Ten Things We Learned: Chargers vs. Steelers

While disappointed with the way their season ended, the Bolts remain hopeful that lessons learned in 2008 will lead to more success in 2009. SDBoltReport.com takes a look at 10 things the Chargers learned in their season-ending loss to the Steelers, including analysis of what it all means for the offseason ahead.

1. LaDainian Tomlinson attempted a career-low 292 rushes this season, and the Chargers may look to drag that number even lower in 2009. LT, who will be 30 before training camp opens, has suffered injuries late in each of the last two seasons. Whether it's a re-signed Darren Sproles or an acclimated Michael Bennett, look for the No. 2 back to do some heavy lifting.

2. The fullback role lacks an identity in San Diego's offense. Rookies Jacob Hester and Mike Tolbert are better receivers than lead-blockers, yet they spent the bulk of their time performing the latter task. The Chargers must add a battering-ram type of fullback or switch to the two-tight end set as the base offense.


OT Jeromey Clary
Jeff Gross/Getty

3. The right side of the offensive line, which yielded four sacks in two playoff games, needs to be completely revamped. OG Mike Goff is an unrestricted free agent and OT Jeromey Clary lacks the consistency to be a starter. The Chargers will seek outside help in the offseason, Scott Mruczkowski and Corey Clark could be in the mix as well.

4. Malcom Floyd's needs a consistent role in the offense. Floyd came on strong in the middle of the season, catching 27 passes for 465 yards between Weeks 6 and 15, yet was unable to work his way back into the rotation after recovering from a lung injury prior to the playoffs. Floyd faces an uphill battle because of the San Diego's intrigue with younger receivers Legedu Naanee and Buster Davis.

5. Igor Olshansky is an unrestricted free agent who will not return. The Chargers will look to bring in a replacement with more pass-rushing skills after Olshansky bagged only 11 sacks in his five-year career. This need is especially pressing since Luis Castillo started spending more time at nose tackle in the nickel defense.

6. The Chargers must get better play at the inside linebacker spot next to Stephen Cooper, but the answer is likely to come from inside the organization. The team intends to leave the job open to competition in what will be the first legitimate four-way battle in recent memory. Matt Wilhelm, Tim Dobbins, Brandon Siler and Anthony Waters can each make a case for the first-string gig.


LB Antwan Applewhite
Jeff Gross/Getty

7. Even with the expected return of Shawne Merriman, the Chargers need another pass-rushing outside linebacker. Marques Harris is an unrestricted free agent and Jyles Tucker and Antwan Applewhite are both coming off underwhelming years. Keep an eye on Eric Bakhtiari, a first-year player out of USD who spent 2008 on the practice squad.

8. Expect the merry-go-round at safety to continue. In his six-year stint as GM, A.J. Smith has already whiffed with safety signings Kwame Lassiter (2003), Bhawoh Jue (2005) and Marlon McCree (2006). Nonetheless, he'll have to dive back into the water this offseason, as Clinton Hart was a huge disappointment while playing in the first year of a new five-year contract.

9. The Chargers cannot allow Antonio Cromartie to go into next season as an unchallenged starter, not after his halfhearted performance in 2008. The challenge could come from Antoine Cason or Cletis Gordon, but Cro' will not be permitted to skate by without showing more discipline and physicality.

10. The Chargers have shown interest in the past in bringing in a kickoff specialist and could revisit that idea this offseason. For one thing, this year's playoff run provided a good lesson in the importance of field position. For another thing, Nate Kaeding has been forced to kick through injuries in the last two postseasons.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and 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 15 years and covered the team since 2003.


SD Super Chargers Top Stories

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