Rivers had one of the top 10 passing seasons of all time and continues to flourish under coach Norv Turner and his system. Few NFL players were asked to do more than Rivers in digging his team out of holes and he usually came through. Rivers threw for 4,710 yards; it was his third straight 4,000-yard season. He had a 101.8 rating which was second-best in the NFL. Volek could be moving on, if seeking a starting job.
RUNNING BACKS: Starters -- RB Ryan Mathews. Backups -- RB Mike Tolbert, RB Darren Sproles, FB Jacob Hester, FB Billy Latsko.
Tolbert was a blessing with 11 touchdown rushes as he morphed from a fullback into a running back. Mathews, for the most part, was a big tease as he showed flashes, then would fumble or be idle with a bum ankle -- pass protection remains a red flag as well. But he did rush for 120 yards and two touchdowns in the final game which is something he can build on. Sproles was used mostly as a receiver; Hester, now a fullback, was serviceable. Sproles averaged 5.3 yards on 50 carries but didn't have any touchdowns. He did catch 59 passes for two touchdowns.
TIGHT ENDS: Starters -- Antonio Gates, Randy McMichael. Backups -- Kris Wilson.
Gates was en route to his best season and that is saying something for someone with his Hall of Fame resume. But a foot injury derailed his season; he valiantly played through in some instances but he was never close to 100 percent. He did have a team-high 10 scoring catches. He should be OK next summer, but his feet remain a concern. McMichael (20 receptions, two scores) gave the Chargers a huge lift in replacing Gates and showed why he was a former starter in this league. Wilson was asked mostly asked to block.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd. Backups -- Patrick Crayton, Legedu Naanee, Seyi Ajirotutu, Kelley Washington, Gary Banks, Buster Davis.
WR Patrick Crayton
G Newman Lowrance/Getty
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Marcus McNeill, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Jeromey Clary. Backups -- G Tyronne Green, T Brandyn Dombrowski, C/G Scott Mruczkowski.
McNeill was late getting in with contract issues but played well once he showed up. Dielman was his nasty old self, meaning he was heading to another Pro Bowl. Hardwick, after missing 13 games last year, supplied the anchor and smarts to get this group clicking. Vasquez's season was up and down with an injury, but Green showed well in replacing him. Dombrowski's stock went way up with his play when subbing for McNeill and protecting Rivers' blind side.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DRE Luis Castillo, NT Antonio Garay, DLE Jacques Cesaire. Backups -- NT Cam Thomas, NT Ogemdi Nwagbuo, DE Travis Johnson, NT/DE Vaughn Martin.
Garay was a big plus along the interior of the line that had been in flux for more than a season. Garay had 5.5 sacks and delivered some energy up front. The Chargers did get run on up the middle on occasion, and Garay and others have to take some blame here. The players on the edges remain solid if far from spectacular. Castillo will never please everyone and that was true again this year -- he did have 2.5 sacks. Cesaire is seen more of a backup, but held his own as a starter. Thomas and Martin continue to be groomed; Thomas is coming along faster. Johnson had trouble staying fit.
LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Kevin Burnett, ILB Stephen Cooper, OLB Larry English. Backups -- ILB Brandon Siler, OLB Antwan Applewhite, OLB Antwan Barnes, ILB Darry Beckwith, OLB Brandon Lang, ILB Donald Butler, ILB James Holt, OLB Jyles Tucker, OLB Kion Wilson.
Phillips was the key here, especially when Shawne Merriman wasn't able to contribute and was released. Phillips had 11 sacks and had a solid year. Burnett (six sacks) had a career season and could have earned another year with the Chargers. Cooper could be wearing out as the inside was often exposed on runs; he had a persistent knee injury. English continues to disappoint as this former first-rounder can't avoid foot injuries or supply the rush they were hoping for off the edge. Barnes (four sacks) was a surprise and in a good way.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- LCB Antoine Cason, RCB Quentin Jammer, SS Steve Gregory, FS Eric Weddle. Backups -- RCB Dante Hughes, LCB Donald Strickland, SS Paul Oliver, FS Tyronne Carter, FS Darrell Stuckey, SS Quinton Teal, S Pat Watkins.
Cason in his first year as a starter held up well although he had a key blunder down the stretch. Jammer supplied his veteran play, which meant he seldom made a mistake. The safety play was good as Weddle continues to improve although some still wonder if he can be physical enough for what the Chargers are seeking. Gregory had to serve a suspension and then had a mediocre season. Hughes and Strickland had their moments, but their spots aren't safe. Stuckey saw the field in but one game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nate Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, KR/PR Darren Sproles, PR Antoine Cason, LS Mike Windt, LS David Binn, LS James Dearth, LS Ryan Neill.
Kaeding was 23-of-28 on field goals; he was injured for some of the year but got his strength back toward the season's end. Scifres was saddled by punting for one of the worst special-teams blocking in NFL history. He averaged 46.7 yards. Sproles never showed the spark on returns he was once known for; he was still decent. Cason looked good returning punts on occasion averaging 16.5 yards on 14 returns. The Chargers used four long snappers because of injuries.
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