The Chargers have issues on all three levels of the defense. GM A.J. Smith will plug as many holes…
Bolts Notebook: Unit-by-Unit Analysis
Being so-so means keeping the status quo in San Diego.
The Chargers completed another disappointing season, but despite what was the prevailing opinion, general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner were retained.
Team president Dean Spanos decided continuity trumped another year of heartache as the Chargers missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
By winning four of their final five games, Spanos speculated that an upheaval would be counter-productive in a decision that was not popular with the fan base.
When Turner took over Marty Schottenheimer's 14-2 team for the 2007 season, he was promised as the coach to get the Chargers over the hump.
Instead it's been a gradual erosion of a team that was often mentioned among the elites to just an average team, going 17-15 the past two years.
Not only were the Chargers again out of the playoffs, but in the last four years they've claimed but one postseason win.
That had many clamoring for Smith's and Turner's hides. But 8-8 gets both another run with the Chargers' roster. Spanos promised though they both have to be open to tweaking their approaches.
"We need to do some things differently in coaching and in our personnel decisions moving forward," Spanos said. "Those are things we need to discuss. Staying the course with these individuals gives us the best chance to implement those changes and get ourselves back where we need to be."
They would likely already be there if not for a killer six-game losing streak. That erased a rare strong start (4-1) under Turner and with the Chargers unable to find the rip cord, cost them another playoff chance.
But quarterback Philip Rivers, who had an off year, was clear he wanted Turner to return. His voice seemed to hold sway with Spanos, and that was among the reasons Turner is back.
Smith has struggled with his recent drafts and has a personality which puts few in his corner. But he too was deemed too valuable to let go, by Spanos.
The Chargers have to get busy, rebuilding a roster that is showing frays around the starters and edges -- especially on defense. That side of the ball wasn't strong against physical teams and didn't have the speed to compete against the spread offense. There are huge holes that Smith has to fill, and he has to improve his moves that have painted the Chargers into their current corner.
Smith and Turner are smart enough to know they dodged a bullet with this year's stinker, one that is being swept aside as an injury-riddled aberration for Chargers football.
But really, the brand of Chargers football has slipped so much recently that going 8-8 in the watered-down AFC West got Smith and Turner's ticket punched for another season.
They're lucky. Now they have to be good.
NOTES AND QUOTES
--CB Quentin Jammer told a San Diego radio station some off-the-field issues clouded his play this season. Jammer seemed to get beat more regularly, especially late in the year. Jammer, who'll be in his 11th season next year, said he'll use his subpar play as motivation to return better in 2012.
--Chargers general manager A.J. Smith has been clear he's a draft-and-develop guy in building his roster. But his approach might have to change heading into next season. "In regards to free agency, my philosophy is not to recommend getting eight or nine guys at high dollars, but we're open-minded about players that are available," he said. "I don't know if that's going to change. But if the free-agent options are attractive, given the circumstances of our team and the vacancies we have, we're open to pursuing players in that way. There are lots of things we can do."
--The Chargers informed San Diego they plan on playing in Qualcomm Stadium in 2012. The Chargers have an annual window in which they must notify the city of its intentions for the following season. While rumored to go to Los Angeles if ever a stadium is constructed there, the team remains focused on a downtown site adjacent to Petco Park.
--Clarence Shelmon, 59, the team's offensive coordinator, resigned. He spent a decade with the Chargers and was the running backs coach from 2002-06. "I'm just done," Shelmon said in a statement. "You know when it's time. It's time for me to go and do some other things with my life." Shelmon's work goes back to his days with the Cowboys and Emmitt Smith. "Clarence was a big part of five AFC West championship teams and three playoff wins in San Diego," coach Norv Turner said, also in a statement. "His work ethic and dedication to this team go back a long time and he's had a positive effect on the many players he coached during his tenure here."
--Jimmy Raye, the team's director of player personnel, is interviewing for the Bears' opening at general manager. Raye, the son of the former longtime NFL coach, is thought to be among the NFL's bright young minds.
--It's believed two assistant's contracts are up in secondary coaches Chris Dishman and Steve Wilks. Wilks also serves as the assistant head coach, but has been passed over twice for the coordinator position.
--For those looking way ahead: Ex-Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer interviewed for the head-coaching vacancy with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Yep, Tampa Bay plays at San Diego next season -- wouldn't that be fun.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have a talented roster, but we didn't do a good enough job overcoming our obstacles." -- Coach Norv Turner on what went wrong in 2010.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers have been busy already, and that doesn't include the decision to retain Smith and Turner.
Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was fired, one year after promising to produce an aggressive, unit prone to force turnovers. Whether it was the players or the schemes can be argued, but regardless, Manusky is out.
Linebackers coach John Pagano was promoted to Manusky's post, a popular move in the locker room. Pagano has been a Chargers assistant, most notably with the linebackers, dating to 2002.
Offensive coordinator Clarence Shelmon is also gone, choosing to retire. Shelmon's input wasn't as significant as Manusky's, with Turner formulating the game plans and calling the plays.
On the free-agent front, the Chargers are faced with 19 significant players they need to decide about. Among them are Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson, their franchise player last season, and center Nick Hardwick. Running back Mike Tolbert and fullback Jacob Hester are also free agents.
QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Philip Rivers. Backup -- Billy Volek.
Rivers had another sensational season with 27 touchdowns and 4,624 passing yards. But that is eclipsed by 25 turnovers, including a career-high 20 interceptions. Rivers found his groove in the season's final quarter; before that he was dreadful while often trying to do too much and making some curious plays. Volek remains a viable backup.
RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Ryan Mathews. Backups -- Mike Tolbert, FB Jacob Hester, Curtis Brinkley.
Mathews spit out a 1,000-yard rushing season and nearly 1,600 yards from scrimmage. His consistency improved as a receiver and slightly so in pass protection. The Chargers hope his ball-security issues are behind him; he did lose two fumbles. Tolbert is the bruising change-of-pace option and solid in short-yardage situations. Hester's morphing into a fullback continued as he was steady but seldom spectacular. Keep an eye on Brinkley, especially if Tolbert leaves as a free agent.
TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Antonio Gates. Backups -- Randy McMichael, Kory Sperry.
The demise of Gates was exaggerated when he missed the season's first three games with a foot injury. He went on to start 13 and caught a team-high 64 passes and had seven touchdowns in a Pro Bowl season. McMichael went back into his blocking role and did well.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd. Backups -- Patrick Crayton, Vincent Brown, Richard Goodman, Bryan Walters.
Jackson led the team with nine touchdown catches and now we'll see if he returns. The free agent battled through some injuries and still caught 60 passes. Floyd was plagued by injuries again but averaged 20 yards on 43 catches. Brown is a keeper, and his playing time increased as the season wore on. Crayton might be gone; Goodman contributes as a returner.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Jared Gaither, LG Tyronne Green, C Nick Hardwick, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Jeromey Clary. Backups -- T Brandyn Dombrowski, G Stephen Schilling, C Colin Baxter, G Tony Moll. Injured reserve: LT Marcus McNeill, LG Kris Dielman, G Scott Mruczkowski.
No unit was ailing more with three landing on IR, including two Pro Bowlers. Gaither was a godsend when he arrived down the stretch and played well. But losing McNeill and Dielman, in particular, left the Chargers lost during their mid-season dive. With free agency and other issues, this group might have to be rebuilt starting from Hardwick and going left. Dielman, as well as Hardwick could retire and McNeill's health is a red flag.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Corey Liuget, NT Antonio Garay, RDE Vaughn Martin. Backups -- DE Jacques Cesaire, NT Cam Thomas, DE Tommie Harris. Injured reserve: DE Luis Castillo.
With Castillo going down in the opener, this was often a mix of youth and journeymen players holding down the fort. The lack of push was often taken out on the linebackers. There was little pass rush, even for a 3-4 alignment. Castillo could be an odd man out considering his salary and the infusion of younger players. Garay was steady, but the team could seek more production outside the roster.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Takeo Spikes, ILB Donald Butler, OLB Antwan Barnes. Backups -- OLB Travis LaBoy, OLB Darryl Gamble, ILB Na'il Diggs, OLB Everette Brown, ILB Bront Bird, ILB Nate Triplett. Injured reserve: OLB Larry English, ILB Stephen Cooper, ILB Jonas Mouton.
Without the consistent pressure off the edges, the backend paid the price. Phillips missed four games and parts of others; Barnes was a find with 11 sacks but he had to become an every-down player because of injuries. Larry English adds another chapter to a disappointing career; Travis LaBoy showed but one sack. Spikes delivered consistency and another 100-tackle season but his range is limited. Butler, in his first year after missing his rookie season, missed few snaps and more often than not was in the right spot. Cooper won't return; Mouton will.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Quentin Jammer, RCB Antoine Cason, FS Eric Weddle, SS Stephen Gregory. Backups -- FS Paul Oliver, CB Marcus Gilchrist, SS Darrell Stuckey, CB Dante Hughes. Injured reserve: SS Bob Sanders.
Cason and Gilchrist were swapping starting roles at one point with each getting beat often. Also Jammer's game faded late in the season; not sure if he rebounds next year or the Chargers need to look elsewhere. Weddle played well, tying for the league lead with seven interceptions. There remains a void at strong safety. Sanders won't be back.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nick Novak, P Mike Scifres, KR Richard Goodman, PR Patrick Crayton. Injured reserve: Nate Kaeding.
Novak set a team record for most field goals from at least 40 yards; Kaeding seems to believe his job will be waiting when he returns from his knee injury -- we'll see. Scifres remains solid and Goodman showed a spark, especially late. Punt-return game never did show a pulse.
Which players do the Chargers need to replace? Discuss in the message boards.
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