It’s about that time of year again. Actually, it is that time again. Football, not the World Cup, rule the pulse of the sports world in this neck of the global community. The NFL and its fans are rearing to get the 2014 party started. That means tailgate parties, hard hits, spectacular plays and a whole lot of talk and speculation will take place about what teams will meet up in the Super Bowl.
The San Diego Chargers, like the other 31 teams in the league, are hoping to be in that conversation. There is a lot to like about the Chargers’ chances this season. Coach Mike McCoy jump-started the Chargers to a 9-7 record and a put the team in position to be a viable threat to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos to claim the AFC West Division.
The Chargers finished third in the AFC West. Of course, San Diego, two weeks away from opening training camp, want to improve on that and dethrone the aerial-driven Broncos. There are eight players the Chargers have that can help them make that happen this season. Here is our list:
1. Wide receiver Keenan Allen
Allen is just what the doctor ordered to help cure the ails of the Chargers’ wide receiving corps. Just a rookie last season, Allen didn’t waste time putting himself in the conversation of being one of the best wideouts in the league, catching 71 passes for 1, 046 yards and eight touchdowns. More important than those numbers is the immediate impact that Allen had on the Chargers’ offense. Not only did Allen stretch the field, the Cal alum also made life easier for quarterback Philip Rivers. Allen is primed for a Pro Bowl season this year.
2. Quarterback Philip Rivers
Rivers is the cog that makes the Chargers’ offensive engine go. Mr. Charger produced a monster season in 2013, quieting the talk that he had seen his best days. A season of throwing for 4, 478 yards and 32 touchdowns can shut up your critics. Rivers answered the bell and kept it moving in 2013, leading the Chargers to the No.5 ranking in the league when it comes to total offense. Averaging just over 270 yards per game, the Chargers ranked fourth in passing yards in the NFL. With a year of Mike McCoy’s offensive system under his belt, 2014 could be an even bigger year for Rivers.
3. Safety Eric Weddle
A human missile with a GPS football locator mind, Eric Weddle has established himself to be a premier defensive player in the NFL. At 5-foot-11, Weddle is considered to be a bit small on the safety side. But you can never measure what’s in a player’s heart. What Weddle may lack in height he more than make up for it with his grit and determination, a gift to know where the ball is and the perfect knack to know how to separate receivers from the ball when they stroll into his territory. This guy is a straight baller. An All-Pro season in 2013 with 115 registered tackles back that up.
4. Linebacker Manti Te’o
Te’o came to the Chargers with a lot of hype and a whole bunch of unwarranted scrutiny in 2013. The former Notre Dame star showed a lot of promise but displayed some inconsistent play. However, a year of experience will give the hard-charging, hitting machine something under his belt that he can hang on to in 2014. As a rookie, Te’o officially recorded 61 tackles. Expect that number to rise this season as Te’o will more than likely establish himself as the anchor to the Chargers’ defense.
5. Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker
The pride of Alabama, Fluker (pardon the expression) is no fluke. He is the real deal and he will knock you to the stars. Running back Ryan Mathews must be very thankful to have this mountain of a man to run behind. The No. 11 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the 6-foot-5, 339-pound Fluker creates holes as big as Thunder Mountain at Disneyland. There is no doubt that Fluker is and will be the cornerstone of the Chargers’ offensive line for years to come.
6. Tight end Antonio Gates
Gates is just plain Mr. Reliable. When Philip Rivers and the Chargers need to stretch the chains, Gates seem to always be at the right spot at the right. Big hands, intelligence, vision, physicality an durability has best served Gates throughout his career. A dominant 2014 season by Gates would not be a surprise at all. In fact, it should be expected from the future Hall of Fame tight end.
7. Running back Ryan Mathews
Mathews grows into being a better running back every year. Built like a stout tank with super-sized thighs, Mathews is the perfect pinball machine in coach Mike McCoy’s offense. Trying to land a square hit on the low-gravity anchored Mathews is a lot like whiffing at a Clayton Kershaw curveball. After a down year in 2012, Mathews rebounded with a career-high 1, 255 yards rushing yards on 285 carries. On top of that, Mathews averaged 4.4 yards a carry. Now that’s a lot of bang for your buck.
8. Defensive back Brandon Flowers
A valuable and necessary pickup for the Chargers. Despite Eric Weddle’s brilliant play at the safety position, San Diego ranked 23rd in total team defense and No. 29 in passing defense. Enter the tough-as-nails Flowers. The Chargers wanted to shore up their play in the defensive backfield. They did that immediately with the signing of Flowers, a very physical and in-your-face cornerback. One of the best moves in the offseason by any NFL club.