By Dan McLellan / Photos by Brevin Blach
The Chargers stand to hold their ground as a post-season contender this year, thanks to a slew of new defensive players.
Last year, the Bolts' defensive backs were fourth worst in the league in two key stats: opponents' completion percentage (66.4) and passing yards allowed (4,139). With only 35 recorded sacks (just four more than the league low), the Chargers' defensive front allowed opposing quarterbacks plenty of time to unleash the ball.
During the draft, general manager Tom Telesco selected cornerback Jason Verrett (round one pick; 25th overall) and outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (round two; 50th). Both bring playmaking speed and athleticism.
Telesco also signed veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers , who made the Pro Bowl last season, but was cut by the Chiefs due to salary-cap restraints. Starting cornerback Shareece Wright welcomes competition.
"It makes us better," says Wright.
Veteran leadership should help the D-line in the '14-'15 season. Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney - a 13-year vet with seven Pro Bowl selections - is back after a quad injury. Inside linebacker Manti Te'o struggled with a foot injury in his rookie campaign, but has since impressed his training camp teammates with fast, instinctual play.
Although the Chargers offense shined in 2013, the team looks forward to changes as well. Chris Watt (round three, 89th overall) is poised to replace Jeromey Clary as a starter at right guard on the offensive line. Running back Donald Brown (free agent, Colts), whose style of play is a hybrid of Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead , was signed to add depth.
"My number is going to be called eventually," Brown says. "To what capacity, I don't know. No one ever does know, so when your number is called, just make the best of each and every opportunity."
The return of wide receiver Malcom Floyd gives the offense another dynamic weapon. In week 2, Floyd suffered a serious neck injury against the Eagles. "I knew I could still play at a high level and I didn't give up," Floyd says. "I wanted to get back to playing at that high level again."
Floyd comments on the benefit of added talent.
"You have to have depth," Floyd says. "Injuries are going to come. You have to have guys who will step up and are ready to go out there and make plays. We've got that at every position, which is exciting and encouraging."
The AFC West promises to be a tough division and the rest of the schedule is packed with difficult games. Even with an improved roster, making the playoffs will be no easy task.
Prediction: At 10-6, the Chargers will return to the playoffs as a wildcard team.