Everyone knows that the main reason behind the San Diego Chargers’ miserable 2012 campaign was the horrific performances by the offensive line. The unit that allowed 49 sacks and helped run block for just 3.6 yards per rush was blown up this offseason and will be completely different in 2013. Still unresolved is who will start, but things should be much better for the new offensive line.
Center Nick Hardwick is the only returning lineman from last season. At 31-years-old, Hardwick should still be able to get it done and could be better this season if the talent around him is improved. Already the leader of the offensive line, Hardwick may need to become even more of one with all the change around him.
The big name addition to the line is rookie first-round pick D.J. Fluker, who is expected to start at right tackle. Fluker is primarily a run blocker and should definitely help improve the Chargers in that department. However, he’ll need to improve his pass protection in order to become a complete player.
At left tackle, free agent acquisitions Max Starks and King Dunlap will battle it out for the right to protect Philip Rivers’ blindside. Starks, 31, has been an average, consistent left tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers since entering the NFL. However, he struggled at times last season in both pass blocking and run blocking and may not have much left in the tank. Meanwhile, Dunlap, 27, is an athletic, high-upside tackle, who unfortunately hasn’t gotten it together consistently. He’s a pretty good pass protector, but struggles at run blocking and is most known for his bone-headed penalties and stretches of poor play while with the Philadelphia Eagles. Though neither player provides us with much confidence, both are an upgrade over Mike Harris and should improve the pass protection.
Both starting guards from last season, Louis Vasquez and Tyronne Green, are gone and it’s still unknown who will be replacing them as starters. The most likely candidates and the two who were running with the ones in OTAs and minicamp were Chad Rinehart and Jeromey Clary. Rinehart, a backup with the Buffalo Bills last season, started 12 games in 2011 due to injuries and was phenomenal, especially in pass protection. If he is able to regain that form, the Chargers may have found a real gem in free agency. Clary, the oft-criticized former right tackle for the Bolts, has made the shift to guard this offseason. Clary has struggled with speed rushers in the past, but won’t deal with nearly as many at guard. Already a decent run blocker, Clary’s move to guard should benefit him greatly. Other players in the mix for guard are Rich Ohrnberger and Johnnie Troutman.
Overall, the Chargers’ offensive line looks much better than last season’s Swiss cheese line. Though the team lost a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Vasquez, the offensive line as a whole has more talent and has a good mix of consistent veterans and high-upside youngsters. Better yet, there is pretty good depth, and the team now has backup options in case of injuries, something that the team lacked last season.