For a numbers of years, the San Diego Chargers were touted as arguably the league's most talented team. Whether that was true or not was simply a matter of opinion. However, the facts are that this franchise is still looking for its first Super Bowl appearance since 1994 and first-ever NFL championship.
After six seasons and off a 7-9 finish in 2012, head coach Norv Turner was shown the door by the team. Enter Mike McCoy, who lately was spending time as the offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. Hence familiarity with the AFC West shouldn't be an issue.
So it's onto 2013 and the Bolts are suddenly seeking their first playoff appearance since 2009. Here we will take a look at five players who could be critical to the team's success this upcoming season. While in some cases the obvious will be stated, in other instances the focus will be on a newcomer to the team or a performer looking to rebound from a disappointing year.
So here are five players to keep an eye on this season when it comes to the San Diego Chargers:
QB Philip Rivers: While the former Pro Bowler remains one of the better quarterbacks in the league, despite the team's issues on the offensive line as of late, Rivers has to do a much better job of taking care of the football. Over the past two seasons, the Chargers have committed a total of 54 turnovers and the Bolts' signal-caller has 47 of those miscues. A year ago, Rivers was sacked 49 times and that has to change, hence the drafting of tackle D.J. Fluker in the first round and the signing of veteran Max Starks.
RB Danny Woodhead: Former first-round pick Ryan Mathews is the still the starter in the backfield but the running back comes off a disappointing season. The team also missed Mike Tolbert last season, who had signed with the Carolina Panthers. Woodhead is a versatile who totaled 747 yards from scrimmage and scored seven touchdowns (4 rushing, 3 receiving) in 2012 for the New England Patriots. It's still hard to believe the Chargers were next-to-last in the NFL in total yards last season.
WR Danario Alexander: The one-time undrafted free agent really made his mark in San Diego last season. In his first season with the team, Alexander played in 10 games and totaled 37 catches for 658 yards (17.8 yards per reception) and a team-high seven touchdown grabs. A year ago, Rivers certainly missed free agent wideout Vincent Jackson, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Alexander will pair with Malcom Floyd as the starters, but Vincent Brown (who missed his 2012 rookie season due to injury) is in the mix as well.
ILB Manti Te'o: The former Golden Domer was a second-round pick by the Chargers in April. Te'o comes off a memorable season and a forgettable year all at once. But the emphasis here is strictly on the field as Te'o enjoyed a terrific 2012, leading Notre Dame with 113 tackles (the third straight year he paced the team in stops), totaling seven interceptions and finishing second in Heisman Trophy voting. The productive defender figures to be on the field a lot and should help the Chargers with their underneath pass coverage.
OLB Dwight Freeney: The San Diego defense played decent football last season, although pass coverage was a bit of an issue. The Bolts allowed 28 scores through the air despite a respectable 38 sacks. With Shaun Phillips off to Denver and 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram sidelined with a knee injury indefinitely, Freeney was signed to help the pass rush. But the 11-year veteran totaled only 5.0 sacks a year ago with the Indianapolis Colts as the former Pro Bowl defensive end wasn't a perfect fit at outside linebacker. But could a year in the scheme be enough to make Freeney dominant again?
So what can we expect from the Chargers in 2013? Will the downward spiral continue for this recent playoff regular? And who else will play an extremely pivotal role in the team's fortunes this season? McCoy and his staff have their work cut out for themselves this season.
Russell S. Baxter has spent the last 40-plus years watching football. He is the founder of ProFootballGuru.com, writes for numerous websites and publications across the country and is blessed with an encyclopedic memory. Ready to talk NFL? Follow him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- San Diego Chargers
- Philip Rivers
- San Diego