To check out the first installment of this exclusive Offseason Six-Pack, click here.
4. Can Corey Liuget make the leap to the Pro Bowl?
Eric Weddle finally made his way into the NFL's Top 100 list, but Liuget is the best player on San Diego's defense. Over the last two seasons, he has produced 93 tackles, 12.5 sacks, 10 QB hurries, 11 pass break-ups and two forced fumbles. He comes up with big plays in big moments, such as hitting Peyton Manning's arm late in San Diego's Week 15 win in Denver, forcing an interception that sealed the win for the road team.
The Chargers now have more outside pass-rushing threats, which should free Liuget from the constant double-teams he faced last season. The addition of the space-eating rookie NT Ryan Carrethers should help, as well. Entering his fourth season, it is time for Liuget to deliver a breakout year and establish himself as one of the game's top interior pass rushers. If he can do that, he will lift San Diego's defense into the top half of the rankings and likely earn himself a nice new contract in the process.
5. Can the Chargers continue their success against playoff-caliber teams?
The Chargers went 5-2 last season against teams that went on to make the playoffs. Their two defeats came in Week 10 against the Broncos (a loss the Chargers redeemed in Week 15) and in Week 13 versus the Bengals (a defeat San Diego atoned for in the first round of the playoffs). Mike McCoy's group will have to be similarly successful in 2014 to make a return trip to the postseason.
The Chargers will play seven games against teams that made the playoffs in 2013, including two each against the Broncos and Chiefs. There are also games against the Ravens and Dolphins -- teams the Chargers inched by in Week 17 -- and the Cardinals, who had a better regular-season record than San Diego.
There are two soft spots in the schedule: Weeks 3-6 and 9-13 offer four-game spans of games against teams who missed last year's playoffs. But the Chargers will have to post a winning record against winning teams to improve on their 9-7 record of a season ago.
6. Will a dynamic kick returner emerge from the bunch?
In a perfect world, a young kick returner will emerge and bring a spark to the special teams. The hope is that sixth-round pick Marion Grice answers the bell, but the all-purpose back from Arizona State will have competition. Receivers Dontrelle Inman and Brelan Chancellor, along with rookie CB Chris Davis, aim to shine returning kicks in the preseason in hopes of sneaking onto the 53-man roster.
If none of the above players proves ready, Coach McCoy will have to choose from a crop of vets that includes Eddie Royal, Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead and Eric Weddle. But rather than expose core contributors to further risk of injury, McCoy would prefer to hands the keys to a dynamic youngster ... if one proves himself ready.
Will Liuget make the Pro Bowl this season? Discuss inside the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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.
Offseason Six-Pack, p. II
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