Mike McCoy and Philip Rivers
will have to keep the offense rolling if the Chargers
are to return to the playoffs. (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)
With the flurry of NFL offseason action nearly in the books, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take stock of every team’s offseason. Find all our Offseason Report Cards here.
2013 was a year of major change for the Chargers franchise. After three seasons in which the team failed to make the playoffs and compiled a .500 record in total, general manager A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner were sent packing, with Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy taking their places. Gone were Turner's game mismanagements and Smith's shark-jumping ego, replaced by Telesco's more inclusive approach and McCoy's ability to revamp passing games. McCoy, after all, worked miracles with Tim Tebow in Denver in 2011, so giving him a quarterback of Philip Rivers' caliber would be a fairly large upgrade. And it worked very well -- McCoy and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt shortened Rivers' drops and expanded his routes, and Rivers responded with his best season in years. The 2013 Chargers went 9-7 and beat the Bengals in the wild-card round before losing to the AFC champion Broncos in the divisional round, all in spite of a defense that was the NFL's worst, per Football Outsiders' opponent-adjusted metrics.
San Diego didn't do much in free agency, preferring to stand pat and hope that improvements would come through the draft and in overall player development. But battling in an AFC West that looks very tough at the top and pitted against the NFC West in their 2014 schedule, it might be a season of regression for McCoy's bunch.
Best acquisition: RB Donald Brown
The Chargers did add Brown, the former Colts first-round pick, to a rushing attack that already features Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead, signing Brown to a three-year, $10.5 million deal with $4 million guaranteed in March. While Brown won't likely supplant Mathews' projected status as the primary back, there's clearly something that Telesco, the Colts' former Vice President of Football Operations, appreciates about Brown's talents. Brown never rushed for more than 645 yards in a season with Indianapolis, but he has become a decent blocker after earning the early ire of Peyton Manning, and he did lead all Colts backs with six rushing touchdowns and a 5.3 yards per carry average.
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Biggest loss: Backup QB Charlie Whitehurst
The Chargers didn't lose much in free agency, so we're splitting hairs by putting Whitehurst here. But he was a valuable sounding board for Rivers for a number of years, though he rarely saw the field in San Diego or Seattle, where he landed for the 2010 and 2011 seasons after the team's former administration fleeced the Seahawks out of a third-round pick for Whitehurst's services. When Whisenhunt moved on to become the Titans' head coach, he pushed hard to bring Whitehurst with him, though Whitehurst will be a backup to Jake Locker -- at least in the short term. Meanwhile, back in San Diego, it's up to McCoy and Rivers alone to keep the passing game going.
Underrated draft pick: DT Ryan Carrethers, Arkansas State (fifth round, 165th overall pick)
Former nose tackle Cam Thomas moved on to Pittsburgh in the offseason, though it's hard to say many Chargers defenders were irreplaceable in 2013. San Diego's fronts were particularly porous, and that's something the team hopes to change with the addition of Carrethers, who starred in the Sun Belt and grabbed Telesco's attention with his ability to play well against tougher competition. Measuring 6-foot-1 and 337 pounds at the combine and putting up one of the higher bench-press numbers (32 reps at 225 pounds), Carrethers would appear to have the strength and leverage ability to be a force over time in the middle of San Diego's fronts. He will need to clean up a few things -- Carrethers fell to the fifth round in part because he isn't an impact player outside of a short area, his arms aren't particularly long, and he struggles with his weight at times. Still, there's a lot of good tape and obvious potential.
Looming question for training camp: Can San Diego's defense improve to league-average?
Start in the secondary, where cornerbacks Derek Cox
and Johnny Patrick
moved on, and everyone else not named Eric Weddle
is on notice. Weddle has been trying to mentor his younger and less-talented teammates, but it's a rough go. The Chargers took TCU cornerback Jason Verrett in the first round, but his lack of ideal size and injury history (he's currently rehabbing from shoulder surgery) make some wonder if San Diego didn't pan for fool's gold. Second-year linebacker Manti Te'o
was a disappointment for the most part in his rookie campaign, though he insists that he's getting back to optimal health and learning more about the game. As for the pass rush? Melvin Ingram
can't stay healthy, Dwight Freeney
missed 12 games in his first season out of Indy, and second-round OLB Jeremiah Attaochu will need time to grasp NFL blocking schemes -- he's more raw than refined at this point. Alarmingly, the Chargers didn't make any big splashes here, and it's the defense that could keep them out of a return trip to the postseason.