Lockout limbo: Chargers report

Posted June 04, 2011 @ 10:08 a.m.
Posted By Eli Kaberon

With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lockout, we are looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we take a look at the Chargers.

Top three story lines

1. After missing the playoffs for the first time in the Norv Turner era, there are many question marks heading into the 2011 campaign. Several of the team's key players are set to hit free agency, impacting both sides of the ball. The receiving corps won't look the same as it has in years past, as WRs Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are all without contracts; Jackson was given the franchise tag by the team and is likely the only one of the three returning. The same questions are in the linebacking corps, where a total of seven players are looking for new deals, including three players who started much of last season.

2. Another potential free-agency departure is DE Jacques Cesaire. With that in mind, GM A.J. Smith used the Chargers' first-round pick on Illinois DL Corey Liuget, a versatile pass rusher who should start from Day One. Though he played defensive tackle in college, Liuget likely will line up at end and be asked to take pressure off of OLB Shaun Phillips, who led the team in sacks last season with 11. The position switch is the only real concern surrounding a player who some believe was the most fundamentally sound of all the D-linemen selected in the draft.

3. Changes to the roster won't be the only thing different for the Bolts in 2011; there also will be new faces on the coaching staff. After Ron Rivera took the Panthers' head-coaching job, the team replaced him with Greg Manusky, the man who ran the 49ers' defense the past four seasons. Manusky is familiar with San Diego's 3-4 defense, as he was a linebackers coach in San Diego before running the scheme in San Francisco. Joining him on the sideline is Rich Bisaccia, the man who ran the special teams for the Buccaneers the past nine seasons and who is now in charge of that unit with the Chargers. He'll hope to improve a group that was amongst the league's worst in 2010.

2011 free agency — whenever that happens

Unsigned players: OLB Antwan Applewhite (3), OLB Antwan Barnes (4), ILB Darry Beckwith (1), ILB Kevin Burnett (6), S Tyrone Carter (11), DE Jacques Cesaire (8), OT Jeromey Clary (4), ILB Stephen Cooper (8), TE James Dearth (10), OT Brandyn Dombrowski (2), WR Malcom Floyd (5), CB Dante Hughes (4), WR Vincent Jackson (6, franchised), DT Travis Johnson (6), FB Billy Latsko (1), TE Randy McMichael (9), ILB Brandon Moore (7), OG-C Scott Mruczkowski (6), WR Legedu Naanee (4), DE Ryan Neill (4), CB Paul Oliver (4), ILB Brandon Siler (4), RB Darren Sproles (6), FB Mike Tolbert (3), QB Billy Volek (11), WR Kelley Washington (8), S Pat Watkins (5), S Eric Weddle (4). [Editor's note: The number after a player's name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.]

Analysis: GM A.J. Smith will have a lot of pressure on him whenever free agency starts to ensure the team is talented enough to bring a return to the playoffs in 2011 while also thinking of the long-term future. With that in mind, tough decisions will need to be made. The first of those was to give the franchise tag to Jackson, keeping him in San Diego likely for one more season. It also means that Floyd and Naanee will move on, as QB Philip Rivers will find younger targets in the passing game. Sproles, whose roles as a change-of-pace back and special-teams ace were addressed in the draft, is also likely to move on. Defensively, the choices for Smith are even tougher. ILBs Burnett, Cooper and Siler all are worthy of contract extensions, but there is room for only one or two depending on cost. One player there is no question about is Weddle, whom the team desperately wants to keep because of his versatility and playmaking ability.  

2011 rookie class

First-round DE Corey Liuget (No. 18 overall) — With impressive size and agility, Liuget will be asked to play the five-technique, a spot he never played in college. His ability to stop the run will be vital to the unit's success.

Second-round FS Marcus Gilchrist (No. 50 overall) — Though his most immediate impact will be as a kickoff and punt returner, Gilchrist's versatility on defense could be a major plus in the secondary.

Second-round LB Jonas Mouton (No. 61 overall) — A sure tackler who lacks speed and instincts, Mouton will have to be a star on special teams to make this pick worth it.

Third-round WR Vincent Brown (No. 82 overall) — The departure of some wideouts in free agency could mean Brown will have to step right in as a primary target for Philip Rivers.

Third-round CB Shareece Wright (No. 89 overall) — More depth for the secondary, Wright has good coverage skills and could step right in as a nickel back.

Sixth-round RB Jordan Todman (No. 183 overall) — Darren Sproles' replacement is tiny (5-foot-9) and fast (4.44 40-time), making him the perfect complement to starting RB Ryan Mathews.

Sixth-round OG Stephen Schilling (No. 201 overall) — Some depth for the offensive line, though the sixth-rounder is no lock to make the final 53-man roster.

Seventh-round LB Andrew Gachkar (No. 234 overall) — After playing in a 4-3 scheme in college, Gachkar will need to quickly learn the Chargers' 3-4 defense to earn a spot on the team.

Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Chargers be by the work stoppage?

On a scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Chargers rate a 5. A year after missing the playoffs despite having the NFL's top-ranked offense and defense, the pressure on Norv Turner and A.J. Smith is as high as the temperature at the San Diego Zoo. The coaching changes and influx of rookies who will make instant contributions means the absence of OTAs could be costly on a team prepared to win now. Add to that all of the expected free-agency departures and lineup changes, and there are plenty of factors going against the Bolts. Yet, as long as they have Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates leading the offense and Shaun Phillips anchoring the "D," there isn't complete panic.

Follow Eli Kaberon on Twitter