After weeks of rotating in practice, swapping in and out of games, and talking about the ongoing battle, the San Diego Chargers seem to have settled on a starting left tackle during their third preseason game. It may have taken a bit longer than most expected given the nature of the position, but King Dunlap looks like the victor in the battle to protect quarterback Philip Rivers’ blindside in the upcoming season.
It seemed like San Diego was partial to Dunlap from the start as Max Starks saw limited practice reps for the first week of training camp with the second-team until an injury forced Dunlap to the sidelines for a brief moment. It was only fitting that a similar situation is what solidified the team’s opinion at the position as Dunlap hobbled to the sideline in Saturday night’s preseason game and went to the trainer table. After a new tape job on his right foot, the big man returned to the lineup without any delay signaling that if the starter is ready to go, the starter is going to play.
Much like the revolving door at quarterback that a few teams throughout the NFL tried during the preseason to determine their starter, the Chargers did the same at left tackle with Dunlap starting the first game and Starks working with the first-team in the second. Obviously Dunlap and Starks weren’t going to garner the amount of ink Nick Foles and Michael Vick did with the Philadelphia Eagles, but their situation was just as critical to the success of their team in the upcoming season.
After allowing 49 sacks a year ago, the Chargers must make keeping Rivers upright a priority in 2013. Especially with all of the injuries in the receiving corps, the man under center is going to be all the more important to just how the Bolts fare once the regular season action gets started.
At 6-foot-9, 330-pounds, Dunlap certainly looks the part as a sturdy choice to protect Rivers’ blindside. He has performed just as solidly in game action and will provide a physical presence for the Bolts in the trenches. One other factor that can’t hurt is Dunlap hails from Auburn University, which was coincidentally the alma mater of former All-Pro left tackle Marcus McNeill who is a massive man in his own right and was forced to retire due to back and neck problems. The Bolts have struggled to replace his presence since with various castoffs, Jared Gaither being the most widely publicized failure.
This decision being made is beneficial in two different ways as now the first-team offense can gain some cohesion moving forward to Week 1. Offensive line, more than any other place on the field, must function as a well-oiled machine and work together at all times. Making the decision with time to spare gives them added rehearsal time leading up to the opener. The other benefit is the fact that a veteran presence like Starks is waiting in the wings should Dunlap suffer any unforeseen injury issues. Depth is a precious commodity, and the Chargers know this all too well, especially along the offensive line.
Now general manager Tom Telesco has to be pleased with the personnel he obtained to fix the team’s woes in the trenches this offseason, and head coach Mike McCoy has to be just as satisfied with the eventual solution. If everything works out the way the Bolts are planning, perhaps their three year playoff drought can come to an end in 2013.