The San Diego Chargers will be facing a critical season in the career of quarterback Philip Rivers and head coach Mike McCoy. Can the team show enough improvement to keep winning a Super Bowl with Rivers a possibility? Will the Chargers bounce back in order to help McCoy keep his job?
After a tough 4-12 season last year, the Chargers will need to be significantly better this season in order for the answers to both of those questions to be yes.
However, another poor season may not just lead to the dismissal of McCoy. Here, we’ve identified four players who must also show the team that they should each be in its future plans. If not, they could be looking for employment elsewhere as soon as next season.
Dec 13, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Diego Chargers tackle King Dunlap (77) is helped off the field after an injury during the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
King Dunlap, Tackle
The Chargers were obviously confident in both of their tackles—King Dunlap and Joe Barksdale —during the NFL draft, as the team didn’t draft a single tackle in any round.
Though Dunlap had his contract restructured during the offseason and he still has three years left on it, that is no guarantee he’ll keep his starting job past this season.
Limited by injuries much of last season, Dunlap was able to play in only seven games in 2015. As a result, Rivers was constantly harassed and pressured into making throws way before he wanted to. In 2016, Dunlap will have to prove he can stay on the field.
If he can’t, the team doesn’t have a great option behind him. Chris Hairston or undrafted rookie Tyler Johnstone would likely be thrust into a starting role, and the the offensive line would struggle very similarly to the way it did last year.
Dunlap must be durable and effective this year. Anything short of that will lead to the Chargers bringing in a new left tackle via free agency or drafting one early in the 2017 draft.
Oct 23, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Tourek Williams (58) before the game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Tourek Williams, Linebacker
Ricky Henne of the team’s official website identified linebacker Tourek Williams as a player facing a make-or-break season in 2016 earlier this week.
After missing the entire 2015 campaign with a broken foot, Williams must make an impact this year. A sixth-round pick in 2013, he has recorded just 31 tackles and one sack during his career.
“If I don’t go out there and get it done this year, this could be it for me. I either go out there and do something, and make myself a part of this organization, or my football career could be done. That is how I am approaching it. This team gave me an opportunity when they drafted me, and they are giving me a chance now coming off my injury. I’m looking to redeem myself. This is where I want to be, and I want to do what I can to make this team proud”, Williams told Henne.
He seems to be motivated and missing all of last year could have lit a fire inside of him. Unfortunately for him, the team has gotten much deeper at the linebacker position. He may not even get past the preseason this year.
Nov 22, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Charcandrick West (35) runs the ball as San Diego Chargers cornerback Brandon Flowers (24) cannot tackle him during the first quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Brandon Flowers, Defensive Back
Another area the Chargers have addressed is the secondary, both at cornerback and at safety. Dwight Lowery and Casey Hayward were both brought in as free agents and undrafted rookie safety Adrian McDonald will be a player to keep an eye on.
At cornerback, Brandon Flowers will still be listed as the starter opposite Jason Verrett, but his grip on that position is starting to get loose. The team will be looking for Craig Mager to step up this year and if Hayward performs well, he could start to cut into Flowers’ playing time.
Brandon Flowers on thinking about his 2015 season: "It's wiped out like the Men in Black switch." pic.twitter.com/f8R3uUf3Z0
— Michael Gehlken (@sdutGehlken) May 23, 2016
Flowers appeared in a career-low 11 games last season and posted just 33 tackles and four passes defensed without an interception.
During his first six seasons when he was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, Flowers was recognized as a top-tier cornerback. The Chargers need him to play closer to that level than the level he played at last season. If not, he could find the bench early into the 2016 season and be looking to catch on elsewhere next year.
Dec 20, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers wide receiver Dontrelle Inman (15) catches a pass as Miami Dolphins free safety Michael Thomas (31) defends during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
47 receptions in his first two seasons isn’t bad, but with the opportunities he’s been given, those numbers should probably be higher.
Particularly last season when the Chargers had injuries all over their receiving corps, Inman was never able to step up. Though he played in 14 games, there were six games where he had two receptions or less and only two games where he caught more than three passes. When you consider that he was targeted 65 times and only made 35 receptions, he probably should have made more plays.
With the additions of free agent Travis Benjamin and the exciting undrafted rookie Dom Williams, Inman will need to show something in training camp and preseason games this year to prove he is a guy worth including in the team’s future plans.