Not that they will all make the team… but, we have Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Ronnie Brown, Edwin Baker, and Fozzy Whittaker. Not to mention fullbacks Le’Ron McClain (who can run the ball) & newly signed Chris Gronkowski. Even if we cut a few of guys, we would still be full. Clearly, Ryan Mathews has had his injury problems, but I am going out on the biggest limb EVER here… I think this strength & conditioning staff gets their money’s worth out of him this year. The backups will be used as change of pace backs, and we’ll keep someone on the practice squad, just in case.
Defensive End: I left this one to the last, as we have Liuget, and Reyes holding down the starting positions. We can get one or two more guys in the later rounds, or get some undrafted rookies, or get some depth in free agency. I feel comfortable with our starters, and think they are solid. We just need another vet, and a couple of newbies, just in case the fit hits the shan.
Well, that’s it…. Long winded?… Perhaps. But, that’s my two cents, Bolt Fam! Please comment, debate, throw your own ideas in there, tell me where I’m right & wrong.. etc., etc. It’s all fair game, and we can compare scores on draft day!
Much Love, and LET’S DO THE DANG THANG!