As of this moment, the San Diego Chargers are currently in first place in the AFC West. Well that is not saying much being that the offseason has just begun. Be that as it may, this is a new year, for a new team, that is trying to get back to its glory days of playing in the playoffs. And as they find themselves attempting to make a run at the Super Bowl in this new year; they are faced with an old problem, improving their offensive line play.
The Chargers are currently coming up on their one year anniversary where GM Tom Telesco emphatically declared that the running game must improve! Last year San Diego made what they thought were the necessary changes to make their offense more dynamic and multi-dimensional. Telesco and company used three draft picks to move up in the 2015 NFL draft to ensure the Chargers would finally get their bell cow running back, Melvin Gordon. Instantly, Charger fans were anointing the former Wisconsin Badger as the second coming of future Hall-of-Famer Ladainian Tomlinson. They poached from their division rivals, the Denver Broncos, Orlando Franklin, which would add some stability and durability to the offensive line. Telesco didn’t stop there. He continued to fortify the offensive line by adding bargain free agent, Joe Barksdale to become their starting right tackle, which in turn, moved D.J. Fluker to his more natural position, right guard. San Diego made all the moves they felt would help Rivers succeed and lead them deep into the playoffs.
However, that wasn’t the case at all. The San Diego Chargers’ offensive line was a disaster. Their offensive line was ravaged by injuries which forced them to play with 24 different line combinations, including practice squad players. The few times their starters were on the field, they suffered from poor play, making them one of the worst offensive lines in 2015. And their bell cow running back, Melvin Gordon, had a difficult time making the transition from college football superstar to NFL starter. When you take this all into consideration, you come up with a team that had to throw the ball 63 percent of the time because they averaged a league worst 3.46 yards per carry last season.
Jan 3, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) and linebacker Shane Ray (56) sack San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) in the first quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Once again the San Diego Chargers find themselves focusing on improving the offensive line play to jump start the running game and protect their franchise quarterback, Philip Rivers, for the 2016 season. This offseason, Telesco has decided to go about enhancing the offense in a different way. He did not panic and blow the whole thing up. Nor did he listen to NFL experts and draft pundits like Mel Kiper Jr., which stated the Chargers either needed to draft Laremy Tunsil or Ronny Stanley with the third overall pick. Instead he thought less was more and he was correct. The Chargers decided to part ways with their ex-offensive coordinator, Frank Reich, after the 2015 season due to his predictable play calling and his inability to run a balanced offense. Perhaps the biggest offseason acquisition for the San Diego Chargers was Reich’s replacement, Ken Whisenhunt.
This is Whisenhunt’s second stint with the Chargers and he will be looking to duplicate the production he had with the team back in 2013 where he led the Chargers to be a top-12 offense. The hire of Whisenhunt as the new offensive coordinator cannot be overlooked. Whisenhunt’s offensive philosophies will be more diversified and balanced than Reich’s schemes. Gone will be the predictable half back dives and draws up the middle out of shotgun formations. Instead, look for Rivers to be under center more to facilitate more power and zone stretch plays. These are the same ripples in the offense that were responsible for Ryan Mathew’s success in 2013, where he rushed for over 1,200 yards and averaged over 4.4 yards per carry. And with the addition of Derek Watt, the Chargers finally have a true fullback to help open up holes for Melvin Gordon. The change of schemes and the addition of a fullback in the offense will be a major contributor to the maturation of Melvin Gordon. These factors are what made him successful at Wisconsin and will no doubt help him improve from his disastrous rookie year. As for protecting their franchise quarterback, Whisenhunt will employ quick passes to get the ball out of Rivers hands faster and
Aug 23, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) talks with head coach Ken Whisenhunt during the first half against the St. Louis Rams at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
into the hands of their playmakers. When it comes to the passing game, what really separates Whisenhunt from his predecessor, Reich, is his usage of trip formations to help players like Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, and company get better separation. All in all, these quick strikes will put less pressure on an offensive line that was particularly not good last year.
To improve the offensive line the Chargers did a solid job on acquiring quality line depth with capable players. San Diego drafted a versatile and athletic lineman in this year’s draft, Max Tuerk. The former USC Trojan played center, guard, and tackle during his college career at a high level and is pegged to be their anchor for years to come. In addition, they added former Chicago Bears guard/center, Matt Slauson. Not only is Slauson a durable and reliable interior offensive lineman, but Pro Football Focus graded him as the 18th best guard in 2015, as well as a top-five center. These additions improve the interior of their offensive line and gives them much needed depth for when starters are unable to go. No longer will practice squad players have to suit up on game day to be a starting guard or tackle.
To the naked eye, the Chargers didn’t do enough to upgrade a vital part of their offense. However, San Diego has invested a lot of money and resources into their offensive line over the last couple of years. Telesco knew they did not need a major overhaul because they have the talent, but they did not have the health. The firing of Reich was necessary, and the addition of Whisenhunt is significant. The new offensive coordinator will have a major impact on improving the offense and help keep the defense off the field. If this sounds like déjà vu for Charger fans; it is because it is the same formula as 2013 where they made a deep run in the playoffs. Whisenhunt will help lead the Chargers to the playoffs this year and perhaps more importantly, stay in San Diego.