Chargers preview: last year in San Diego?
Noah Hilton | Contributor | @95squared
It’s September. Students have returned to campus. Fall is waiting eagerly on the horizon. For sports fans, this can mean only one thing: the NFL is back. For San Diego football fans, it could mean something else entirely: the beginning of the end.
For months, rumors have swirled about the Chargers possibly moving to Los Angeles. Since the beginning of the summer, it has become increasingly likely that the Bolts will be a Hollywood team in the very near future.
Negotiations between the organization and the city of San Diego have come to a near standstill. The league’s deadline to submit relocation applications is February 15, but teams looking for a chance to work out possible snags in their proposals and maintain leverage with the league in L.A. will likely want to apply much sooner.
The city of San Diego hopes to vote on a stadium deal by Jan. 12, meaning a deal would have to be reached between the city and the team very soon. Taking into consideration the unfortunate feasibility of the Chargers-Raiders joint proposal for a stadium in Carson and the league’s reported preference for a Chargers-Rams pairing in Inglewood, things certainly do not appear promising for the Bolts’ future in America’s Finest City.
So will the Chargers’ likely swan song manage to leave fans with a smile on their faces? With the return of several key pieces lost to injury last season as well as a few solid offseason additions, they certainly have the personnel to succeed. On offense, quarterback Philip Rivers will once again be at the helm after inking a four-year deal worth more than $80 million, all but ensuring he will retire in the blue and gold.
Lining up in the backfield with Rivers will be a 3-headed committee of running backs led by the team’s first round pick in 2015, Melvin Gordon. Trumpeted as having the potential to be San Diego’s next LaDainian Tomlinson, expectations are high. Unfortunately, Gordon has underwhelmed in the preseason, leading head coach Mike McCoy to announce that 3rd-down threat Danny Woodhead and the Sprolesian Branden Oliver will start the season splitting playing time with Gordon.
Running behind an offensive line anchored by behemoths Orlando Franklin, King Dunlap, and D.J. Fluker, the team should drastically improve on its 30th-ranked rushing attack from last season.
Through the air, Rivers will have his fair share of weapons. Aging future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates should once again be his primary target after a surprising 12-touchdown campaign in 2014. However, after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the offseason, Gates will be forced to miss the first four games of the season, handing the aerial responsibilities to young wide receiver Keenan Allen.
After following up a Pro Bowl rookie year with a disappointing sophomore season, Allen will look to reaffirm his status among the top receivers in the league. If he can, the field will definitely open up for free agent signee Stevie Johnson and Chargers regular Malcom Floyd, two tall targets who should be able to provide Rivers with plenty of throwing lanes.
The San Diego defense will be anchored by safety Eric Weddle once again. After a tumultuous offseason filled with contract disputes, it appears this will be Weddle’s last season in a Bolts uniform. Coming off a team-high 114 tackles in 2014, Weddle will certainly hope to end his Chargers career on a high note while putting up the numbers that can secure him a huge deal in free agency next offseason. He will team with Pro Bowl cornerback Brandon Flowers and former first-rounder Jason Verrett in what should be a strong Chargers pass defense. Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks will likely be on the run early and often facing the team’s deep linebacker corps of Melvin Ingram, Donald Butler, Manti Te’o, and impressive rookies Denzel Perryman and Kyle Emanuel.
Jacoby Jones will look to bring some excitement to the kick return game. Jones arrives in Southern California after a successful stint with the Ravens that included a Super Bowl victory sparked by his 108-yard kick return for a touchdown.
The team’s arsenal of weapons on both sides of the ball is promising. Given the general weakness of the rest of the AFC West, it is hard to see the Chargers not challenging for a division title this season. The Raiders are still the Raiders, and the Chiefs, while improved, still lack the offensive firepower to finish above .500.
Between adjusting to the system of new head coach Gary Kubiak, the increasing mortality of aging quarterback Peyton Manning, and turmoil at the running back position, there are chinks showing in the Denver Broncos’ armor as well.
Ultimately, while the Chargers will indeed likely be headed north by next spring, they appear to have enough talent to leave a lasting impression on the way out. And is there really any better way to do that than making a legitimate run at the city’s first NFL title?