Monday, August 24, 2009
2009 NFL PREVIEW- San Diego Chargers
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
2008 RECORD: 8-8
(1st in AFC West)
HEAD COACH: Norv Turner
Key Additions: LB Kevin Burnett (FA/Cowboys)
Key Losses: DL Igor Olshansky (FA/Cowboys) OL Mike Goff (FA/Chiefs)
Offense: The Chargers have a lot of talent on offense.
LaDainian Tomlinson has been the main cog of the Chargers offense for most of this decade and last year his numbers dipped for the second straight season when he rushed for 1,110 yards (3.8 ypc average) and scored 11 touchdowns, which is a far cry from his MVP season in 2006 when he scored 31 TDs, an NFL record.
However, Tomlinson was not playing at 100 percent last year and for the second straight year was injured in the playoffs. Backing up Tomlinson is Darren Sproles, the all-purpose back who rushed for 330 yards (5.4 ypc average) and also caught 29 passes for 342 yards and five touchdowns.
The fullbacks are Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester and Michael Bennett is a third back in the mix with LT and Sproles after his contributions in the post-season.
Quarterback Philip Rivers is back for another season after leading the NFL in passing in 2008 with a 105.5 passer rating.
Rivers threw for 4,009 yards while tying for the league lead with 34 touchdown passes and threw just 11 interceptions. The only real knock on Rivers is his lack of mobility, but he was coming off of knee surgery following the 2007 playoffs. Billy Volek is a solid backup should he be needed to play.
The wide receivers are a good group including starters Vincent Jackson (59 catches for 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns) and Chris Chambers, who made 33 catches for 462 yards and five TDs. The Tight End is Antonio Gates, an All-Pro who is considered among the top at his position in the NFL. Gates led San Diego in '08 with 60 receptions for 704 yards and eight touchdowns.
Providing depth at wide receiver is Legedu Naanee, Malcolm Floyd (27 catches for 465 yards and four TDs), Buster Davis and Brandon Manumaleuna.
The offensive line is back with one new addition in rookie guard Louis Vasquez (Texas Tech), who joins fellow guard Kris Dielman and tackles Jeromey Clary and Marcus McNeill. The center is Nick Hardwick.
The Chargers were second in the NFL in scoring in 2008 with 439 points and also ranked seventh in passing with 241 yards per game. The running game fell off to 20th in '08, averaging just 108 yards per game.
Defense: Can one player make a difference?
Just ask San Diego Head Coach Norv Turner, who was without Shawne Merriman after the first game of the 2008 season.
Merriman, an All-Pro linebacker in the Chargers' 3-4 scheme, missed 15 games after a knee injury and is looking forward to leading the Chargers' defense once again in 2009.
Along with Merriman at outside linebacker is Shaun Phillips, who led San Diego with 7.5 sacks in '08. The inside linebackers are Tim Dobbins and Stephen Cooper.
Up front for the Chargers is nose tackle Jamal Williams. The Defensive Ends are Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire. Top draft pick Larry English (Northern Illinois) will be available to play outside linebacker or defensive end.
The secondary, which was one of the NFL's best in 2007, suffered last year as they were shredded by opposing passing attacks to the tune of 247 yards per game, which was 31st in the league.
After leading the NFL with 10 interceptions in '07, cornerback Antonio Cromartie had just two picks but was another Charger who was playing hurt all season long. The other corner is Quentin Jammer. The safeties are Eric Weddle and Clinton Hart. Antoine Cason and Cletis Gordon are valuable reserves in the secondary.
The Chargers run defense ranked 11th in the NFL by allowing 103 yards per game. San Diego intercepted 15 passes last season with Phillips leading the team with four picks. The Chargers recorded 28 sacks last season, which was 14 fewer than in '07.
With Merrimann back in the fold in '09, look for the sacks and interception totals to increase.
OUTLOOK: With the overflow of talent on this team, San Diego is widely regarded as a Super Bowl contender. This may be their season to prove it.
They have multiple players who are in their option years and Tomlinson also restructured his own contract in the off-season so the team would have more financial room after this season.
Between Pittsburgh, New England and the Chargers, the AFC should be a great conference to watch in 2009.
San Diego knows they can beat the Colts in the post-season, having done it two years in a row. The Patriots and Steelers have been the teams standing in their way the last three years in the playoffs.
For the Chargers, a team so deep at running back they actually had LT, Sproles and Michael Turner (now with Atlanta) at the same time, the time is now and they know it.
Tomlinson and Merimann are healthy and that is huge on both sides of the ball for obvious reasons. Along with a solid passing game led by Rivers, the Chargers will (or should) coast to the AFC West division title for the fourth consecutive season.
A 12-4 record is most likely to happen and this team, barring injuries to key players for the third straight year in the playoffs, could very well be Super Bowl bound this time.
Week 1- at Oakland (Sept. 14)
Week 2- vs. Baltimore (Sept. 20)
Week 3- vs. Miami (Sept. 27)
Week 4- at Pittsburgh (Oct. 4)
Week 5- BYE WEEK
Week 6- vs. Denver (Oct. 19)
Week 7- at Kansas City (Oct. 25)
Week 8- vs. Oakland (Nov. 1)
Week 9- at NY Giants (Nov. 8)
Week 10- vs. Philadelphia (Nov. 15)
Week 11- at Denver (Nov. 22)
Week 12- vs. Kansas City (Nov. 29)
Week 13- at Cleveland (Dec. 6)
Week 14- at Dallas (Dec. 13)
Week 15- vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 20)
Week 16- at Tennessee (Dec. 25)
Week 17- vs. Washington (Jan. 3)