Drilling in: Chargers unit by unit analysis

Photo: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

A detailed breakdown of the lineup

By Jay Paris, The Sports Xchange

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Philip Rivers. Backups -- Geno Smith, Cardale Jones, Nic Shimonek.

Rivers is coming off one of the best seasons of his career as he cut down on his turnovers significantly while throwing for 4,515 yards. That was the second-most in a season in franchise history. Rivers is not only keen with his passes, but his knowledge of the game and where people should be and how to get the ball to them is off the charts. Smith and Jones will battle for the backup spot, although there's a chance the team could carry three at the position like it did last year.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Melvin Gordon. Backups -- Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Russell Hansbrough, FB Derek Watt, FB Anthony Manzo-Lewis, Detrez Newsome.

Gordon looks to build on his breakthrough season as he not only notched his first 1,000-yard rushing season but he was ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring, first downs and yards from scrimmage. Austin Ekeler, who made the team as an undrafted free agent, was productive and fairly reliable, although he did have a huge fumble that helped cost the Chargers a game. But he's a solid backup and has good hands out of the backfield.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Virgil Green. Backups -- Braedon Bowman, Sean Culkin, Cole Hunt, Ben Johnson, Austin Roberts.

What's striking here are the names that are missing -- Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry. Gates wasn't signed after his contract expired and Henry sustained a season-ending knee injury in offseason workouts. Green, late of the Broncos, was signed but he will be asked to block, not catch. Competition should be keen among candidates to be the team's pass-catching tight end.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin. Backups -- Mike Williams, Dylan Cantrell, J.J. Jones, Justin Liggins, Andre Patton, Artavis Scott, Nelson Spruce.

Allen was sensational and that was never more evident than over a three-game span in which he set an NFL record by catching at least 10 passes for 100 yards receiving and scoring a touchdown. He deserves to be mentioned among the league's elite receivers. Tyrell Williams is a great complement to Allen and Benjamin has the speed to stretch defenses. The Chargers are eager for Mike Williams to show his skills that made him a star at Clemson before his rookie season was ruined by a series of injuries.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Russell Okung, LG Dan Feeney, C Mike Pouncey, RG Michael Schofield, RT Joe Barksdale. Backups -- LT Sam Tevi, LG Cole Toner, C Scott Quessenberry, C/G Spencer Pulley, RG Chris Landrum, RT Brett Boyko, G Donavon Clark, T Zachary Crabtree, T Trent Scott, G Forrest Lamp, OL Chris Durant, OL Zack Golditch.

The line was super last year in keeping Rivers clean as it gave up but 18 sacks -- no pass protection in the league did better. But the reason the Chargers signed Pouncey, a Pro Bowl caliber player, is to add some grit and brawn to the running game. Despite Melvin Gordon's big year, the team had trouble running the back in critical parts of games. Pouncey will help there and Feeney, in his second year, should be much improved.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LDE Joey Bosa, LDT Brandon Mebane, RDT Darius Philon, RDE Melvin Ingram. Backups -- LDE Tenny Palepoi, LDT Damion Square, RDT Corey Liuget, DE Chris Landrum, DE Isaac Rochell, E Patrick Afriyie, DE Albert Havili, DL Justin Jones, DL Bijhon Jackson, DL Steven Richardson, DE Whitney Richardson.

There's few defensive lines in the league that can hang with this bunch, as the 1-2 combination of Bosa and Ingram has few peers. Bosa just keeps getting better and Ingram is the benefactor of blocking schemes geared toward his Pro Bowl teammate. It will be interesting to see if the interior of the line can come close to the havoc being caused on the outside. Mebane is toward the end of his career and Liuget will miss the first four games under league suspension. Justin Jones was a top pick and will be given every chance to pitch in quickly.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- WLB Jatavis Brown, MLB Denzel Perryman, SLB Kyle Emanuel. Backups -- WLB Nick Dzubnar, MLB Hayes Pillard, SLB Uchenna Nwosu, LB Kyzir White, LB D'Juan Hines, LB James Onwualu.

The run defense wasn't much last year and the Chargers' fingers are crossed that a healthy Perryman will aid in covering up that weakness. Perryman is a beast, but he's never played a full season in his three years. Perryman has to stay fit and get help from Brown. This part of the defense would greatly improve if the interior of the defensive line can become more stout. Nwosu, a second-round pick, will be asked to contribute soon.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- RCB Casey Hayward, LCB Jason Verrett, FS Derwin James, SS Jahleel Addae. Backups -- CB Desmond King, CB Trevor Williams, CB Michael Davis, CB Toby Brown, CB B.J. Clay, CB Marcus Edmond, CB Brandon Facyson, CB Craig Mager, CB Jeff Richards, CB Jaylen Watkins, SS J Watkins, FS Adrian Phillips, S Rayshawn Jenkins, S A.J. Hendy.

Hayward has established himself as one of the premier corners in the league and that is backed up by various analytics. If Verrett, who's nearly missed two seasons with a bum knee, is fit the Chargers will have Pro Bowlers at both corner spots. The safeties are keen, too, with James expected to start on opening day and Addae never being shy about supplying physical play from his spot. With the pass-rushing of Bosa and Ingram combined with the shutdown qualities of Hayward and Verrett, this could be a big year for the pass defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Caleb Sturgis, P Drew Kaser, PR Travis Benjamin, KR Desmond King, K Roberto Aguayo, P Shane Tripucka.

Four kickers and one year ago, the Chargers missed the playoffs because of the unreliability of the kicking game. Sturgis will get the first shot of getting it right but don't expect head coach Anthony Lynn to show much patience if he is off-kilter. Aguayo will be given a fair shot in what should be among the most-watched competitions in camp. Benjamin supplies the quicks in the return game, although his decision-making is often curious. King has a spark on kickoff returns.

Comments