EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the 26th of 32 preseason previews in 32 days leading up to the NFL season opener Thursday, Sept 5.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Win total last 5 years: 45
LVH over/under wins (7½)
Three straight seasons of missing the playoffs finally gave Chargers fans what they long wished for – the removal of Norv Turner as head coach and A.J. Smith as general manager.
It wasn’t like the Chargers weren’t winning, averaging 9 victories per season since 2008. They even made the playoffs that year with an 8-8 record.
But that is in the past. The present is now with new head coach Mike McCoy and GM Tom Telesco. Moves came quickly as Telesco released offensive left tackle Jared Gaither, nicknamed “The Big Lazy” and drafted Notre Dame linebacker Manti T’eo. Nothing “imaginary” about T’eo on the field, though an injury has kept him on the sideline in preseason.
The Chargers offense revolves around QB Philip Rivers, whose career will forever be associated with both Eli Manning and Drew Brees. It is Rivers who was drafted when Manning said no to San Diego, while Brees was sent to New Orleans to make way for Rivers.
The Chargers have had success with Rivers over the years and many NFL insiders believe he still has Super Bowl level skills. But he does struggle with costly interceptions and the lack of a consistent running game.
San Diego invested plenty on RB Ryan Mathews, but have not gotten his full worth due mainly to injuries. Mathews is enjoying a very good preseason and if he can stay in the lineup offers the dual threat of runner/receiver in the class of Matt Forte, Arian Foster and Reggie Bush.
The Chargers have also had bad luck at wide receiver, losing Vincent Jackson last year to Tampa Bay and Danario Alexander this season to a torn ACL. Tight end Antonio Gates is All Pro material, but he’s fought injuries and now in his 11th season.
When T’eo returns he will play linebacker in the 3-4 scheme alongside Donald Butler who had a breakout season in 2012.
Help could come in a draft rated A by Athlon Sports. The top selection was Alabama offensive tackle D.J. Fluker, who made Gaither expendable.
Along with T’eo came Cal Bears WR Keenan Allen (third round) and QB Brad Sorensen (seventh round). Sorensen, out of Southern Utah, has been impressive in preseason and could eventually move into the backup role.
The Chargers have a challenging first four games, opening at home with Houston, then hitting the road to Philadelphia and Tennessee before returning home to face Dallas.
Most experts have conceded the AFC West to Denver even though stud linebacker Von Miller has been suspended by the NFL for the first six games.
Certainly eight wins is possible in a division with Kansas City and Oakland. But you can say that with just about any team in the NFL this year.
Tuesday: San Francisco 49ers
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at [email protected].