The wounds of last season have healed slowly, leaving scars of skepticism and new questions for the San Diego Chargers in 2010:
- Was is it all LT's fault last season? After hearing the Union Tribune's constant droning in 2009 about how the The League and the Chargers had changed and running the ball was simply no longer a priority, they released LT then went out and picked Ryan Matthews in the first round. This implies running the ball actually is important, but the lack of change on the offensive line, in coaching or personell, would imply someone (Norv and/or AJ) has actually made the calculation that last year's atrocious running game was actually LT's fault.
- Will Ryan Matthews live up to the hype? This guy is talented and tough. He ran through and over defenders at Fresno State, which caused some injury and concussion problems toward the end of his collegiate career. Will he hold up in the NFL? The Chargers hope the answer is "yes." The preseason may be telling if Norv gives Matthews a real chance to show his stuff.
- Will the offensive line be exposed as the "real" problem when an aging LT isn't around to blame anymore? There appeared to be no push and no holes last year against even the most mediocre of defenses. What has changed this year? Oh, the team has refused to sign their best young lineman, Marcus McNeill, bringing us to our next question.
- Has AJ Smith grown even more arrogant and overconfident, letting this team take a step backwards by forcing a holdout of Marcus McNeill, Vincent Jackson and Shawne Merriman(although there are reports Merriman is signing as this goes to press)? Or is he simply smart and tough, figuring he has these three over a barrel and they will have to report for the sake of their careers?
- Will the receiver corps suffer without Vincent Jackson? None of the remaining receivers contain both the size and speed of Jackson. Buster Davis is often injured and seems more of a prototypical slot receiver rather than a wideout. Malcolm Floyd has the height and pass catching ability of Jackson, but lacks the pure speed to stretch the field. Legedu Naanee is big and athletic, but also not as fast as Jackson. Will teams be able to stack the box with safeties even more if no speedy deep threat emerges?
- And the defense....Who will fill that final safety spot? The promising rookie, Darrel Stuckey or will the job default back to the average but gritty Steve Gregory? Will the team regret letting go of Antonio Cromartie at corner, or will Antione Cason provide more reliability and run stopping stoutness? Will the new free agents, Vasher and Strickland provide the solid experience lacking in the nickel and dime packages of previous years?
- Can the front seven regain its pass rush and run stopping swagger? Is Merriman done, or about to return to form? Is Ron Rivera simply not knowledgeable enough to run the 3-4 defense properly (like Wade Phillips)?
- Lastly, will the Chargers dominate a befuddled AFC West again this year only to get out coached, out-physicaled, or out kicked (Kaeding!) in the playoffs once again?
We'll be exploring all of these questions in depth as well as breaking down the preseason games over the next four weeks. I hope you tune in. Broken heart or not, it's going to be an interesting season.