Last year the San Diego Chargers finished in a three way tie for first place in its division with a record of 8-8, losing out on the playoffs due to a tie breaker over the Denver Broncos. Ryan Mathews was ready to take on the lead running back role and was injured for the majority of the mid season while Philip Rivers threw 20 interceptions and noticeably choking under pressure during the fourth quarter of close games in one of his worst seasons as a starter. With the departures of big time pro-bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson and goal line running back Mike Tolbert, what does the 2012 season hold for the San Diego Chargers?
The Chargers have taken the necessary steps to try and replace both Jackson and Tolbert. Personnel brought in wide receivers Eddie Royal, Robert Meachem, Michael Spurlock, and Roscoe Parrish from free agency. Obviously not all the receivers can start at the same time and all are light years away from being the talent of Vincent Jackson however the Chargers would not have let Jackson go via free agency as easily as they did if they did not have the confidence in Malcolm Floyd. Floyd has the same physique as Jackson and flourished last season with most of his catches going for first downs and leading the league in average yards per catch. The Chargers now have a deep threat opposite of Floyd in Meachem and an excellent slot receiver in Royal to go along with last year’s rookie wide out Vincent Brown. The addition of Roscoe Parrish for kick return duties should help the special teams get back to where they once were with Darren Sproles.
The Charger’s front office also brought in veterans Ronnie Brown and Le’Ron McClain to help fill the void left over from Mike Tolbert. Ronnie Brown is a proven pro-bowl player in the league and should be a solid back up for Ryan Mathews. Le’Ron McClain comes in as the immediate starting fullback, primarily brought in for blocking assignments. Look to see the Chargers regain its offensive firepower from years past as Philip Rivers now has a dynamic offensive attack. With the addition of Meachem and Royal, look for Rivers to find Antonio Gates a lot more in the redzone rather than the middle of the field. With McClain blocking and Brown a viable backup, Mathews also looks poised for solid season, if he can stay healthy.
The Chargers also addressed its defense through the draft by using its first three selections on defensive players. With the 18th overall pick the Chargers selected diverse and flexible linebacker Melvin Ingram. Ingram is said to be undersized but he has great hands and excellent footwork. Don’t be surprised if Ingram is in the running for defensive rookie of the year toward the end of the season. Still the Chargers have some holes on defense especially at nose tackle and corner depth. Marcus Gilchrist, second year player, looks to start opposite of Quenton Jammer at corner and expect a battle between Antonio Garay, Corey Liegut, Louis Castillo, and rookies Eddie Brown and Garrett Brown to fight for the starting positions on the defensive line.
Although the Chargers are not nationally recognized as one of the top teams in the AFC, San Diego plays in one of the weaker divisions in the NFL and therefore still has an excellent shot at making the playoffs in the 2012 season. The Chargers have favorable schedule, only having to play the Steelers, Saints, Ravens, and Falconsd as teams that had 10 or more wins last season. Watch for Week 10 when the Chargers travel to Vincent Jackson’s new team the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The road to the playoffs won’t be easy as Peyton Manning will be calling the audibles in Denver, and the Kansas City Chiefs look to bounce back from an awful 2011 season as well. The Chargers have a good enough team on paper at this point to contend for the division title but the pressure will be on Philip Rivers and Norv Turner to produce a winning playoff team especially when Rivers’ two cohort draft day quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have both won a pair of Super Bowl rings.