Nowhere to Run
San Diego's offensive line could not open a running lane against the Jets. Despite being tackled for a loss just once, the Chargers finished with only 61 net rushing yards on 18 rushing plays -- an average of 3.4 yards per attempt.
Now the question remains: How will the they improve the run blocking? Everyone on the left side of the line has played in at least one Pro Bowl. Marcus McNeill figures to be a restricted free agent in-line for a long-term contract. Kris Dielman is already locked up through 2012 and Nick Hardwick is in ink till 2011. Louis Vasquez played well as a rookie at right guard, leaving right tackle as the only spot easy to upgrade.
The key is Jeromey Clary, who missed the final six games of the season with an ankle injury and is scheduled to be a restricted free agent. If the Chargers bring back Clary it signals no significant changes will be made to the line, as Brandyn Dombrowksi will be no worse than the No. 3 tackle next season. However, the Chargers could elect to let Clary walk and replace him via the draft or with a free agent such as Levi Jones or Langston Walker.
The Chargers are still developing some young players on the line including OT Corey Clark and OG Tyronne Green.
Nice Knowing You
The Chargers' defensive line really started to gel as the season wore on, ranking No. 10 against the run over the final 11 weeks of the season. At the conclusion of Sunday's game, in which the Jets piled up 169 rushing yards, the linemen left the locker room knowing San Diego's defensive line will receive a complete makeover in the offseason.
Travis Johnson, Ian Scott, Alfonso Boone and Antonio Garay will all be free agents; there's a real chance none of them will return. Luis Castillo, Jacques Cesaire and Vaughn Martin will all be back, as will the three nose tackles who finished the season on injured-reserve: Jamal Williams, Ryon Bingham and Ogemdi Nwagbuo.
The Chargers also figure to add at least one defensive lineman through the draft, preferably someone who can rush the passer. Castillo, Cesaire and Martin combined for just three sacks this season.
The First Shall Be Last
GM A.J. Smith is hardly on a hot steak when it comes to first-round draft picks. His 2007 first-round pick, WR Buster Davis, was inactive for every game this season except for the meaningless season finale. His 2008 first-rounder, Antoine Cason, lost his nickel-back job and still found a way to negatively impact Sunday's game against the Jets, drawing a hands-to-the-face penalty on the punt-return team. And 2009 first-round pick Larry English finished the season with just two sacks and was a complete non-factor the second half of the season.
Things won't get easier for Smith this year, as the Chargers will have the No. 28 overall pick. The last time the Chargers picked No. 28 was in 2005 when Smith used the second of two first-round picks on DE Luis Castillo (Shawne Merriman was selected 16 picks earlier). That 2005 draft once looked promising, although it's incredible that Merriman and Castillo combined for four times as many sacks in 2006 (24) as they did in 2009 (six).
What are Bolts fans saying about the loss? Find out in the message boards.
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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.
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