October 15, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick (61) points to defenders before a play during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
In my three previous articles I made arguments for why each of the defensive position groups will be better in 2013. In the last article I talked about the defensive line, so I thought it only logical to move on to the offensive line from there. Let’s move over to the other side of the ball and see why we’ve improved.
Who they were:
It’s no secret that the Chargers’ offensive line was in shambles last season. We had a guy at left tackle (who I’m not even going to name) that got paid and dropped straight back into his big, lazy ways. His replacement was an undrafted rookie who had no business starting nine games in the NFL, let alone at the hardest position on the line (to be fair, he never should have been put in that position in the first place). At right tackle we had Jeromey Clary, as usual. Now, we all like to hate on him a little bit—and sometimes it’s warranted—but he wasn’t anywhere near as bad as the mess over on the other side of the line. Also, as a side note, I respect Clary way more after this offseason. He knew that Fluker was drafted to replace him and, instead of whining or making a big deal of it, he made the move to right guard and started working his butt off to win that job. No matter what we thought of him as a right tackle, he is a true pro and it’s clear that he wants to do whatever it takes to help the team win; those are the kinds of veterans we need on this line.
At guard we had Vasquez on the right and Green on the left. Vasquez was solid and will be one of the better guards in the league for the next few years. Unfortunately, he will be doing it for the Denver Broncos (who I think overpaid for him, but I’m not bitter). Green, on the other hand, was not one of the better guards in the league. In fact, the New England Patriots hosted him for a grand total of two weeks before cutting him. As much as I hate them, the Pats usually do a good job of evaluating talent, so that should tell you everything you need to know about Green.
The center position has been solid for the last ten years. There was a worry that Nick Hardwick would retire prior to this season, but fortunately he returned to give us some much-needed stability on the line. He’s the general of this unit and if he wanted to play for another decade I wouldn’t be opposed to that. Man, I wish great players didn’t get old.
Why they will be better:
Okay, now let’s see if we’re going to be better. This should be easy!
LT: TT went out and picked up former Pittsburgh Steeler, and two-time Super Bowl champion, Max Starks in free agency. Yes, he is getting up there in age, but he played all 16 games last year for the Steelers and is WAY more solid than the guys we had last year at left tackle. This is a stopgap replacement. Max Starks will probably not be our starter next year, but he is a much needed, solid improvement over last season.
LG: Chad Rinehart isn’t a star but he is a more than serviceable upgrade over Green. He played under coach D in Buffalo and he’s a veteran with six years of experience. Having Reinhart and Starks next to each other on Philip’s blindside sounds a heck of a lot better than having Green and Harris. Who knows, maybe coach D knows Rinehart’s true potential and that’s why he brought him over. Maybe he will surprise us and develop into an under-the-radar star.
C: Center is the one position that is not in flux. Hardwick will return to lead this new look O-line and he’ll do a solid job as always. He is creeping up there in age but hopefully he has a couple of good seasons left in him.
RG: This is the one position that you could argue didn’t improve this offseason but, luckily, this article is about the O-line as a unit and not about each individual position. We’ll have to see how things work out in camp and preseason before we can pencil in a starter here. Right now it seems that Clary’s move to right guard is going well, but he is an expensive addition and would free up a lot of cap space if cut. We’ll also get our first look at Troutman (who was injured all of last year). If he comes in and plays well then it may be beneficial in the long run to cut Clary and go with the younger guy; we’ll see how it plays out. Either guy isn’t going to be as solid as Vasquez, but if Clary wins the job I’m kind of excited to see how the run game opens up with two giants on the right side of the line.
RT: Speaking of giants, we picked one up in the first round of the draft this year. At 6’5”, 340ibs, DJ Fluker will hopefully be our starting right tackle for many years to come. Some reports have said he is struggling a little so far, but from what I hear about his attitude and work ethic, I don’t think we’re going to have to worry about him being ready for week one. Besides, doesn’t every rookie struggle just a little at first? This is the kind of guy we want on our new look line: big, tough, passionate and a leader. He is the first of a new wave of Chargers linemen, and if we can get more guys like him in the next couple of drafts then I’ll be happy.
DEPTH: Rich Ohrnberger, King Dunlap, David Molk, Colin Baxter, Johnnie Troutman, and Mike Harris. Looking at this list, it is very possible that our starting left tackle from last year gets cut before the season even starts. Enough said.
COACHING: Joe D’Alessandris is one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL. Look up some of the things old colleagues and players have said about him and you will see a trend; everyone thinks he’s one of the best. He gets a chance to come in here and begin building a new line, one that will dominate for years to come. When you see him out there barking instructions at players, you can tell that he A) knows his stuff and B) values winning above all else. This line will shock some people this year because of coach D.
So there you have it. I think this is one of the more open and close cases as far as position groups go. Yes, we are not all the way there yet. This offensive line will probably change quite a bit over the next couple of seasons but I don’t think anyone can deny that they are going be vastly improved in 2013. Let me know what you think!