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New Faces, Familiar Questions

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Buck Melanoma, Jul 28, 2012.

  1. Buck Melanoma

    Buck Melanoma Guest

    PARIS: New faces hope to take Chargers to new places

    The ability of rookie outside linebacker Melvin Ingram to boost the Chargers' pass rush is a key issue that must be resolved during training camp. JAMIE SCOTT LYTLE | jlytle@nctimes.com

    SAN DIEGO — The Chargers are back — at least we think they're the Chargers.
    Vincent Jackson? Check Tampa Bay, pal.
    Kris Dielman? Retirement from the NFL for this beast is well-deserved.
    Mike Tolbert? He thought it would be finer with Carolina.
    Marcus McNeill? A mending neck still needs to mend.
    That's three Pro Bowlers and, in Tolbert, the team's leading touchdown-maker last season. All moved on and the question is: Will the mediocre Chargers — 8-8 at last sighting — move up?
    A flurry of fresh mugs have found Chargers Park for training camp, and just what do all these comings and goings mean?
    "No doubt it is a plus,'' said Nick Hardwick, the offensive line's anchor. "Because, obviously, we haven't been to where we want to be. So we're going to have to make some changes, some evolutions.''
    The fan revolution after the Chargers missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year didn't produce the change they wanted. Coach Norv Turner has returned for his sixth season, general manager A.J. Smith is here and, well, it is what it is.
    But who are the Chargers? What is their identity? What leads insiders or outsiders to believe that this four-year stretch that has produced one playoff win is ending, and a new era of postseason success is right around the next tackling dummy?
    Those with keen NFL IQs have all but granted the AFC West title to the Broncos. Something about Peyton Manning bringing his four MVP trophies and Super Bowl bling to Denver has made everyone forget about Tim Tebow and the old days, when the Chargers owned the division with four straight titles.
    But the Chargers have other ideas, and Smith proved it by grabbing his underperforming roster and giving it a good shakedown. Please don't confuse activity with achievement, as coach John Wooden once preached, but it's clear the Chargers decided that a personnel purge was a prerequisite to playing meaningful January games.
    With change, though, comes mystery? Do all these offseason gyrations mean that the Chargers are better? Can a team be improved after losing so much firepower, replaced more with quantity than quality?
    Darn right this summer exercise, which featured two more workouts Friday, doesn't have the feel of worn loafers.
    "Every camp is different, and certainly this team is going to be different than what we've had in the past,'' said Hardwick, the cerebral center entering his ninth season. "You look around this year, and there are a lot more new faces. It's a different mix; it's exciting.''
    It's baffling, as well. Here are four camp issues to be resolved before that Sept. 10 season opener against the Oakland Raiders:
    1. Rebuilt front line: Two-fifths of last year's opening day offensive line is gone. Left tackle Jared Gaither has replaced McNeill; left guard Tyronne Green fills Dielman's cleats. Gaither has a new contract, but he's on his third team, and it's the nickname he brought from Baltimore and Kansas City that's troublesome: "The Big Lazy.'' Green is light years shy of Dielman; can Green even keep Rex Hadnot from taking his job?
    2. Pass rush: Go Melvin English! I mean, Larry Ingram! I mean, where is Shawne Merriman? The Chargers again are seeking a pass rush, with this year's first-round pick, Melvin Ingram, being sold as hard as Larry English once was. Hopefully, Ingram won't be English and the Chargers can manufacture a way to consistently reach the pocket, something not seen in these parts since Merriman exited.
    3. Secondary: This is linked to that pass rush, but on its own, improvements must be made. Quentin Jammer was a step slow down the stretch last year; Antoine Cason still hasn't developed into the top-shelf cornerback we were led to believe when the Chargers drafted him in the first round. Free safety Eric Weddle is an All-Pro, and no one does more with what they were given physically. But Rodney Harrison's strong safety spot still hasn't been adequately filled, and he left after the 2002 season. Atari Bigby is the latest candidate to replace the hard-nosed Harrison, who was also known as "Number Dirty Seven."
    4. Ryan Mathews: We hope his game looks better than his camp hairdo. His blond mohawk is something, and we'll just leave it at that. Mathews continues to mature and improve his game; his 1,546 yards from scrimmage last year ranked No. 7 in the NFL. But with the subtraction of key offensive players, more will be asked of Mathews in his third year. Can he handle the increased load, by keeping a firm handle on the football?
    Ah, another question in a training camp that's overflowing with them. At least the gang is all here, even if we're not sure yet what it means.

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