October 7, 2012; New Orleans, LA, USA; San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews (24) runs past New Orleans Saints outside linebacker Will Herring (54) on a touchdown run during the third quarter of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Chargers 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been making a case for why each position group will be better in 2013. So far we’ve covered the defense and the offensive line. Now we get into the offensive “skill” positions, which I’ve decided to split into two categories: “Backs” and “Receivers and Tight Ends.” This time we’ll look at the backfield and leave the exciting receiver group for last.
Who they were:
First, let me say that I am a HUGE Phillip Rivers supporter. When I look back at his numbers over the past decade (especially 2008-2010) I think that we are truly blessed to have had him as our quarterback. A lot of teams would have given anything to have him. He has had a couple of down seasons, yes—and 2012 was one of them—but I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. There have been issues with protection over the last couple of seasons and last year he lost his star receiver in free agency, which didn’t help one bit. Really, he hasn’t put up horrible numbers in the past two seasons; it’s the turnovers that are the problem. If he can just solve that issue, then I have no doubt that we will see the old Phillip out there in 2013.
Two broken clavicles and only one touchdown; that about says it all. Ryan Mathews had a tough year last year. Instead of making his name with a high level of play, it’s been the injuries and turnovers that have made the headlines. He has all the talent in the world, and he’s shown flashes of it, but flashes aren’t enough. Hopefully 2013 is a luckier year for Ryan and he gets a chance to prove himself on the field instead of watching from the sidelines.
The rest of the backfield was sort of piecemeal. Ronnie Brown did an okay job on third down, but apart from that no one really impressed. Jackie Battle wasn’t the bruiser we thought he’d be and McClain wasn’t really able to get it going either—both guys barely cracked the 3yds average barrier, and Brinkley didn’t even make that milestone. Now, again, the play of the guys up front has to be taken into consideration, and McClain will have another chance to prove himself with a slightly improved offensive line, but none of these guys were even close to Ryan Mathews last year in yards and he only played 12 games! That just shows you how lackluster our backfield was. There’s just wasn’t any wow factor with this group, accompanied by a definite lack of depth.
Why they will be better:
Okay, on to the good stuff!
QB: I’m not worried about Rivers. He has three great new coaches who have worked with some great quarterbacks in the past (McCoy and Reich with Manning; Wisenhunt with Big Ben and Warner). If McCoy can win a playoff game with Tim Tebow, then I have no doubt that he can do great things with Phillip Rivers. I think that Philip is more frustrated than anyone at his play over the last two seasons. I think a fresh start will be good for him. A quicker offense, with shorter routes, is going to get help him get the ball out of his hands faster and help the o-line out a lot too. I think we’re going to see less sacks and fewer turnovers in this system and, therefore, better numbers. I think that everyone should be really excited about number 17 this season.
RB1: Give us one healthy season! One healthy season with a decent line and I think Ryan Mathews can be a star in this league. If both of these things come together then he can be explosive, dynamic and our new workhorse back; I am all for giving him a chance. I want him to succeed and I think he can do it. If the injury bug shows up again, then I think we may have seen the last of him in San Diego.
RB2: I’m going to split this section between Ronnie Brown and Danny Woodhead, because I think that’s what they’ll be doing—for the first few games at least. They are both going to play the third-down back role. On the one hand you have Woodhead, the dynamic, young playmaker who made a name for himself with the Patriots. I’m very excited about this signing because I think that it will create a much-needed spark in this running backs group. He is a fighter and a winner and—as I’ve mentioned before—those are the types of guys we need on this team. Not to mention he brings a nice 4.8yd rushing average to the rotation.
On the other hand, you have Brown: the seasoned veteran. As I mentioned earlier, he did a serviceable job on third down last year. I think he’s going to play more of a relief role this season but it’s always great to have a veteran on hand to teach the younger guys. Brown was great to watch in his heyday with the Dolphins and hopefully he can continue to show the new guys how it’s done—as well as giving them a break from time to time. He also had a 4.8 average last season, not too shabby for a nine year vet.
FB: Le’Ron McClain will compete with Chris Gronkowski for this spot. McLain’s had a full year in the Charger’s system. He has a new-look line in front of him, with a new offensive philosophy—which I think is going to benefit everyone. He has a chance to show us the guy who led the way for great backs in KC and Baltimore. I don’t think we’ve seen his best yet and this year he has a better chance to show it.
Gronkowski will push McClain and may even win the job. We’ll probably have to wait until preseason to see who wins this battle but competition is always a good thing!
DEPTH: Depth is pretty much the same as last year—which wasn’t great—but we’ve added Woodhead to the mix, so it’s definitely better! As far as the younger guys go, we brought in Whittaker—who Coach Wisenhunt must like since he brought him over from AZ—and second-year guy Edwin Baker who will get a chance to prove himself again and compete for a roster spot. It will be interesting to see how these guys perform this preseason. Perhaps one of them can do enough to step in and replace Ronnie Brown in the coming years, or maybe even Mathews? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but strange things do happen—see Arian Foster.
COACHING: As I mentioned before, we have three new coaches who all know a thing or two about Quarterbacks. They’ve also worked with some of the most prolific offenses of the past decade. They know their stuff and I trust that they will be able to use the tools that they have to help this group succeed in the upcoming season. I am very excited to see what they do and see this new offense in action.
So, that’s that. It gets me really pumped just thinking about the fresh start that we’re going to get this season: new coaches, new philosophy and a couple of exciting new players. Don’t forget about the improved offensive line too; they are going to help this group immensely. Yes, we are still semi-rebuilding but we have added a few guys on the line already, like Fluker, who have the right attitude and a great work ethic; they will clear the way! There’s no doubt in my mind that our backfield has improved, the only question is: how much? Let me know what you guys think.