The Chargers' line has struggled in run blocking the past two years, while being above average to very good pass blocking. Last year, the trouble started on the right side with Mike Goff, who seemed to have lost a step (not LT!). At right tackle, Jeromey Clary struggled to show he deserved to be a starter in the NFL.
On the positive side, center Nick Hardwick, left guard Kris Dielman, and left tackle Marcus MacNeill are poised to have strong seasons. Hardwick came back from a serious injury last year and was slow to start. MacNeill had a severe neck injury that limited him all season.
So far this preseason, the run blocking has not clicked and is looking much like last year. The team has made some excuses: the other teams were blitzing and stunting, the rookie Louis Vasquez started last week, the full backs are still learning their positions...Whatever the problems, the Chargers have not achieved that special synergy of moving parts needed to make the run game work. They'd better figure it out soon or once again we'll all be wonder why "the most talented team in football" is losing games they "should" win.
It seems like the offensive line is the area where AJ Smith saves money, gambling on lower round guys more often instead of paying more for talent or choosing guys higher up in the draft. There may be something to this strategy; it's harder for a late-round lineman to prove his individual worth years later than a late-round running back whose talents become obvious (see Darren Sproles). However, when you gamble on late-rounders, sometimes you lose. Will the gamble on Clary turn out to be a fatal flaw for the Chargers in 2009?
Watch Clary this Saturday in Atlanta to see he shows any improvement over last season. If he has another bad outing, how can the coaches and GM keep defending him and not admit their mistake?
At right guard, AJ Smith brought in a free agent from Atlanta, Kynan Forney. The coaches have raved about him in practice. I didn't see a great deal from him in the first preseason game against the Seahawks. The Chargers appeared to get dominated in the trenches that game. Forney was injured and didn't play last week against Arizona. He should play this week. See what he does on running plays. So far he seems like just a "guy" though, nothing special.
The Chargers drafted rookie Louis Vasquez in the 3rd round from the run-n-shoot offense of Texas Tech. He looks like a strong and talented athlete, but starting last week, he also looked like a rookie, getting confused and beat badly a few times. The jury is still out.
This unit must show drastic improvement for the Chargers to push to the Super Bowl this season.