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News » San Diego Chargers Strategy and Personnel 2009-02-05

San Diego Chargers Strategy and Personnel 2009-02-05

San Diego Chargers Strategy and Personnel 2009-02-05
In addition to the mystery of LaDainian Tomlinson's return, the Chargers must decide what to do with Darren Sproles.

For the second straight offseason, a Charger fresh on the market appears to be one of the real key players of free agency. This year, it's Sproles, whose value skyrocketed when he filled in for Tomlinson this season. Last year, Michael Turner was the one seeking an opportunity and he paid off in a big way for his new team, the Falcons.

Sproles is undersized, but you can't argue with his production as a back and returner. But do the Chargers want to entrust their running game to a 5-foot-6, 181-pound back? That's among the big personnel questions looking to be addressed.

-- The team signed LB Eric Bakhtiari, WR Gary Banks, RB Eldra Buckley, DE Andre Coleman, G Brandyn Dombrowski, CBs Grant Mason and DeJuan Tribble, and DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo.


QUARTERBACK: Starter - Philip Rivers. Backups - Billy Volek, Charlie Whitehurst.

Rivers' third season as a starter resulted in a third AFC West title and he produced numbers not seen in San Diego since Dan Fouts was taking snaps. Rivers led the NFL with a 105.5 rating and broke Fouts' team mark with 34 touchdowns passes. Rivers is benefiting from being the trigger man in a pass-first offense. Don't expect any changes with the backups, as the club is satisfied with Volek and Whitehurst being ready.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- LaDainian Tomlinson, Jacob Hester. Backups -- Darren Sproles, Mike Tolbert, Michael Bennett, Billy Latsko.

Tomlinson rushed for the fewest yards of his remarkable career (1,110) while battling toe and groin injuries. He also fell victim to some shoddy run blocking. Hester was in over his head in many pass protections and he was no Lorenzo Neal -- few are -- on the lead blocks on running plays. Sproles was stellar, rushing for more than 100 yards in two of the final three games - including once in the playoffs. Bennett could be more than a backup next year, depending on what the team does with Tomlinson and Sproles.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Antonio Gates. Backups -- Brandon Manumaleuna, Kris Wilson. Injured reserve -- Scott Chandler.

Gates didn't get right until about midseason, coming off a serious toe injury. He turned in another solid year and should be only better next season -- if his sprained ankle and sore Achilles get right over the offseason. Manumaleuna is asked to block in this offense, and he does his job well. Wilson was a standout on special teams. Chandler's foot injury is healing sufficiently.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson. Backups -- Malcom Floyd, Legede Naanee, Kassim Osgood. Injured reserve -- Craig Davis.

Chambers' numbers were down; an ankle injury at near midseason played a part of that. But it was obvious Jackson became the go-to guy out wide in becoming the first Chargers wideout to reach 1,000 yards since Curtis Conway in 2001. Floyd continues to rise in the eyes of the coaches; a collapsed lung cost him the last month. Naanee is getting more looks; Osgood is anchored to the special teams. Davis should be fit for '09 after suffering a groin injury.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- LT Marcus McNeill, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Mike Goff, RT Jeromey Clary. Backups -- L.J. Shelton, Corey Clark, Jeremy Newberry, Scott Mruczkowski.

This unit was as inconsistent as any other on the team. McNeill and Hardwick started the season hurt, which didn't help. But the line never got comfortable for extended periods of time in run-blocking. Maybe that was the pass-first mentality filtering down; for the most part the pass-protection was spot-on. Goff will likely leave as a free agent and the team could look to upgrade Clary's right tackle spot.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -- E Igor Olshansky, NT Jamal Williams, E Luis Castillo. Backups -- Ryon Bingham, Jacques Cesaire, Ian Scott.

The play here was lacking at times, although it's tough to tell with these guys forming the anchor of the 3-4. What's more telling is the outside linebackers weren't able to get to the quarterback as often as liked, which tells you the line wasn't blowing its blocker well enough to allow it. That said, Williams had another Pro Bowl-worthy year in the middle and likely has at least one more year remaining. Olshansky and Castillo would disappear for long stretches during games; Olshansky is likely going to be allowed to leave as a free agent. The team is fine with Bingham and Cesaire as backups; they saw regular action in the rotation. Keith Grennan (knee) finished the year on IR, but should be ready for camp.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Stephen Cooper, ILB Tim Dobbins, OLB Jyles Tucker. Backups -- Marques Harris, Anthony Waters, Matt Wilhelm, Brandon Siler. Injured reserve -- Shawne Merriman.

This unit, as did the entire defense, missed the production and energy from Merriman. Merriman played all but one game before bowing out for knee surgery; he's on track to be ready for training camp. Phillips' production suffered, but he did finish as the team's leading sacker with 7.5 sacks. Tucker added 5.5, but wasn't seen as a threat from opposing offenses. Cooper had a solid year and was the team's leading tackler. Dobbins pushed Wilhelm -- his stock has fallen greatly -- from the starting lineup.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Quentin Jammer, CB Antonio Cromartie, S Steve Gregory, S Eric Weddle. Backups -- Antoine Cason, Cletis Gordon, Clinton Hart, Paul Oliver.

Jammer had a good year in run-support and was the team's best cover corner as well. Cromartie fell off his first year as a starter when he led the league with 10 interceptions; he had two in '08. Cromartie said he played the year with a fractured hip and next year he will be better. Gregory supplanted Hart from the starting lineup down the stretch and was OK; Hart may not be back. Weddle, in his first year as a starter, was often out of position in the game's biggest plays. He should be improved next year, although questions remain about his size.

Darren Sproles, K Nate Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, LS David Binn.

Sproles was sensational this season, consistently giving the offense great field position with his returns. Kaeding had a decent year, although a groin injury cost him some distance down the stretch. Scifres was robbed of a Pro Bowl selection as his length and placement took a backseat to no one. Binn, who has played more games than any other Charger, should return for his 16th season.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: February 5, 2009

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Billy Volek Name: Billy Volek
Position: QB
Age: 32
Experience: 9 years
College: Fresno State
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