The 2016 season has been one of the most anticipated seasons in a long time for the San Diego Chargers and their fans. There are so many question marks and offseason storylines, like the potential new stadium deal as well as a number of players that need to have huge comeback seasons.
2015 was one of the most depressing seasons in a very long time for the Charger community. A lot of good players had their worst seasons in the NFL including Brandon Flowers, Orlando Franklin and Corey Liuget to name a few. Key players from each side of the ball need to bounce back and lead this team to a playoff run. Super Bowl teams, minus a few, are balanced; they can run, pass, defend the run and pass and get after it on special teams. A lot of last year’s disappointment stemmed from players not playing up to their potential.
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Former first-round pick Melvin Gordon is considered a bust until he proves all of us wrong. Gordon had the Rookie of the Year award handed to him on a silver platter entering his rookie season. However, 2015 was a rookie year Gordon has put in his rear view. Gordon only rushed for 641 yards on 184 attempts, averaging 3.5 yards per carry and scoring zero touchdowns. A knee injury ended any hope of finishing the season on a positive note.
Part of Gordon’s lack of success came from an injury-plagued season for the offensive line, namely Franklin being inconsistent and injured. The 28-year-old Jamaican native has started every game but one entering last season, where he missed six. Franklin has been to a Super Bowl anchoring an offensive line for the Denver Broncos. A healthy Franklin will benefit Gordon, and if the two of them stay on the field together for a full season, our run attack will take a step in the right direction, especially with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt being back on the sideline. In Whisenhunt’s lone season as OC, former Chargers RB Ryan Mathews had his finest season in the NFL rushing for 1,255 yards in 16 games.
The aerial attack is farther along than the running game with Philip Rivers in charge. A few years ago, Stevie Johnson was considered a great pickup, but he is yet to put together any kind of momentum and collusion with Rivers. Free agent Travis Benjamin will help propel Johnson into a valuable part of this offensive passing attack. Chargers fans want to see the Stevie Johnson from 2010-2012, when he had three straight 1,000-yard seasons for Buffalo. When healthy in 2015, Johnson was a productive slot receiver catching about 5-6 balls per game. Johnson missed a total of six games last year catching 45 passes for 497 yards and three touchdowns. Look for more success in 2016 if he can stay on the field. The Chargers’ offense should see different results in 2016 if a few players return to old form. That, and Whiz’s offensive brilliance, should really improve this offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, the third-longest tenured assistant on the coaching staff, John Pagano, also has some weapons that need to bounce back including one-time Pro Bowler Brandon Flowers, former Heisman runner-up Manti Te’o, former first-round pick Corey Liuget and finally Melvin Ingram, a player who has seen success and playing for a new contract. When healthy, Ingram can be one of the best defensive pass rushers in the league, and he changes the way our defense looks when he is healthy. More than likely, Ingram is the next up for a multi-year contract extension.
How many times last year did we see Brandon Flowers running receivers down from behind? He was constantly picked on by opposing wide receivers and quarterbacks because he was the weakest link and the rest of the league knew it. It was the worst season for Flowers, a season the nine-year veteran wants to put past him. Last year, Flowers was about 12 pounds heavier than he is now. He came into camp out of shape and complacent after the Chargers rewarded the cornerback with a four-year, $36 million contract.
The physical transformation of Ingram has really motivated Flowers. This offseason Flowers hired a different personal trainer and has since devoted his offseason to a healthier lifestyle, which should translate on the field. A healthy Flowers and young Jason Verrett can form a very scary tandem at cornerback when both are healthy and on the field together. Liuget also had a down year at defensive tackle. Liuget has yet to live up to his big multi-million dollar contract. He has the skills and athleticism to be a Pro Bowl defensive player, but he has yet to show consistency for an entire season. Once he figures it out the possibilities are endless for this Chargers defense.
A pair of linebackers also make the list of players that need to have big-time seasons. Manti Te’o and Ingram are both coming off great seasons but have only scratched the surface of what they can accomplish together. Te’o has always had the spotlight even when he was in high school. He was a top-five recruit and former runner-up for the Heisman trophy, a very rare feat for a defensive player. Last year was his first full season being healthy as well as his first 100 tackle season, recording a team-high 107 tackles. Te’o looks to be the leader of the defense with Eric Weddle moving on. Second-year linebacker Denzel Perryman looks to take control of this defense with the tutelage of Te’o. Te’o is starting to earn his coaches’ trust as well as the rest of the team.
Finally, we get to Ingram, arguably the best defensive player on the Chargers. Ingram has already shown the rest of the NFL as well as teammates and coaches that he is a top-tier outside linebacker in the NFL. Ingram looks to be the next man up to receive a long-term contract to remain with the Chargers in the future. In order for that to happen, he needs to build off his 2015 success by playing all 16 games and recording double-digit sacks for a second straight year.
If we can get production from some key defensive players, the sky’s the limit.