Chargers Excited Without Jackson?

The San Diego Chargers are excited about their offense without top WR Vincent Jackson? The AFC West powerhouse is looking to get back in the playoffs, and they may have found the solution to their recent woes.

Chargers quietly amped about potential of new-look passing game
Len Pasquarelli, The Sports Xchange

There's little doubt that the San Diego Chargers will struggle at times to replace wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who departed in free agency after a couple fractured years, landing a big-dollar contract with Tampa Bay. Jackson, after all, epitomized what the San Diego passing game was all about: a big, rangy, physical wide receiver whose size and strength alone made him an imposing component in the vertical model favored by coach Norv Turner and quarterback Philip Rivers.

   That Rivers was usually among the lead leaders in the esoteric but critical statistic scouts love, yards per attempt - he averaged 8.4 yards or better in three of the past four seasons - was no fluke. Jackson and fellow wide receiver Malcom Floyd ran their routes a little deeper than most of the corresponding players in the league, especially between the hashes, tight end Antonio Gates controlled the middle of the field, and Rivers, despite his funky release, threw the ball with great accuracy.

   The exit of Jackson might alter the Chargers' passing blueprint a bit, but it doesn't mean San Diego won't throw the ball effectively. Or that Rivers won't put up a fifth consecutive 4,000-yard season in 2012.

   San Diego coaches are quietly amped about their offense for the coming year, and the enthusiasm isn't just because the staff feels third-year tailback Ryan Mathews is healthy and perhaps poised for a breakout season. No, there's legitimate excitement so far over the addition of some veteran receivers - Robert Meachem (from New Orleans) and Eddie Royal (Denver), in particular - to team with Floyd.

   It's not that the passing game will be reinvented in 2012, although the absence of Jackson will probably prompt some changes, but it will be retooled a bit. No disrespect to Jackson, a terrific player, but the aerial game could be somewhat quicker and faster striking in '12, the ball might be spread out more, and the Chargers should get much-improved production from the slot. The health of Gates, of course, will be a factor. But so should the infusion of the veteran wideouts.

   During the six seasons that Rivers has been the starter, never missing a single game in that stretch, San Diego's No. 3 wide receiver has never had more than 27 catches. In fact, 2006-11, the Chargers' third-leading wideout averaged just 24 receptions. The No. 3 wide receiver statistically wasn't always the slot guy, it should be noted for fairness and accuracy, but San Diego did have problems developing a dependable player for the inside position.

   That could change in 2012, especially if Royal is healthy. The four-year veteran, who had 91 receptions as a rookie in 2008 but has averaged just 38.3 catches since, in part because of injuries, has looked very good so far, coaches acknowledged to The Sports Xchange. A former second-round choice of the Broncos, Royal has more quickness than speed, does well with the option-type routes slot receivers must perform adroitly when running between linebackers and safeties, and knows the AFC West well. Word is that he and Rivers have meshed nicely so far.

   Meachem isn't as physical as Jackson, but does possess great perimeter speed and adjusts well to the ball, and will provide a different kind of vertical threat up the boundary. While he has never registered more than 45 catches in a season, Meachem, only 27, has averaged 16.1 yards per reception over the course of his career, and scored 20 touchdowns the past three seasons.

   General manager A.J. Smith, who seemed to prioritize the wide receiver position during the offseason, also added veterans Roscoe Parrish (Buffalo)  and Michael Spurlock (Tampa Bay). Neither has posted big numbers of late - Parrish has been beset by injuries and has played just 22 games the past three years, and Spurlock has never had more than 17 catches in a year - but should bolster the return game. And each can play adequately at wideout in a pinch. Although Parrish lacks the kind of size the Chargers have always preferred, he is good in space, once appeared to be a rising presence as a slot receiver and could be effective if healthy.

   The upshot is that the Chargers haven't quite replaced Jackson, but they have compensated for his departure, and could do well in a revamped passing game.

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