Bisaccia's Units Face Big Issues

New special teams coach Rich Bisaccia comes to San Diego with a sterling résumé. Less impressive is the unheralded group of "third phase" players he is about to inherit. Bisaccia will need to coach up some young talent, and fast, to avoid another disaster.

The Chargers were historically bad on special teams in 2010. San Diego became the first team in history to allow four blocked punts and four kick-return TDs in the same season -- no one else is close -- and ceded an NFL record 18.9 yards per punt return.

The reasons for the horrendous showing are varied. Injuries forced the Chargers to constantly shuffle the backend of their roster, which affected the special teams more than any other area. It also necessitated the promotion of many young players before they were ready, a risky move that backfired all too often.

"We made great strides through the middle stretch of the season," Norv Turner said. "We won four in a row and we actually played awfully well in the kicking game for three quarters. Then it went bad. We have to look at all the things we can to address that and get better."

One of the things the Chargers must do is make more of an effort to retain their elite special teams players. In the A.J. Smith era, special-teams stalwarts Kassim Osgood, Hanik Milligan and Carlos Polk were all run off unceremoniously despite being among the best in the league at covering kicks.

SS Quinton Teal
Jack Dempsey/AP
This year's equivalent is Quinton Teal, a fourth-year veteran who didn't re-join the Chargers until October (he was released after training camp), yet finished with 12 tackles on special teams. Teal will likely be a free agent, as will fellow special-teams star Kelley Washington.

Another issue is San Diego's best cover men are taking on bigger roles elsewhere.

Jacob Hester is the starting fullback and is coming off a season in which he set a career-high in rushing attempts and caught more passes than the previous two years combined. Mike Tolbert is splitting halfback duties with Ryan Mathews and punched in a team-leading 11 touchdowns. And Brandon Siler, assuming he returns as a free agent, could move into a starting role if fellow free agents Kevin Burnett or Stephen Cooper depart.

Bisaccia would prefer to ease the burden on these players. To do so, he needs big efforts from second-year players Donald Butler, Darrell Stuckey and Brandon Lang.

"Rich's special teams have had success in this league," Turner said. "He's been with Tampa Bay for nine years and their teams have been consistently good to excellent."

There is also the issue of San Diego's return game. Main return man Darren Sproles is a free agent not likely to return. Antoine Cason flashed the ability to thrive on punt returns, but Norv Turner is uncomfortable exposing his starting cornerback to so many hits. Next in line for an opportunity is Patrick Crayton, who has returned 113 punts in his career with an average return of 9.6 yards.

As for kickoffs, WR Buster Davis is an option, unless the team releases him for his inability to survive a 16-game season. RB Curtis Brinkley can also return kickoffs.

Bisaccia should be able to get the most out of whoever returns kicks. Last season, his Buccaneers ranked No. 8 in kickoff return average (24.3 yards per return).

Perhaps Bisaccia's toughest decision will come at long snapper. David Binn, the franchise leader in games played, would like to return after missing most of last year with a hamstring injury. However, rookie LS Mike Windt played well in Binn's stead, stopping the carousel at that position and giving the Chargers a younger, cheaper option than the 38-year-old Binn.

Can Bisaccia clean up the mess in San Diego? Talk about it in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and also a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on Twitter.

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