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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chargers Excited Without Jackson?
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