Offseason Six-Pack, Part I

Does Antonio Gates have another big season left in the tank? Will John Pagano's youth-infused defense force more takeaways in 2014? We tackle these and other questions in this offseason six-pack. Here is a look at Part I.

To check out the second installment of this exclusive Offseason Six-Pack, click here.

1. Can Frank Reich continue Ken Whisenhunt's success?

Ken Whisenhunt left Bolts fans with a bad taste in their mouths. He spent the week prior to the Divisional Round of the playoffs interviewing for head coaching jobs, only to come out and lay an egg in Denver, spending much of the first three quarters taking the ball out of the hands of his best player (Philip Rivers). But the fact remains Whisenhunt was a superb play-caller who established a balanced attack and surrounded Rivers with high-percentage options.

Reich is a first-time coordinator with big shoes to fill. He already has a nice rapport with Rivers and promises to be even more aggressive than Whisehunt (music to the ears of most San Diegans), but he must prove he can bring out the best in No. 17 the same way Whisenhunt did. Remember, the year before Whisenhunt arrived (2012), Rivers turned the ball over 22 times and had a completion percentage more than five percent worse than his league-best mark of a year ago (69.5).

2. Does Antonio Gates have another big season left in the tank?

It's tough to get a read on Gates' performance in 2013. The numbers -- 77 receptions for 872 yards -- show he was one of the four most productive tight ends in the league. But there were also obvious signs of slowing down. Gates averaged 11.3 yards per catch; just three seasons prior, he averaged 15.6 ypc.

Part of the reason Gates looked so ordinary was the emergence of Ladarius Green, who started making all the dynamic plays once authored by Gates. Green averaged an insane 22.1 yards per catch (best among tight ends with at least 10 receptions) and finished with just as many touchdowns as Gates (four) when factoring in the postseason.

Green appears to be Gates' heir apparent, but the Bolts will be much better off if they can get another season or two of strong production from both players. Their ability to control the middle of the field played a big role in the monster seasons by Rivers and Keenan Allen. Gates has two seasons left on his contract and it would be stellar to see him go out the right way, which has become an unfortunate rarity for Chargers greats.

3. Can the youth-infused defense force more takeaways?

The Chargers added young playmakers to their defense in every way imaginable. They selected CB Jason Verrett, OLB Jeremiah Attaochu and NT Ryan Carrethers early in the NFL Draft. They signed CB Brandon Ghee and ILB Kavell Conner in free agency. And they will get back CB Steve Williams, who missed all of 2013 with a pectoral injury, and OLB Melvin Ingram, who lost 12 games to an ACL injury.

The result should be a defense with much more speed and playmaking ability. That is good news for John Pagano, whose unit forced just 17 takeaways in 2013. The concern, though, is whether all the young defenders can assimilate quickly enough, particularly the 'backers and defensive backs. The onus is on vets Jarret Johnson, Dwight Freeney, Eric Weddle and Richard Marshall to take these young guys under their wings.

Will Gates finish with more yards than Green? Chat in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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