The San Diego Chargers will be sporting an entirely new (and hopefully improved) offensive line when the team takes the field in 2013. The offensive line is nearly finalized but some questions still need to be answered in training camp.
Though nothing is set in stone, four of the positions along the line appear to be pretty much figured out. Chad Rinehart was solid in spring and appears to have the inside track at left guard, Nick Hardwick will return for a tenth season at center, the much-maligned Jeromey Clary may have lost his job at right tackle but appears to have found a home at right guard, and rookie first-round pick D.J. Fluker will man the right tackle spot. Things could definitely change between now and the start of the regular season, but it’ll be these guys’ jobs to lose.
The last and most important position that still needs to be determined is the left tackle position. Free agent acquisitions Max Starks and King Dunlap are set to battle it out in training camp and will switch off at left tackle with the first-team offense. The winner will be Philip Rivers’ primary blindside blocker, while the loser will be a swing tackle and primary backup at both left and right tackle.
Starks has more experience and has been very consistent throughout his career. Though he struggled at times last season, his entire body of work throughout his career tells us he should be a solid, yet unspectacular player who should be able to get the job done. Meanwhile, Dunlap is younger and has much more upside and athleticism. However, he has struggled throughout his career with consistency and penalties. Starting Dunlap would be much riskier, but could possibly pay off in the long term.
Whoever the Bolts choose, they better do it quickly.
“The sooner you can declare who your starters are, the better, especially up front on the offensive line,” head coach Mike McCoy said. “I strongly believe those guys need to play as much together as possible. … We’re going to move guys around and decide which combination is the five best.”
The offensive line needs to gel together, communicate and build chemistry with each other. Hardwick and Clary are the only ones who have played together (and Clary isn’t even at his usual position) meaning there’s a lot of unfamiliarity among the players as of now. Each snap in training camp and the preseason will go a long way in learning each others’ tendencies and building confidence in playing together.