San Diego Chargers: Three New Year's Resolutions for 2015
Following their second consecutive 9-7 season (however, sadly, this year did not culminate in a postseason appearance), the Chargers are poised on the precipice of potential prodigiousness with a few, hopefully minor and easy to achieve, tweaks. Key draft picks coupled with some free-agent signings (such as the recently-acquired WR Austin Pettis from the Rams to add depth to a young receiving corps) could give San Diego the impetus it needs to be a contender.
1. Bolster the offensive line. The offensive line has been the Chargers' bane for a long time. The drafting of OT D.J. Fluker in 2013 did not yield the desired results as Fluker has demonstrated time and again that he is not as effective stopping the pass rush and should be moved to right guard instead of right tackle. Similarly, season-ending (and likely retirement-inducing) injuries to veteran linemen like C Nick Hardwick and G Jeromey Clary (who, in fact, has announced his retirement), coupled with additional injuries (primarily to centers--San Diego utilized five different ones in 2014 alone) has led to a patchwork offensive line that not only jeopardized QB Philip Rivers' effectiveness but also failed to provide the in-your-face rushing assault that the Chargers have lacked since LaDainian Tomlinson and, more recently, Darren Sproles left. Granted, while RB Ryan Mathews has had some stellar appearances, his frequent injuries have hampered San Diego's ground attack as he was oft-injured, particularly during key games. Compounding the problem was the loss of RB Danny Woodhead very early in the season, thus leaving the rushing duties to rookie Branden Oliver who had some glimpses of greatness and veterans Donald and Ronnie Brown (Donald is already rumored to be staying in San Diego). The Chargers ended the 2014 season ranked 30th in rushing yards with a paltry 85.4 per game (compared to 10th in passing yardage).
Thus, in order to stay competitive among the league's best, San Diego must cultivate a better ground game and this begins with a robust and fortified offensive line. According to Bolts from the Blue's John Gennaro, re-signing left tackle King Dunlap, making Chris Watt the starting center, using Chad Rinehart/Johnnie Troutman as left guard and Fluker at right guard is not unlikely; thus leaving the primary offensive need at right tackle that could be filled with Green Bay's Brian Bulaga who, at 25 years of age, has already had 48 starts and with the Packers' figuring out how to keep WR Randall Cobb and CB Tramon Williams, Bulaga could be feasible (for the right price, of course). Granted, some depth needs to be cultivated as well; however, the aforementioned scenario could be the springboard to make San Diego the contender it needs to be.
2. Find a reliable, sturdy running back. As mentioned, Mathews' health continues to be a problem in San Diego. In his five seasons in the league, Mathews has only played a complete season once (in 2013) which was also his best season, as would be expected, in which he ran for 1,255 yards and scored six touchdowns. But Mathews remains a concern. Danny Woodhead will be back (thankfully), as will Donald Brown, and Oliver has serious potential. Thus, the Chargers could look to bolster their ground assault with some of the top free-agent RBs for the 2015 season: New Orleans' Mark Ingram who has easily had his best season with 964 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 games; Buffalo's C.J. Spiller who was hampered with a collarbone injury but has extreme potential; Dallas' DeMarco Murray who led the league in rushing in 2014 with 1,845 yards (more than 500 more yards than any other RB) and 13 touchdowns and who has to compete with WR Dez Bryant for salary and franchise tag honors; and San Francisco's Frank Gore who, at age 32, will likely have to take a pay cut from his 2014 salary of $6.45 million to remain a 49er. The use of multiple RBs has been more widely utilized in recent seasons and in case of injury, depth is vitally necessary at this position.
3. Get the fans back in the game. Between 2010 and 2013, of the 59 NFL games that were blacked out due to inadequate ticket sales, San Diego accounted for ten of them. In 2012, half of the team's eight home, non-primetime games were not locally aired. In 2013, the Chargers had one of the league's two blacked-out games and, in 2014, there were none. Experts assert that an improved on-field product has helped as San Diego earned a wildcard berth last season. Thanks to the support of local sponsors who have frequently purchased unsold tickets for donations the blackouts have decreased; however, it is important for the Chargers to regain their fans' support. I was a long-time season ticketholder during most of the 1990s and early 2000s and loved attending every game. Granted, ticket price inflation has been cumbersome for the average family; however, absent support (which includes construction of a new stadium) the likelihood that the organization may move to another venue remains high and this is unfortunate.