Overview: After back-to-back seasons without reaching the playoffs, the pressure is on Chargers head coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith to win in 2012. The team was active in free agency after losing WR Vincent Jackson to the Buccaneers, re-signing some key offensive linemen, adding several weapons for QB Philip Rivers and upgrading important spots on defense. Smith now looks to acquire some impact rookies in the draft, something he has struggled to do in recent years.
Need No. 1: Offensive guard
Last season, the Chargers faced major injuries on their offensive line, resulting in Rivers being sacked 30 times, though only five sacks came in the final seven games. Two of the unit’s top blockers — OLT Marcus McNeill (cut) and OLG Kris Dielman (retired) — are no longer with the team because of the injuries they suffered in 2011. By re-signing OT Jared Gaither, the team has a fill-in for McNeill, but the void left by Dielman is glaring. San Diego must address the interior of its O-line in the draft with multiple picks, one of whom must be able to come in and compete for a starting job. Both in pass protection and run blocking, the Chargers' line needs to improve if they want to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
Need No. 2: Pass rusher (outside linebacker or defensive end)
With the exception of OLB Antwan Barnes, a third-down pass rusher who finished with a team-high 11 sacks a year ago, the Chargers had major issues getting to the quarterback. No other player on the roster had more than four sacks, and there are concerns the team will be ill-equipped to play new coordinator John Pagano’s attacking style without another pass rusher. Starting OLB Shaun Phillips is expected to return from the calf injury that bothered him much of the season and limited him to 12 games, but more help either at linebacker or on the defensive line is necessary. The Chargers have failed to add a complement to Phillips previously.
Need No. 3: Running back
Outside of Jackson, whom the Chargers replaced with free-agent WRs Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, the team's biggest loss in free agency was RB Mike Tolbert, who signed with the Panthers. A solid third-down back who could run for tough yards, catch the ball out of the backfield and make an impact on special teams, Tolbert was the perfect fit for Norv Turner’s offense. In his place, FB Le’Ron McClain was signed, but he’s more of a blocker and occasional goal-line ballcarrier. RB Ryan Mathews made the Pro Bowl in his second NFL season in ’11, but adding a backup who can take some of Mathews' carries and also catch the ball out of the backfield will be sought.