2009 San Diego Chargers Season Preview
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2009 San Diego Chargers Predictions
By Adam Barone
Time may be running out for the Chargers, or maybe it already has. LaDainian Tomlinson turned 30 this June, and you don’t have to be some sort of an NFL insider to know that that number is like the plague for running backs. Once that “two” changes to a “three” it’s over. Their legs might as well fall off.
The Chargers won just nine games last season, and were unable to advance in the playoffs. The pressure is on them to reach the potential they’ve failed to live up to for years.
Quarterback Phillip Rivers had a monster 2008, setting a new franchise record for touchdown passes with 34 and a posting a 105.5 quarterback rating, both of which led the NFL. He passed for 4,009 yards, fifth in the league, while throwing just 11 interceptions. He did all that with a receiving corps that’s good, but not flashy. Tight end Antonio Gates led the team in both receptions (60), and touchdowns (8). Receiver Vincent Jackson led the team in yards with 1,098. Malcom Floyd established himself as the primary deep threat with 17.2 yards per catch, though he had just 27 catches. Former Dolphin Chris Chambers will still probably get the most attention from defenses despite his 33 catches in 2008, and former first-rounder Craig Davis (just four catches in 2008) rounds out the group.
Tomlinson was third on the team last season with 52 catches, and fell eight carries short of 300 despite his “old age.” That is, however, the lowest total of his career. He played in all 16 games and topped 1,000 yards once again. His yards-per-carry average dropped to 3.8, the lowest since his rookie season. L.T. may be slowing down, but that doesn’t make him bad, it just makes him human. He’s still capable of being an elite running back for at least one more season.
Issues on the offensive line have and likely will continue to contribute to Tomlinson’s increasing struggles. The left side is still pretty good, including left tackle Marcus McNeill and Pro Bowl left guard Kris Dielman alongside center Nick Hardwick, but the right side is a gaping hole. Guard Mike Goff is gone, and will be replaced by…a fat guy to-be-determined. Right tackle Jeromey Clary is still around, but is seen as the weak link of the four returning. The group will need to improve if the Chargers are going to take a step forward.
The Chargers play the increasingly popular 3-4 style on defense, which depends on the success of one very large man in the middle—the nose tackle. Jamal Williams fills that role here, and is still great at taking up space, though he’s now 33. End Luis Castillo hasn’t been performing up to expectations, tallying just 1.5 sacks in 2008—the lowest total of his four-year career. His counterpart, Igor Olshansky, is gone, and will be replaced by a combination of Ryon Bingham and Jacques Cesaire.
Shawne Merriman could be the key to the team’s success in the coming season. This defense is one of the most dangerous in the league if he’s at the top of his game. He’s capable of double-digit sacks, but has to prove that he’s still the same player following knee surgery. Shaun Phillips led the team in sacks in 2008 with 7.5, while inside linebacker Stephen Cooper notched 98 tackles, a team-high. First- round pick Larry English and free agent Kevin Burnett add depth to the unit that also includes Matt Wilhelm, making this arguably the best group of linebackers in the league.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie failed to duplicate the 10 interceptions he had in 2007, grabbing just two. That tells the story of the Chargers’ against the pass in 2008—disappointing. There’s plenty of potential in a group that also includes Quentin Jammar and Eric Weddle, but there’s some serious work to do here following a season in which they were second-worst against the pass.
Nate Kaeding is one of the best kickers in the league, and Darren Sproles might be the most feared kickoff/punt returner in the league. There aren’t many problems on special teams.
San Diego, as usual, has plenty of talent, and their division is weak. There may be some added pressure to make a leap this season though, as it may be the last season in which Tomlinson is able to carry a full load. If Merriman is himself again it would make the entire defense much better, and that includes the secondary. One thing’s for sure—Phillip Rivers will be a star in the league for years to come.