Under new General Manager Tom Telesco and Head Coach Mike McCoy the Chargers finally made it back to the postseason in 2013 (the first time in four years), even managing to win their first game, a wildcard matchup vs. the Cincinnati Bengals; thus surprising the media and fans alike.
Following a decent draft and via some excellent offseason acquisitions where San Diego filled in some much-needed holes in their defense--coupled with the recovery of a few key players such as WR Malcom Floyd and CB Richard Marshall who were on IR for much of last season--there has been recent speculation about the potential strength of the team in 2014. In a division with the AFC Champion Denver Broncos and the Kansas City Chiefs who recorded double-digit wins last season, the Chargers have been attracting some serious attention for their depth and comeback of QB Philip Rivers who, in fact, garnered the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2013.
Yet some questions remain. Here are five of my most pressing questions facing the team as they enter training camp.
1. Is Rivers an elite franchise quarterback? Last year, Rivers was the 5th best passer in the league with 32 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions on the season--quite an improvement from his high-multiple-turnover 2011 and 2012 seasons; thus prompting many to wonder whether he is, in fact, an elite franchise quarterback. With the Chargers' arsenal of receivers (see #3) and the receiving prowess of RB Danny Woodhead and TEs Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green, one can only expect Rivers to remain on his impressive roll.
2. Will McCoy's apparent culture shift last? Last season, McCoy became only the third Chargers' head coach to win his first playoff game in the history of the team, along with Bobby Ross and Norv Turner, and McCoy's win was on the road in a hostile Cincinnati environment. Whereas many (including myself, sorry guys) didn't give San Diego a chance to even make the playoffs, this win was huge. But, perhaps even more importantly, McCoy's transformational leadership skills were most apparent with his success in restoring Rivers to a top quarterback, with getting RB Ryan Mathews to shed his "bust" status, and by displaying a much-improved offensive line.
Many have attributed the Chargers' impressive 2013 play to former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's playcalling; however, his during-postseason job interviews led to poor planning in their game versus Denver which they lost despite a frantic fourth-quarter surge. With new OC Frank Reich (formerly Peyton Manning's QB coach in Indianapolis), if San Diego regains postseason status with the high-powered play with which the team was successful last year then this question will likely be answered in the affirmative.
3. Who will be the Chargers' starting WRs? After Keenan Allen's outstanding season (71 receptions, 1,046 yards, 8 TDs), he is poised to be the team's #1 WR in 2014. The always-dangerous Malcom Floyd will be returning from a season-ending neck injury. Despite a nagging toe injury that prevented Eddie Royal from practicing during much of the regular season he also put up impressive numbers (47 receptions, 631 yards, 8 TDs). There is also Vincent Brown (41 receptions, 472 yards, 1 TD) who, according to Chargers.com's Ricky Henne, is "flying under the radar" with his talent finally reaching fruition. It will be interesting to see how the depth chart evolves.
4. Who will be the Chargers' nickel cornerback? Gone are the days when a team would relegate its third-best cornerback for nickel situations. Instead, this position has evolved into a highly-specialized one. Steve Williams was San Diego's fifth-round pick for this position in 2013; however, an injury prior to the first preseason game last year landed Williams on IR for the entire season. Thus, it is likely his position to win (according to the "experts") versus the likes of Marcus Gilchrist who has had limited success in this role and Richard Marshall who played well but was promoted to starter following the self-destruction of Derek Cox last season.
5. Why is RG Jeromey Clary still on the team? Poised to earn a base salary of $4.55 million for the 2014 season alone, Clary makes more than the combined salaries of the four other guards. Riddled with horrible play and boneheaded false-start penalties over the past several seasons--and currently recovering from offseason shoulder and hip surgeries--unless Clary has a stellar training camp and preseason showing, not only does his presence on the team raise eyebrows but his ridiculously-high salary is a huge question mark over the offensive line, particularly with the Chargers' drafting Chris Watt from Notre Dame in the third round of the 2014 draft.
I'm sure that there are oodles of other questions. Care to share?