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Preseason Power Rankings No. 16: San Diego Chargers

Philip Rivers Pic Getty Images

Folks covering the team were convinced late last season that coach Norv Turner and G.M. A.J. Smith were on the outs in San Diego. After a 4-1 start, the Chargers dropped six straight games in October and November. While they closed strong with victories in four of their final five, owner Dean Spanos’ January 3 announcement that Turner and Smith would be retained was something of a stunner.

The Chargers missed the playoffs for a second straight season.

San Diego has a fresh outlook on 2012 after a fairly aggressive spring. And there’s little doubt that this year will be Turner’s last if the Bolts miss a third consecutive NFL postseason.

Strengths.

Quarterback Philip Rivers was uncharacteristically turnover prone in 2011, but the Chargers still think of his presence as an organizational strength. Rivers, historically, is an efficient and accurate thrower who excels in Turner’s vertical-based offense. San Diego has big outside receivers who can run in Malcom Floyd and offseason addition Robert Meachem, and 32-year-old tight end Antonio Gates looked as fresh as ever late last season.

The Chargers are counting on a big step forward from third-year tailback Ryan Mathews, who possesses elite running talent and steadily improving versatility, but has yet to put it all together for a 16-game stretch.

San Diego’s front seven projects as its defensive strength. Defensive end Corey Liuget, and linebackers Donald Butler and Melvin Ingram were all recent high draft picks to whom the Bolts will look for growth and playmaking ability. Takeo Spikes, Shaun Phillips, and newly acquired Jarret Johnson are the veteran mainstays at linebacker. Situational pass rusher Antwan Barnes quietly racked up 11 sacks a year ago.

Free safety Eric Weddle is the Chargers’ top defensive back, and he responded to a 2011 contract extension by setting a career high with seven interceptions.

Weaknesses.

Rivers must cut down on turnovers, and Mathews must show better durability for San Diego to realize its offensive potential. The receiver corps looks explosive on paper, but heavy offseason transition is a bit of a concern. Gone is longtime No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson, and in are slot man Eddie Royal and vertical threat Meachem.

Right tackle Jeromey Clary has been San Diego’s weak link on the offensive line for sometime. But he returns as a virtual lock for a Week One starting job.

Cornerback play is the biggest question mark in San Diego’s secondary. 33-year-old Quentin Jammer can no longer run with the league’s top young deep threats, while Antoine Cason’s consistency leaves much to be desired. Strong safety has been a revolving door in San Diego since Rodney Harrison departed.

Changes.

Smith couldn’t bring himself to match Jackson’s $55 million-plus price tag, so the seven-year Charger departed for greener pastures in Tampa Bay. On the same day Jackson signed with the Bucs, Meachem received a four-year, $25.9 million commitment from the Chargers. Royal finalized his three-year, $13.5 million pact two days later.

More offseason turnover took place on the offensive line. Stalwart left guard Kris Dielman retired at age 31 due to concussions, and the Chargers hope 2009 fourth-round pick Tyronne Green will fill the void. Left tackle Marcus McNeill was released in mid-March. San Diego will replace him with talented but enigmatic 26-year-old Jared Gaither, who finished last season successfully protecting Rivers’ blind side.

Ingram was San Diego’s first-round pick, and his versatility should lock him in as an every-snap player as a rookie. Ingram can play outside linebacker, defensive end, and defensive tackle in sub-packages. The Chargers tied for 24th in the league in sacks last season, so the Ingram pick satisfied their need for a pass rusher.

Camp Battles.

On offense, the Chargers will hold training camp competitions at backup tailback and left guard. Veteran free-agent pickup Ronnie Brown knows Turner’s offense and looks like the favorite to hold down primary backup duties behind Mathews. Green will have to hold off Brandyn Dombrowski and Steve Schilling at guard.

More competition will take place on defense. Cam Thomas could push aging Antonio Garay for the starting nose tackle job. The defensive end positions will be hotly contested from a group that includes Luiget, Vaughn Martin, Luis Castillo, Jacques Cesaire, and rookie Kendall Reyes.

In the back four, Atari Bigby and third-round pick Brandon Taylor are the leading contenders at strong safety. Cason will get another run for his money at cornerback from 2011 second-rounder Marcus Gilchrist.

Prospects.

Although Oakland seems a small step behind the pace entering training camp, the AFC West could end up going to any of the four division members. The Raiders have an established Pro Bowl quarterback and potentially game-breaking rushing attack. The Chiefs boast a bright young defense and dangerous offensive backfield/line combination. The Broncos won a playoff game in 2011, and now have Peyton Manning.

We ranked the Chargers as a middle-of-the-pack team for 2012 because Turner has been on the job for five seasons, and San Diego’s final-year positioning has essentially gotten worse on an annual basis. Some of it has to do with bad luck. Most of it has to do with underachieving, and we’re not sold that the ’12 Chargers are good enough to push the envelope they’ve established in the AFC.

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19 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 16: San Diego Chargers”
  1. sj39 says: Jul 17, 2012 9:26 AM

    Ranked way to high and how do you list Rivers as a strength? Come on, how many years does it take to realize this whole orginization needs an overhaul?

  2. jredshoes says: Jul 17, 2012 9:30 AM

    Every year San Diego is ranked highly and every year the reality is something different. They may have all the talent in the world but either Norv doesn’t know what to do with it or the players read their own press and believe there are going to win the AFC West just by showing up. It amazes me that a team that has been mediocre since Shottenheimer left continues to get all this love. I wouldn’t be surprised if at the end of the season they are at the bottom of their division.

  3. socal11 says: Jul 17, 2012 9:44 AM

    Lack of talent due to consistent poor drafts and an arrogant GM have put the Bolts in the middle of the pack.

  4. humbleminded85 says: Jul 17, 2012 10:06 AM

    This is just a random thought, but why does Rivers never get the non-stop negative media coverage that Joe Flacco gets? What exactly gives him a pass? Don’t get me wrong I think Rivers is without a doubt a better QB but with the weapons he’s had his whole career I’ve always wondered why you never here people questioning him on the whole “elite or not” or “championship caliber or not” discussions.

  5. icanspeel says: Jul 17, 2012 10:16 AM

    For once the Chargers aren’t overrated to start the year, so maybe it will motivate them more to fight for a playoff spot instead of having everyone think they were a lock for it. Won’t be an easy year, but I can see them going 10-6 if they stay healthy and Rivers has a better year than last year.

  6. ambitoos says: Jul 17, 2012 11:18 AM

    Last year the Chargers had a special teams full of rookies that were not prepared for the season. That cost the coordinator his job. We lost all those games because of our special teams and an offensive line that collapsed with injuries. We’ll do much better this year. This will probably be Norv’s last year if we don’t take the division. As it should be but AJ Smith will stay.

  7. mrgroovesd says: Jul 17, 2012 11:29 AM

    I’m a Bolt fan and I’m glad they’re not ranked high. I think the reality of it is, they can’t think they’re still that 14-2 team in the regular season and 1st rd playoff loss. It’s time for them to dig their way out of the bottom and let them prove they win games and it starts with Norv. He needs to step up and make sure his staff is getting this team ready to play. Every year they should think they’re ranked #32 and prove they should be ranked higher.

  8. rolltide510 says: Jul 17, 2012 12:06 PM

    The Chargers were a team with a wide open super bowl window for several years that they just couldn’t quite get through. Now they’re just another also-ran team full of re-treads that can’t even compete in a weak division.

  9. raideryan88 says: Jul 17, 2012 12:23 PM

    As a raider fan the team should be ranked at 12. But the coach shouldnt be in this league

  10. souldogdave says: Jul 17, 2012 12:33 PM

    Funny how they match up with the Raiders. Both teams have good qb’s who just threw too many picks last season.Both teams are suspect at rt tackle,and both teams have #1 backs that need to stay healthy. And both teams have questions in the secondary.For years we have been waiting for afcwest crown heir-apparrent Chargers to take it to the next level, and they have failed. They try to put on the happy-face and gush about their new receivers, but Vinnie is gone.And the landscape of the afcwest has changed dramatically this year. The Broncos, well we’ll see. KC will be better, and so will the Raiders. SD could very well be in the cellar this year unless they start fast.

  11. chargerdillon says: Jul 17, 2012 1:12 PM

    If i’m picking a frontrunner for the AFC West it’s the Broncos.

    If im picking a darkhorse that could go 8-8 or 11-5 it’s the Chargers.

    Every year the Chargers have the potential to be a double digit win team and a completely average team at the same time.

    With Norv at the helm, he consistently makes the worst out of great potential time and time again.

    Looking to enjoy the coming NFL season and last season for my Chargers in San Diego.

    Whenever you have potential to be a good team, it’s always exciting to watch, even if disappointment is normaly the outcome. At least im not a Browns fan, HAH

  12. buckyhamm says: Jul 17, 2012 1:24 PM

    V. Jackson banged AJ’s daughter I think his first or second year in SD which is why AJ never really like VJax and ultimately ran him out of town. Obviously VJ’s off the field actions didn’t help any, but even without the off the field stuff but how hard was AJ trying to re-sign him knowing he banged his daughter.

  13. kmooresd85 says: Jul 17, 2012 1:38 PM

    don’t agree that Rivers is mediocre quarterback at all. Although last year was tough, he turned it back the end of the year, and every other year hes been in the league hes been great. (statistics wise anyway) One of his best years was the year he lost both starting receivers and Gates. Most teams in the league would love to have him and I cant buy that hes mediocre. The rest of the team though, thats another story.

  14. 808raiderinparadise says: Jul 17, 2012 1:51 PM

    I guess I shouldn’t be shocked at all since SD wins more “predicition superbowls” as the Jets have.

    BUT no.16 ? Look Rivers is a great QB, but his o-line is make-shift and KC and OAK defenses will be very stout under new regimes and a whole off-season to tune them up.

    Rivers lost his big play WR (jackson), someone who amasses 1,000+ yards for him every year and you all think meachem is a star replacement?

    Its a QB league so under that thinking SD gets a nod, but dam there is nothing notable on this team after Rivers and Gates …. maybe Matthews.

    0 defenders …. weddle?

    lets not forget the head ocach is Norv Turner guys.

    I think KC, OAK and DEN are all better teams.

  15. racerx1225 says: Jul 17, 2012 2:33 PM

    Rivers, Mathews, Philips, Weddle, Gates, Floyd, Royal and Meachem can all play too.. They still have some talent there and a few new faces.

  16. dannymac17 says: Jul 17, 2012 2:37 PM

    Raiders fans are funny.

    Back to the cellar with you bums.

  17. cortizzle510 says: Jul 17, 2012 3:17 PM

    Looks like Turner is on his way out. Raiders are winning the Division this year!

  18. thetwilightsown says: Jul 17, 2012 3:44 PM

    Ah, the annual Overrating of the San Diego Chargeless.
    Best thing about it: Football season must be around the corner.

    Did Carson Palmer look terrible at points for my beloved Raiders last year? Absolutely. But… my gawd Philip Rivers played some crap football last year.
    Why? How is this possible? This guy is champion caliber QB, right?

    Was his head coach hired in a self-centered, auto-sycophantic move by a delusional, senile owner in a year when there would be a lockout and no training camp?
    No, he was just coached by a proven loser. Who is now a proven loser AND a lame duck.
    Was his top-5 NFL RB injured for every snap he took? No, his #1 RB is simply not that good and is a bona-fide borderline 1st Round bust.
    Did Rivers play just a handful of games with his best WR’s?
    No, VJax played every game with his new contract and… now he plays for Tampa Bay. Robert Meachem is a 40-50 catch player for his career and Eddie Royal would be unknown had it not been for a couple games against… my Raiders during the era that just ended under the Simple Minded Panda and overlord Al.
    Speaking of defense… who’s been running the SD defense?
    Who really cares but I’ll bet all of his DC’s could pick their own coordinators and install their own systems.

    Rivers had all the engines firing that caused you guys to rate his poseur team as a Super Bowl contender… and he did what he always does with that rating: nothing.
    So again… why?
    Maybe, just maybe… He’s not that good and neither are the San Diego Chargers.

    Plus: Let’s see what happens now that mean ol’ Al isn’t suing all his partners. I’ll give you a hint: when you watch old clips of the mighty LaDanian “Jacket over a Ring” Tomlinson, watch with honest, open eyes, while Chris Dielman and Co. wrap their arms around the Oakland interior D-Line. Watch pass rushing DE’s get lifted off the ground with impunity. Good thing you won a Super Bowl when all that was goin… oh, yeah. Oops.

    San Diego is grossly overrated, even at middle of the road, but hey! At least we know football’s right around the corner!!!!

  19. oldtcs says: Jul 17, 2012 11:55 PM

    I can’t wait! AFC West looks like it will offer more of a challenge this year, and I think the Chargers will do better because of it.

    As for Philip Rivers, he is obviously an elite QB. After we got him some protection – Jared Gaither – he looked fine. I think the picks were due to him trying to make everything work, and despite the W/L results, look at what he was able to do.

    This year I think we are better off w/o VJ. He was a great weapon, but now defenses won’t be able to just double team him and take advantage of a weak blind side. Now with multiple threats (which we rarely ever had with VJ after Gates was hurt), and likely very improved D, I can’t wait!

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