Revamping the San Diego Chargers‘ offensive line was a serious undertaking for new general manager Tom Telesco whenever he took the reigns of the personnel department. The team had a variety of issues – from surrendering 49 sacks in 2012 to a lazy left tackle – that needed to be addressed. Amazingly Telesco did a commendable job of piecing together a unit that has been relatively solid this season, but it hasn’t been without some serious challenges.
One of the biggest obstacles going on currently is the neck injury of new left tackle King Dunlap. When the Bolts signed the former Philadelphia Eagle this offseason most pegged him as a reserve at best after they also inked former Super Bowl winner Max Starks at the same position. Well, Dunlap won the job outright in camp and the team cut Starks so the confidence in the big man was obvious.
Unfortunately concussions have really hit hard around the NFL this season and been a topic of concern league-wide. Dunlap had two already leading into the Week 10 tilt with the Denver Broncos, and initial reports from the team said that he had sustained his third such brain injury in less than three months. Thankfully his injury was later diagnosed as a neck strain, but the big man is still questionable for Sunday’s game at the Miami Dolphins. If you ask him, however, he’s just happy it isn’t another one of the dreaded ‘C’ words. Dunlap told CBS Los Angeles:
“I’m very relieved not to have my head messed up again. Just a neck thing. I’m still a little sore today. Other than that I feel good. If I had to be happy about being injured, I guess I’d be happy it’s just a neck strain.”
While it’s great to hear that he’s feeling alright this certainly raises a red flag that the Bolts are all too familiar with. Former All-Pro left tackle Marcus McNeill was actually forced to retire from the game early due to neck and back injuries. It may just be coincidental that the two both hail from Auburn University, but it isn’t just happenstance that they’re both huge men – McNeill 6-foot-7 339-pounds, Dunlap 6-foot-9 330-pounds.
San Diego also went through an ongoing ordeal with the “Big Lazy”, formally known as Jared Gaither, where he had a phantom injury keeping him off of the field. His stature, you ask? Oh, just 6-foot-9 335-pounds.
This is in no way an indictment of the men’s big and tall stores around the country, but there comes a point where size becomes a detriment rather than an advantage. The Bolts still have Dunlap signed for next season at a very cheap rate for a starting left tackle, but this might be the offseason to find a long-term solution at the position minus the health issues. Now clearly predicting concussions or any injury for that matter is impossible, but the Bolts can manage their risk by finding someone with a track record of dependability – ahem, Jake Matthews.
The offensive line must go on this season, but Telesco and company must make finding a reliable left tackle a priority this offseason. If not, quarterback Philip Rivers’ latter stages of his career will be known more for his ability to scramble – which isn’t very pretty, mind you – than his ability to throw.