The Chargers opted to bring back nearly the same exact coaching staff that led them to a 9-7 season the previous year. One key addition though will be former Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, stepping in as the linebacker coach. Nolan brings experience having served as a defensive coordinator for seven different NFL teams and a head coaching stint for four years in San Francisco.
In addition to Nolan, the Chargers also added Chris Shula as a defensive quality control coach. Grandson of coaching legend Don Shula, Chris previously worked as the defensive coordinator for John Carroll University.
Players In and Out
Graphic via footballfannetwork
In free agency the Chargers lost two key offensive play-makers in Eddie Royal and Ryan Matthews. Royal led all Chargers wide outs with 7 touchdowns as a reliable pass catcher for Philip Rivers. Matthews however, only managed to play in six games last season living up to his injury prone reputation. Despite being their most talented back, the Chargers opted to let him test the FA market where he signed with Philadelphia.
In order to replace the loss of Eddie Royal, the Chargers signed 28 year old WR Stevie Johnson. Stevie is an interesting pickup as he has proven that he is capable of putting up borderline number one receiver numbers in his time with Buffalo. He is a shifty street-ball style route runner, great at creating separation. After two poor seasons he was a bargain signing for the Chargers and should mesh very well with Rivers.
By far the biggest pickup in free agency was coveted guard Orlando Franklin. Franklin was given just over 7 million a year and will step in as a key cog in the Chargers line at left guard. Franklin is also versatile enough to kick out to tackle if needed. With the arrival of Franklin, the Chargers cut last years starter Chad Rhinehart, freeing up 3.25 million in cap space.
On defense, the Chargers most significant loss was safety Marcus Gilchrist. He started every game for them, but overall should be easily replaced. For the money he received, San Diego was wise to move on from him. Sticking in the secondary they did not resign CB Shareece Wright, who played a significant role for them, but was constantly burned. In addition, they lost some linebacker depth in Dwight Freeney, Reggie Walker and Andrew Gachkar.
Although they did not make any big signings for their defense they addressed both defensive line and defensive back depth signing defensive lineman Mitch Unrein, along with defensive backs Patrick Robinson and Jimmy Wilson. Unrein comes over from AFC West rivals the Denver Broncos, he is a backup run stuffer that can also play fullback if needed. Patrick Robinson was a former first round pick of the Saints, he’s inconsistent, but when at his best is a reliable starting corner. Robinson should fill in as the number three corner behind Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett. Lastly, Jimmy Wilson has served as a safety and cornerback for the Dolphins since 2011. He will compete with 3rd year player Jahleel Addae to replace Marcus Gilchrist.
The final notable free agent signing for the Chargers is KR/PR Jacoby Jones. Although he is not as dangerous as he used to be, Jones is still a quality return man and will provide an upgrade over Eddie Royal. He can also contribute on offense and will compete with Dontrelle Inman for the number four receiver spot.
The Chargers started off their draft by replacing free agent Ryan Matthews, using the 15th overall pick on Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon. Gordon is a talented back with the speed to run by defenders and the power to run over them. He is also a talented NFL ready pass catcher out of the backfield. If he can continue to develop as a pass blocker, Gordon has the ability to be a three down back. He will be a candidate to lead all rookies in rushing.
With their 2nd pick, they chose Miami MLB Denzel Perryman. After selecting Manti Te’o the previous year, the Chargers once again made inside linebacker a high priority. Perryman is a physical run stopping linebacker, but will struggle with his range covering sideline to sideline. He could eventually compete to handle early down work.
In the 3rd round the Chargers selected Texas State CB Craig Mager. Mager is a physical corner who is very good in run support. He has 4.4 speed to stay with receivers, but needs to work on his ball skills. He will compete for snaps at cornerback in dime packages.
With their final two picks the Chargers stuck to defense using a 5th round pick on OLB Kyle Emanuel and 6th round pick on DT Darius Philon. Emmanuel out of North Dakota St, is the reigning FCS defensive player of the year. He dominated as a pass rusher and edge setter against poor competition, so may need some time to adjust to the NFL. Arkansas DT Darius Philon, is an explosive quick defensive tackle. He is undersized though and needs to put on weight, he may also play outside as a defensive end.
Preseason Players to Watch
Three Chargers that need to have strong preseasons are Dontrelle Inman, Manti Te’o and Brandon Oliver.
At 6’3 Dontrelle Inman is a big receiver who signed with the Chargers in 2014 after dominating the CFL. He finished his season with a bang racking up 70 yards plus over the final two games of the year, with Keenan Allen injured. He is competing with Austin Pettis and Jacoby Jones for snaps behind Allen, Stevie Johnson and Malcolm Floyd. Inman will need a strong preseason to guarantee his roster spot and win snaps in four WR sets.
Manti Te’o struggled his rookie season with the Chargers and by no means is his starting job safe. The Chargers selected ILB Denzel Perryman in the 2nd round which is not exactly a vote of confidence in Manti. Many believe that he just does not posses NFL speed and he needs to step up big this preseason to hold off Perryman.
Lastly, Brandon Oliver surprised with the Chargers last year as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Buffalo. He gained over 850 yards and received comparisons to Darren Sproles due to his quickness and hands out of the backfield. While Oliver does not quite the feet of Sproles, he has more power and the ability to finish off runs. He is currently on the outside looking in competing with Donald Brown for early down work behind Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead for third down work. It is important that Oliver plays well to try and earn touches in a crowded backfield.
Graphic via rantsports