The Chargers are fortunate to be in the worst division in the NFL. They are a good team which puts them into the playoffs by default. They have enough stars to win the division but not enough to get them to the Super Bowl.
QB Philip Rivers is outstanding in the Norv Turner system. He is accurate and tough. His toughness was proven when he played with a bad knee. He had a pass rating of 105 last year and is still getting better. Billy Volek is one of the best backups. That is important because Rivers takes more risks than Turner would like.
The running game will depend a lot on how healthy LaDainian Tomlinson is. His last couple of years have been injury filled. Tomlinson is 30 and that is a magic age where NFL backs turn to dust. The Chargers hope that doesn’t happen this year. The team franchised Darren Sproles to insure they kept him. He is not a 20 carry plus a game guy. The real backup if LT gets hurt might be the versatile Jacob Hester or vet Michael Bennett. Hester ended his rookie season injured but looked good when he got a chance. Bennett has starting experience and is capable of 20+ carries a game.
The receivers are good and Rivers and TE Antonio Gates make them even better. Vincent Jackson and Chris Chambers are both first quality receivers. Gates has the ability to get deep in the middle which insures both wideouts get fewer double teams. Malcom Floyd and Craig Davis are capable backups.
In addition to the injury to LT, the O suffered in 08 from poor line play. The running game with Sproles looked great in the playoff win against the Colts but died in the winds of Pittsburgh in the loss to the Steelers. LT Marcus McNeill had an excuse—a bad neck. The rest just played badly. G Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick and T Jeromey Clary return and Kynan Forney is the leading candidate to replace UFA Mike Goff. T L.J. Shelton and G Louis Vasquez are the top reserves.
The 09 Charger defense depends on a pair of creaky knees and the one surgically repaired knee. The two creaky knees belong to NT Jamal Williams. Despite having 11 seasons on those knees, he is the key to the D line of the team. When he is 75% he is one of the best NTs in the league. Returning RE Luis Castillo has to step up his game. He was just average last year. LE is open and Ryon Bingham has the first chance to fill it. Backup E Jacques Cesaire needs to be a factor in the rotation and has a shot to start. NT Ian Scott will sub for Williams.
The repaired knee belongs to pass rusher OB Shawne Merriman. He is the guy that puts the pressure on the QB even through double team blocks. His health can allow his running mate Shaun Phillips more effective as well. Phillips played well when Merriman was out but is not as adept at beating double teams. Rookie Larry English will learn the OB position switching from DE in college. Stephen Cooper and Tim Dobbins are solid inside and former starter Matt Wilhelm provides depth.
The D backs suffered from a lack of Merriman as much as anyone. In 07 Quentin Jammer, and Antonio Cromartie were the best corner combo in the league. Last year Cromartie fell off terribly and disclosed he had a hip problem after the season that caused his decline. If so, the corners should be fine. The FS is solid with improving Eric Weddle in that spot. SS is a question. Clinton Hart will be given the first shot but must be more consistent. Steve Gregory or Kevin Ellison will be starting if Hart fails. CBs Antoine Cason and Cletis Gordon are the primary backups there.
OVERALL: IF, and its a huge if, LT is LT again the Chargers have a chance to compete with the Pats, Steelers, Titans and Colts for the Super Bowl. If not, the Chargers will be out in the first or second round of the playoffs. They would benefit if they could win home field advantage. That might be enough to make an AFC Championship game interesting regardless of who the opponent is.
That’s what I think. Tell me what you think.
Bill Smith is a former coach of several semi-pro teams, has officiated both football and basketball, done color on radio for college football and basketball and has scouted talent. He is a senior writer for and edits https://fryingpansports.com. He has also published several novels on and edits .