Chargers Off-Season Forecast

The San Diego Chargers began their off-season with a clear forecast. Possession of the first overall pick in an excellent draft class called for sunny skies. The outlook remained bright with the hiring of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator. Talented underclassmen such as Ben Roethlisberger, Larry Fitzgerald and Mike Williams dove into the draft pot, keeping the skies above nice and blue. But some of the Chargers' surprising personnel decisions have cast a cloud overhead.<br><br>Or have they?

The Cuts

The off-season began with the Chargers ridding themselves of overpaid, oft-injured, or underachieving players. Players such as Cory Raymer, Vaughn Parker, Stephen Alexander, and Raylee Johnson were released. Examples of performances not equaling cap numbers. An obvious sign of the continued youth movement in San Diego.

Raymer has signed a minimal contract with the Redskins, who'd sign Aunt Jemima if she passed the physical. Johnson has signed with the AFC West rival Denver Broncos, he'll be sure to save his two best games for showdowns against his former team. Stephen Alexander has a frightful injury history, which has scared teams away. It's doubtful, but not inconceivable, for him to get another shot in lightning bolts. Parker may be realizing that the grass isn't always greener. Especially, for a 33 year old coming off a knee injury. He may just find himself back with the Chargers, and probably end up fending off the challengers for the starting right tackle position, again.

In what outsiders view as a cap-related move, Marcellus Wiley, one of the few high-profile talents on the team, was cut. A closer look reveals the move had less to do with the salary-cap, and more to do with a lack of production and leadership. Publicly questioning the head coach by calling for a new quarterback, especially when Marty Schottenheimer is that coach, didn't help his cause.

You could make a case that the release of Marcellus Wiley was a breath of fresh air. The green defense needed a leader, and nobody was more qualified then "Dat Dude". But he left the impression that he'd rather be a piece of the puzzle, and not the glue that held it together. Replacing his three sacks, and questionable football passion, won't be impossible. The Chargers switch to the 3-4 eases the blow. Wiley could be much better as a Cowboy, but something wasn't clicking for him in San Diego. Unless you're counting television appearances.

The Signings

The Chargers stayed away from the big-name free agents this time around. After past experiences, this could prove to be a wise decision.

Steve Foley was a linebacker the Chargers targeted to fill a specific role in the new defensive alignment. They will play to his strength (something unheard of the past two seasons) – mainly turning him loose on opposing quarterbacks. He's penciled in as the starter at the WILL linebacker spot, but may see competition in the form of a rookie. Foley backed up in Houston, but was an effective starter while with the Bengals. Foley has had some injuries but he's ready to go.

Mike Goff was recruited to man the right guard position. He's an immediate upgrade to a unit that desperately needs it, but most importantly he's durable. Goff may never make the Pro-bowl or wow with his athleticism or pass blocking, but he'll open holes in the run game, fight you tooth-and-nail, stick up for his teammates, and play to the whistle. His tenacity, ironically, is reminiscent to Jason Ball, his new left-hand man.

Leander Jordan was lured in to add depth and possibly challenge for a starters spot along the offensive line. Once a prospect held in high regard, Jordan has yet to find his niche in the NFL. He's come to the right place. In San Diego he will be tutored by Hudson Houck, who is widely considered the best offensive line coach in the league. Jordan was the back-up left tackle in Jacksonville last season, but can fill in at guard as well. It should be noted that Jordan was pushing Mike Pearson for the left tackle spot prior to last season. He has some talent to go with his versatility. Can he put it all together in San Diego?

Randall Godfrey signed with the Chargers, potentially rounding out the starting linebacker core. Godfrey has been one of the leagues top inside linebackers, and provides a perfect compliment to Donnie Edwards in the middle of the new 3-4 defense. Godfrey's physical presence and run-stuffing ability seem to mix well with Edwards speed and coverage skills. But there's an if: Godfrey has had some recent injury trouble. If he can stay healthy, Godfrey may have the biggest impact of all.

Kevin Dyson is the latest sigh of relief. He's a former first rounder with good size (6-1/ 200). He's been productive as a second option, but has never established himself as a #1 receiver. His signing helps ease the blow of the Boston trade but doesn't erase the need for a legitimate first option. He's had injury trouble but this is a great pick-up. Dyson's signing is low-risk in that it was a one-year deal. Dyson brings experience, and should combine with Tim Dwight, Reche Caldwell, Eric Parker, and Kassim Osgood to make for some healthy training camp battles. The Charger's should take advantage of the draft's deep receiver group. Larry Fitzgerald, The Williams trio, Rashaun Woods, Lee Evans, Michael Clayton, and Michael Jenkins are first-round talents, but one or two of them may slip to the second stanza where the Chargers will be waiting (provided they don't snag Fitzgerald or one of the Williams' in the first round).

The theme for the Charger's off-season pick-ups thus far have been cap-friendly contracts to high character players with something to prove. Foley wants to prove that he's healthy and still the player he was before an injury derailed his career. Goff must prove that he can be an effective leader on an inexperienced line, and succeed without the help of Willie Anderson and Rich Braham next to him. Jordan looks to prove that his talent is no fluke, and that he is indeed worthy of a starting role. Godfrey's looking to prove he can stay healthy, and maintain a high level of play as he approaches the big 32. Dyson would like to prove his health, and that if given another chance-he'll get that extra yard and a half.

Coming Tuesday: Part II, the Boston trade, team chemistry, and some draft thoughts.

Will Mortensen can be reached at will@sandiegosports.net

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