Source: Associated Press
The swinging door leading to the Chargers coaches' offices keeps spinning.
In as the Chargers' fresh defensive coordinator is Greg Manusky. He replaces Ron Rivera, after he took the Carolina Panthers' head coaching job.
Also on the move is Rod Chudzinski, the tight ends coach and assistant head coach to Norv Turner who will join Rivera to direct the Panthers' offense.
Manusky certainly knows his way to the coaches' second-story area. He directed the Chargers' linebackers from 2002-06, so many of his charges already are familiar with Manusky and his hard-nosed style.
"I don't want guys to trust me just because there's a lightning bolt on my shirt," said Manusky said. "Trust is earned over time with actions that back up what you've said before.
"I'm walking into a new situation where some people know me and most of them don't. I plan on keeping some things the same while changing some others. Defense is always evolving, and this scheme will, too. We will always strive to get better and improve on the past. With the personnel here in San Diego, I honestly believe that the sky's the limit."
Manusky was also being chased by the Cardinals and Cowboys after working the last four years running the 49ers' defense. He takes over unit in San Diego which led the league in fewest yards allowed and was No. 1 in sacks.
Coach Norv Turner said he was sold on Manusky when planning to beat him last month when the Chargers faced the 49ers.
"Preparing for them this year, I think, brought out an appreciation from me for what he was doing," Turner said. "I think they gave you some things scheme-wise that were tough to handle. He's got a toughness about him, a high energy about him, that I think will help our guys."
Manusky had the inside track on two in-house candidates in linebackers coach John Pagano and secondary coach Steve Wilks. While passed over for the coordinator's role, they remain on staff.
"When I looked at the three options in terms of Wilks or Pagano or Manusky," said Turner, "obviously the group that you could put together with Manusky as the leader is a very, very strong group and has a chance to grow by working together and be an outstanding staff."
Manusky picked the Chargers for their potential to go deep in the playoffs. This despite the fact they have won one postseason game in three years.
"There are some excellent players and coaches already in place," Manusky said. "I know this organization, what they expect and how they like to play football. I've coached against Norv several times, and he's always been my nemesis. I have tremendous respect for him and what they hope to accomplish in the near future. That's why San Diego was the perfect fit."
Previously the team tweaked Turner's staff in letting special-teams coach Steve Crosby go and replacing him with ex-Tampa Bay coach Rich Bisaccia.
— The Chargers named Jason Michael tight ends coach, the third coaching change to head coach Norv Turner's staff.
Michael was the quarterbacks coach with the San Francisco 49ers last year and he impressed the offensive-minded Turner.
"I'm excited about the opportunity to add Jason to our staff," Turner said. "He brings a good, balanced offensive background. He's worked with tight ends and he's worked with quarterbacks."
Others new to the staff are defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and special teams coach Rich Bisaccia. Manusky also came from the 49ers while Bisaccia had worked in a similar capacity with Tampa Bay.
— OLB Shaun Phillips was added to the Pro Bowl, replacing the Steelers' James Harrison. Phillips led the Chargers with 11 sacks and 19 quarterback pressures to earn his first Pro Bowl trip.
"One of the biggest things that kind of bothered me a little bit: I know it's a team game, but we've got to have at least one player that can represent us because of the fact that we did finish No. 1 in total defense," Phillips said.
"This is a testament to all the players and the coaches that we are a good defense and we continue to be a good defense. We've got to have at least one representative."
— TE Antonio Gates has decided not to play in the Pro Bowl as he continues to let his torn plantar fascia mend. Gates missed six of the final eight games, but still lead the Chargers with 782 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns on 50 catches.
— The Chargers are lowering the ticket prices of some 6,500 View Level seats 15 percent. The team is also holding the line on all other ticket prices.
—The Chargers' only chance in the playoffs paid off with the Jets' wild-card win over the Colts. While the team isn't in the postseason, Jets CB Antonio Cromartie is. And with the win, the Chargers receive a second-, instead of a third-round pick next April for trading Cromartie.
—Among the free agents unlikely to be back is the versatile Darren Sproles. After earning some $14 million the past two years, but with his numbers declining, the standout of two playoffs could go. He rushed 50 times for 267 yards and a team-high 59 receptions for 520 yards and two touchdowns. But his return game suffered and Sproles lost a career-worst three fumbles. If the Chargers do consider bringing him back, it will be after his market is set.
"This will be a chance to get a real sense of my value," Sproles said. "That's what I'm looking forward to the most. All the trips and meeting and dinners, are just part of the process, but I wouldn't say I'm looking forward to all that. I haven't been recruited since I was in high school, so it'll be interesting to see how it goes."
Sproles will long be remembered for his 328 all-purpose yards in subbing for an injured LaDainian Tomlinson in that 2008 playoff win over the Colts. Sproles is open to returning. "I definitely would," Sproles said. "I love the city and I love the guys in this locker room. This is the only team I've ever known. I'd like to keep it that way."
—Rich Bisaccia, for now, is the most popular coach in San Diego. He's the new special teams coach, replacing Steve Crosby. The Chargers gave up four returns for touchdown, allowed four blocked punts and a deflection, and ranked last in punt coverage. Bisaccia spent the last nine seasons in a similar role with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, including their Super Bowl 2002 season. Tampa Bay's special teams earned top-10 rankings in punt and kickoff coverage and in kick returns during the 2010 season. The Bucs blocked six kicks in 2009. "Rich's special teams have had success in this league," coach Norv Turner said. "Rich is a high-energy guy that I know will bring out the best in our players."
—Coach Norv Turner said defensive coordinator Ron Rivera leaving to become the Panthers' head coach reflects well on the organization. The team named former 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, who also interviews with Carolina, to replace Rivera.
"When you put a staff together you hope to have moments like this," Turner said. "If other teams want to give your assistants an advanced position, that means they've done an excellent job. That was the case with Ron, and hopefully that will be the case in the future as well."
Sometimes change is good — even when the coach of the NFL's top defense exits.
"I look at these transitions as a chance to get better," Turner said of Rivera's departure. "Whether we promote from within or go outside for our defensive coordinator, we're going to add a new coach to this staff. New people bring fresh perspective to what we're doing as a team and as a staff, and that should help us improve. We made tremendous strides as a defense last season."
—LT Marcus McNeill was clear when heading out the locker-room door it would be a busy offseason. He promises to get after it. "A lot of people are still going to be playing, preparing and doing a lot of things, but I want to make sure that I build myself to be the best left tackle for this team because I know that if I am the best left tackle that quarterback's going to be the best quarterback in the league," McNeill said. "We proved that this year and I want to make sure I continue to make sure he succeeds."
—Chargers legendary coach Don Coryell was passed over in the recent Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists list after advancing that far last year. Coryell was one of football's all-time visionaries with his offense and defensive schemes.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're going to do everything we can to get better and obviously the No. 1 goal every year is to make the playoffs and to win your division." — Coach Norv Turner on rebounding next season after the Chargers' string of four straight AFC West titles was snapped.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Philip Rivers. Backup — Billy Volek.
Rivers had one of the top 10 passing seasons of all time and continues to flourish under coach Norv Turner and his system. Few NFL players were asked to do more than Rivers in digging his team out of holes and he usually came through. Rivers threw for 4,710 yards; it was his third straight 4,000-yard season. He had a 101.8 rating which was second-best in the NFL. Volek could be moving on, if seeking a starting job.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters — RB Ryan Mathews. Backups — RB Mike Tolbert, RB Darren Sproles, FB Jacob Hester, FB Billy Latsko.
Tolbert was a blessing with 11 touchdown rushes as he morphed from a fullback into a running back. Mathews, for the most part, was a big tease as he showed flashes, then would fumble or be idle with a bum ankle — pass protection remains a red flag as well. But he did rush for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the final game which is something he can build on. Sproles was used mostly as a receiver; Hester, now a fullback, was serviceable. Sproles averaged 5.3 yards on 50 carries but didn't have any touchdowns. He did catch 59 passes for two touchdowns.
TIGHT ENDS: Starters — Antonio Gates, Randy McMichael. Backups — Kris Wilson.
Gates was en route to his best season and that is saying something for someone with his Hall of Fame resume. But a foot injury derailed his season; he valiantly played through in some instances but he was never close to 100 percent. He did have a team-high 10 scoring catches. He should be OK next summer, but his feet remain a concern. McMichael (20 receptions, two scores) gave the Chargers a huge lift in replacing Gates and showed why he was a former starter in this league. Wilson was asked mostly asked to block.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd. Backups — Patrick Crayton, Legedu Naanee, Seyi Ajirotutu, Kelley Washington, Gary Banks, Buster Davis.
Jackson's season was nearly completely lost with suspensions, contract stalemates and injuries. He did have three touchdowns in a game and showed why he is among the game's elite receivers — when on the field. Floyd did well, but was slowed by a persistent hamstring injury; he had six touchdowns but only 37 catches. Crayton came over from the Cowboys and was great early on — he had the third 100-yard receiving game of his career — but dislocated his wrist and missed the stretch run. Naanee was yet another Charger sidelined with a hamstring injury and he had but 23 catches. Ajirotutu was a find but he couldn't do it on a consistent basis; Washington and Banks showed enough to stick in team's plans, especially if hit by free-agent deflections from this group. Davis, a former first-round pick, is likely done as a Charger.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Marcus McNeill, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Jeromey Clary. Backups — G Tyronne Green, T Brandyn Dombrowski, C/G Scott Mruczkowski.
McNeill was late getting in with contract issues but played well once he showed up. Dielman was his nasty old self, meaning he was heading to another Pro Bowl. Hardwick, after missing 13 games last year, supplied the anchor and smarts to get this group clicking. Vasquez's season was up and down with an injury, but Green showed well in replacing him. Dombrowski's stock went way up with his play when subbing for McNeill and protecting Rivers' blind side.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DRE Luis Castillo, NT Antonio Garay, DLE Jacques Cesaire. Backups — NT Cam Thomas, NT Ogemdi Nwagbuo, DE Travis Johnson, NT/DE Vaughn Martin.
Garay was a big plus along the interior of the line that had been in flux for more than a season. Garay had 5.5 sacks and delivered some energy up front. The Chargers did get run on up the middle on occasion, and Garay and others have to take some blame here. The players on the edges remain solid if far from spectacular. Castillo will never please everyone and that was true again this year — he did have 2.5 sacks. Cesaire is seen more of a backup player, but held his own as a starter. Thomas and Martin continue to be groomed; Thomas is coming along faster. Johnson had trouble staying fit.
LINEBACKERS: Starters — OLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Kevin Burnett, ILB Stephen Cooper, OLB Larry English. Backups — ILB Brandon Siler, OLB Antwan Applewhite, OLB Antwan Barnes, ILB Darry Beckwith, OLB Brandon Lang, ILB Donald Butler, ILB James Holt, OLB Jyles Tucker, OLB Kion Wilson.
Phillips was the key here, especially when Shawne Merriman wasn't able to contribute and was released. Phillips had 11 sacks and had a solid year. Burnett (six sacks) had a career season and could have earned another year with the Chargers. Cooper could be wearing out as the inside was often exposed on runs; he had a persistent knee injury. English continues to disappoint as this former first-rounder can't avoid foot injuries or supply the rush they were hoping for off the edge. Barnes (four sacks) was a surprise and in a good way.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Antoine Cason, RCB Quentin Jammer, SS Steve Gregory, FS Eric Weddle. Backups — RCB Dante Hughes, LCB Donald Strickland, SS Paul Oliver, FS Tyronne Carter, FS Darrell Stuckey, SS Quinton Teal, S Pat Watkins.
Cason in his first year as a starter held up well although he had a key blunder down the stretch. Jammer supplied his veteran play, which meant he seldom made a mistake. The safety play was good as Weddle continues to improve although some still wonder if he can be physical enough for what the Chargers are seeking. Gregory had to serve a suspension and then had a mediocre season. Hughes and Strickland had their moments, but their roster spots aren't safe. Stuckey saw the field in but one game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nate Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, KR/PR Darren Sproles, PR Antoine Cason, LS Mike Windt, LS David Binn, LS James Dearth, LS Ryan Neill.
Kaeding was 23-of-28 on field goals; he was injured for some of the year but got his strength back toward the season's end. Scifres was saddled by punting for one of the worst special-teams blocking in NFL history. He averaged 46.7 yards. Sproles never showed the spark on returns he was once known for; he was still decent. Cason looked good returning punts on occasion averaging 16.5 yards on 14 returns. The Chargers used four long snappers because of injuries.