Will Matt Slauson be a starter in 2017?
By Matt Pagels
The Los Angeles Chargers retooled their offensive line. Will last year’s starting center, Matt Slauson, remain in the starting lineup this year?
The Chargers had one of the worst offensive line units in the NFL last season. Actually, according to Pro Football Focus, they were the 31st-worst unit.
One player shouldn’t be associated with the word “worst,” though, and that’s center Matt Slauson. Slauson, a late offseason pickup, was the Chargers’ highest-graded lineman, per PFF, finishing with an 81.2 overall grade. His teammates King Dunlap, Orlando Franklin, D.J. Fluker and Joseph Barksdale failed to finish above a 65.
Dunlap, Franklin and Fluker are no longer with the team. Russell Okung was signed to a four-year deal this offseason to play left tackle, while the Chargers drafted Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney in the second and third round, respectively, to help fix the interior. The team also invested in the center position last year when they drafted Max Tuerk in the third round and found a potential gem in undrafted free agent Spencer Pulley, who’s recently been taking first-team reps at center in OTAs.
Dec 4, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers middle linebacker Kwon Alexander (58) looks across the line before San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) gets the snap from center Matt Slauson (68) during the fourth quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
With all the recent moves, the 31-year-old Slauson seems like a forgotten man. He is in the final year of his two-year, $4 million deal. Slauson may have been the team’s best lineman last season, but he’s not the future–and there’s no guarantee he’ll be the starting center come Week 1.
But the Chargers have options, which hasn’t been the case over the last few years. If the Chargers want Slauson’s veteran presence in the starting lineup but prefer to develop youngsters Tuerk or Pulley at center, they could move Slauson to guard. Lamp, who’s been projected to be the team’s starting left guard, has the versatility to move to right tackle should Barksdale underperform for the second straight year. Slauson could even continue to play center if Tuerk or Pulley thrive at guard (but that will force one of the rookies to the bench, which might not be on new head coach Anthony Lynn’s agenda).
As of now, the Bolts have Slauson playing next to Okung, and their combination has quarterback Philip Rivers excited.
“I think those two can cause some problems for a defense,” Rivers said, via Chargers.com. “They both really seem to already work well together. You’ve heard me say I think more than quarterback (and) receiver getting on the same page, it’s those linemen (that’s more important). So, in the short time that Slauson has been back at left guard and Russell’s been here (it’s been awesome).”
Overall, the Chargers have a ton of young, athletic and versatile linemen on the roster. It’ll be interesting to see who plays where in the coming months.