Evaluating the 2016 Chargers: Offense Edition
By Nick Mansoor
The San Diego Chargers’ offense has been the featured possession for this team for a while now due to their lagging defense.
The Chargers are a big-time passing threat, and every team pretty much realizes that. The run game has been better in the past, but they definitely struggled in that area the last two years. Many of our losses could have been wins if our running game was stronger in 2015. We have seen some really big changes during the offseason; but the question is, has the Chargers’ offense improved over last season’s offense?
Here’s a breakdown of what’s in store heading into training camp:
1. The running backs need to show up big time this year
2015 was a disappointing year for these guys. Melvin Gordon struggled all year long behind a terrible and heavily injured offensive line. Branden Oliver was lost for a good portion of the year. Donald Brown was being..Donald Brown. It seemed like nothing was going right except for Danny Woodhead doing his own thing out on the field.
A lot of big things were expected from Gordon, but he just couldn’t explode for the big plays. Fumbling issues and a zero-touchdown year were just making things worse for him. But I can’t really blame it all on him for he had nowhere to run since the offensive line couldn’t create any holes. Luckily, Telesco made some big changes here for the team. WE NOW HAVE A LEGITIMATE FULLBACK (at long last), and we also brought back good ‘ol Ken Whisenhunt to run the offense after the letting the uber-talented Frank Reich walk to Philadelphia.
Expect some big changes to the running game this year and way more I-formations than the typical draw plays that we’ve been accustomed to the past few years. Also, Oliver is back! That means more duo-threat packages with him and Gordon. The o-line looks good as well, and they should help out the backs big time in 2016.
2. The wide receivers could turn deadly in 2016
In 2015, we had a pretty solid group of receivers, but we definitely lagged here when it came to depth. Keenan Allen was lost for the year after he suffered a lacerated kidney against the Ravens, forcing us to bring some depth players to the starting role. Stevie Johnson seemed like he was just dropping the ball too often, but we did have some light shining upon our youngsters who did flash a bit last season. Javontee Herndon and Tyrell Williams did an okay job for the limited snaps they got. Heading into 2016, the Chargers lost veteran WR Malcolm Floyd to Father Time as retirement called his name.
We did fill his void by signing the speedster out of Cleveland in Travis Benjamin. He should be an excellent asset to our deep-threat game and will help lift double teams off Allen, who was in Pro Bowl form before he was injured last year. As far as depth goes, nothing has really changed, but expect more snaps from Dontrelle Inman and the younger guys if Johnson continues to drop the ball. If Benjamin continues to play like he did last season and Allen still plays at the same level as he did before his injury, our starting receivers will be no joke at all. Think of them as our Julio Jones and Roddy White duo Atlanta had five years ago. Now, that will be amazing to watch.
3. The offensive line is getting better
I still think the offensive line needs a little more work heading into 2016. Telesco has realized our needs in the trenches and obviously addressed them; however, we lack that one sexy addition. But we all know, Telesco isn’t a fan of spending big money in free agency as he’d rather build through the draft. We have done a good job of retaining our key players in the line by re-signing Joe Barksdale, Chris Hairston and exercising D.J. Fluker’s fifth-year option. We have added two new centers in Matt Slausen and Max Tuerk, which was much needed after watching Chris Watt struggle last year.
The line looks a lot stronger, and I have been saying this for a long time: the key to the offensive line is having a solid center and then you work your way out. We definitely missed Nick Hardwick, who held down the center position for years. Hopefully our new pickups at center will help mold this line into something much better. It will only make this offense better. Philip Rivers will have way more time in the pocket to find the open man (and we know Rivers is deadly if he has time), and Gordon will be able to actually pull off 20-plus yard rushes consecutively in a game. The line has definitely improved from our recent additions, and the key is to STAY HEALTHY. If we can shake off the injury bug here, then this will definitely be a solid line in 2016.
4. “Hates” – 2016
Yes I said it, “Hates”. Gates + Henry = Hates. This duo is going to be fun to watch. The Chargers let Ladarius Green test free agency, and he was able to land a four-year deal in Pittsburgh where he’s likely to start. So the Chargers brought in some rookie talent in the second round of the 2016 draft by selecting Hunter Henry, who is by far the best tight end in his class. In my opinion, this is an upgrade. When we had Green, it just seemed like he was injured way too often, and he’s a backup, too, so he never even played that often. When he did play, he didn’t really do much but did flash potential in a couple of games.
Henry is going to be a much more valuable asset to this team. He is a much better blocker than Green was, and he’s much more durable. Green has more speed than Henry, but honestly, a tight end doesn’t need to be fast.
Even though this duo will be fun to watch, it definitely won’t last long since it looks like Gates is planning on retiring soon after asking for a decrease in play time. What that means is Henry has to learn and soak up as much as possible from Gates. He shouldn’t have too much trouble learning from one of the all-time greats. If these guys can build chemistry quickly, a lot of teams are going to “Hate” us–see what I did there?
5. Rivers is the man
Nothing has really changed drastically for the Chargers at the quarterback position. Rivers is the captain of this ship, and he will remain as one for about four-to-five more seasons. We did add some pretty interesting talent in former ASU QB Mike Bercovici. He will compete for a roster spot against the aging Kellen Clemens. Bercovico might not be able to beat Clemens out, but he will definitely be a valuable piece for the practice squad. He might even be the backup of the future if he plays well enough.
It looks like Telesco is signing quarterbacks as undrafted free agents consistently to see if he could strike gold, kind of like a Tom Brady story. IT will be VERY difficult to do, but hey, it’s worth a shot. Bottom line here is to basically expect the same guys to run the show as last year.
Overall, the offense has improved slightly heading into the 2016. Telesco’s done a great job of retaining the players who have performed well in the past, and we have done a good job of bringing in some new talent to help get this offense into the top-five category. The only thing that is holding the Chargers back here is the injury bug, and that has been the theme for this team for quite a while now. It just seems like they can’t shake it off. If the offense stays healthy and keeps Rivers upright, the offense will be one of the best in the league. Hopefully this improved offensive line can get Gordon going and get him his first NFL touchdown–the kid needs the motivation. The return of Whisenhunt is going to be great. I can’t wait for his playbook. Our eyes are so tired from that vanilla offense Reich was running since Whisenhunt’s departure.
Things are looking great for the Chargers so far, and hopefully they can beat the odds and prove all the analysts wrong. Go Bolts!