Sometimes, in the never ending quest for excellence, you have to make unspeakable sacrifices. No matter at what personal cost, we, as humans, can sometimes do things we never thought possible, if something that important is at stake. That is why this week, I spent most of my free time on Bolt Beat, our sister site dedicated to, yes, the San Diego Chargers.
Now let me make one thing clear at the onset: Bolt Beat, as part of the FanSided.com family along with Arrowhead Addict, is a great site with smart writing and passionate fans. But being submerged in Charger-world for a week would make any Addict want to (a) shower; (b) crawl into a deep hole; and (c) get the heck back to Arrowhead Addict.
I decided to spend a week with the blue and yellow because I consider the Chargers our most immediate competition for the playoffs. My way-to-early prediction for next year’s division winners is:
- AFC East: New England Patriots
- AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals
- AFC South: Houston Texans
- AFC West: Denver Broncos
For the two wildcard spots, I think the following teams will be in contention:
- Baltimore Ravens
- Indianapolis Colts
- San Diego Chargers
- Kansas City Chiefs
The Ravens are a lock. The Colts will be even better than their surprise 11-5 record last year, but with a much, much tougher schedule. But the Chargers and Chiefs have two games with one another. A sweep by the Chiefs could push us into that 10-6 range that we’ll need to make it into the playoffs, and importantly, could close the door on the Bolts’ postseason hopes.
Here’s what I learned over at Bolt Beat.
New leadership: D.J. Fluker. The Chargers picked right tackle Fluker with the eleventh overall pick in the first round this year. Fluker is absolutely huge – 6’5” and 340 pounds – and could well be a perennial Pro Bowler at right tackle. Fluker also took charge at the rookie mini-camp last week. New Head Coach Mike McCoy said, “When you see kids that come from Alabama, the way they’ve been coached, he really was the leader out there on offense today. It’s great to see that because we need more guys like that. Very vocal. Very positive to everybody. (He) broke the team down at the end, and I didn’t ask him to. I wanted to see who would step up, and he stepped up without hesitation.” Chargers’ fans are ecstatic over Fluker, and with good reason.
Growth potential: wide receivers. Bolts fans are equally excited about their wide receiver corps. First and foremost, Vincent Brown is back this year from a season-ending broken ankle in 2012. He was a promising third round pick in 2011. McCoy said Brown is a “great route runner” and “very disciplined” at his position. Of course, Brown joins starters Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd, as well as four hundred year old tight end Antonio Gates (who has that Tony Gonzalez gene. Both those guys can probably play until they’re fifty). To make matters worse for us Addicts, San Diego also picked up running back and pass catcher Danny Woodhead in free agency, whom Bolts fans believe will be the next Darren Sproles. To round out the unit, the Chargers drafted Keenan Allen in the third round this year, although he has first round talent. Allen tore up his knee last year but will be ready for training camp. Needless to say, Charger fans are excited to have this set of weapons to receive passes from quarterback Philip Rivers.
The big worry: left tackle. The San Diego Chargers may have the worst left tackle situation in the National Football League, and that’s no exaggeration. They got skunked in free agency and the draft. This year’s starter may be right tackle King Dunlap. Or it may be Kevin Haslam. Or perhaps Mike Harris. The Bolts Beat is abuzz with desperation about the left tackle hole. The Chargers pushed hard to land Ravens’ left tackle Bryant McKinnie, but McKinnie re-signed with Baltimore. Now they are looking at 31 year-old Max Starks from the Steelers and have even brought in veteran right tackle Winston Justice, formerly of the Colts, for a look.
The Chargers were a decent defensive team last year, and rookie linebacker Manti Te’o will make them even better. They took great steps to upgrade key offensive positions in right tackle and wide receiver, and they still have Philip Rivers, who remains a top ten quarterback. But Chargers’ fans are freaking out about left tackle. I mean FREAKING OUT. Check out some of these posts:
"Well, BoltFam, I know this is a delicate topic [left tackle] we´re discussing here and we’re all not too amused about the current situation at this specific position."
"Unless the Chargers want to make a trade, it seems like we will be going into the season with King Dunlap as the starting left tackle and Kevin Haslam as the top backup on the left side. SCARY!"
"Just reading the report off of him [Dunlap], it sounds like he had a couple of AWFUL games. His pass protection is the best part of his game, but the consistency seems to be an issue. At least he won’t get Philip killed? Maybe?"
"This week, the Chargers hosted free agent (and recent super bowl winner) Left Tackle Bryant McKinnie, only to watch him leave and re-sign with the Baltimore Ravens. Chargers fans have been very concerned about the vacant hole at left tackle. Depth is needed, but San Diego does not have a lot of salary to spend on a coveted or premier left tackle."
It’s gotten so bad, Bolts’ fans are resorting to this:
"The San Diego Chargers currently have no permanent solution at the left tackle position. We have King Dunlap, Mike Harris and another undrafted free agent, Nick Becton who will hold down our left tackle position until otherwise noted. Or we can call up two-time Sumo World Champion, Ulambayaryn Byambajav! Byambajav, stands at 6’-1” and 350 pounds of pure meanness! He’s also entered over a hundred sumo competitions and has won nothing less than gold. See, now this guy knows what it means to be a champion!"
Hmmm…let’s see, Addicts. Who would be playing over the Chargers’ left tackle. Could that be…Tamba Hali?!!! If it’s Hali vs. Dunlap, I’m taking Hali ten times out of ten. This mismatch means that it just doesn’t matter what the Chargers did at right tackle, with their receiving corps and with their defense. Hali will be in Rivers’ face all day long, forcing sacks, hurries and interceptions. When they bring help over, that means Justin Houston and Dontari Poe get one-on-one coverage, forcing pressure from the Chargers’ right side as well as right up the middle. Gotta love it, Addicts!
Addicts, in a nutshell, I learned during my week in Bolt Beat that the Chargers strengthened key positions and their passing game has the potential to be downright scary, but they have a huge Achilles Heel at left tackle with little prospect of improvement. This week was ugly, it was difficult, sometimes it was downright gross, and yes, it was painful, but hopefully, we now all know a little bit more about one of our enemies. Addicts, what do you think are our chances of sweeping the Chargers this year??!!!