Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chargers Spring Report -- Offensive Line


With the Chargers 2009 mini-camp just concluded, Chris Ello takes an inside look at how the Bolts stack up position-by-position during football's version of Spring Training.
Saturday: Safeties
Sunday: Outside Linebackers
Monday: Inside Linebackers
Tuesday: Defensive Ends
Yesterday: Defensive Tackles
Today: Offensive Line
Tomorrow: Tight Ends


Marcus McNeill, 4th yr., Auburn: I remember asking Marcus McNeill once what he was planning to have on his dinner table for Thanksgiving. The turkey, he said, was going to be deep-fried, Southern style. Well, of course it would.
Anything else? "Well, there is one favorite of mine that I just can't do without," the big fella said. "I gotta have my deep-fried cranberry sauce, too."
Deep-fried cranberry sauce? Yeah, I'd never heard of it, either. But it was at that moment I realized that this 6-foot, 7-inch 336-pound mountain of a man was going to be a solid fixture at left tackle for the Chargers for years to come.
Sure he missed out on the Pro Bowl last season for the first time in his career, but that had more to do with a slow start (he missed the first two games with a neck injury) and an 8-8 season more than anything else.
All the Chargers need to do in '09 is throw a little deep-fried (well, anything) in his direction during training camp, and Big Mac should once again be ready to roll.

Kris Dielman, 7th yr., Indiana: Maybe the biggest compliment given to Kris Dielman last season was when he was thrown out of a game in Kansas City for throwing a phantom punch. Dielman never did punch anyone, and the call by the officials was truly horrible, but the ejection spoke to the nasty reputation Dielman has cultivated over the past few seasons (including a Pro Bowl season in '07).
The thinking by the refs was: if Dielman was involved in a skirmish (even an imagined one), he must have done something illegal.
I don't know about you, but that's what I people thinking about my starting left guard. The pits is no place for pansies. And Dielman's mean streak is one of the reasons why the Chargers have had one of the best offensive lines in football for the past half-decade.
Last year, of course, the offensive line was sometimes maligned because L.T. had trouble finding his usual running room. Let's just hope that Dielman felt maligned as well.
Because it's an angry and nasty Dielman that will serve the Bolts best in '09.

Nick Hardwick, 6th yr., Purdue: In a lot ways, it's totally unfair to look at a team's offensive line player-by-player. Because, more than any other area of a football team, the O-Line is really a group effort.
The Chargers' group began last season without its leader, as Hardwick missed the season's first three games while recovering from off-season ankle surgery. And though Hardwick returned to play the final 13 games, it seemed as if the big boys up front never really got it completely together.
And that was understandable. The work of the O-Line is a carefully choreographed routine that requires precise movements and an unshakable understanding of the actions of those lined up next to you. Without their maestro -- at least at the beginning -- it was if the Chargers' orchestra was slightly out of tune.
Hardwick may have never been 100-percent healthy last season (although he'd never say so), but he should be a full-strength for '09. If so, the center who has made two Pro Bowl squads in five seasons should have the Bolts humming along again.

Kynan Forney, 9th yr., Hawaii: A solid contributor for several years (and a Pro Bowl alternate in '05) on an Atlanta Falcons offensive line that paved the way for one of the NFL's top running attacks, the Chargers hope that Forney perhaps has a couple of seasons left in the tank.
Let go by Atlanta just prior to last season, the Bolts immediately signed him then never used him in '08.
Now with Mike Goff gone, Forney figures to be a key guy in '09. On paper, he would seem to be a perfect fit. Normally, guys with eight years of NFL experience who join a veteran line are able to blend in nicely.
Unless somebody younger steps up, the Chargers better hope so.

Jeromey Clary, 3rd yr., Kansas State: Yeah, yeah, we heard you. Everything that was wrong with the Chargers' offense last year was Jeromey Clary's fault. He allowed too much pressure on Phillip Rivers. He didn't get enough push on running plays and the Bolts couldn't run to the right side.
Only...that notion is absolutely ridiculous. As mentioned earlier, no offensive line either succeeds or doesn't based on the play of one player. Furthermore, to throw Clary under the bus when he was just a second-year player and first-year starter is just plain unfair.
In most cases, the young players on an O-Line need help from the veterans to find their way. Unfortunately, the Chargers' veterans had injuries (and other problems) to deal with. As a result, Clary may have been asked to play too large a role.
This season, he ought to able to settle in and show the improvement most third-year players tend to show.


L.J. Shelton, Brandyn Dombrowski, Scott Mruczkowski, Corey Clark: Shelton, in his 11th year out of Eastern Michigan, is a good guy to have around and started twice last season.... Dombrowski, from San Diego State, has good size (6-5, 323) and now a year under his belt...Mruczkowkski has been a solid backup at either guard or center ever since he was picked in the 7th-round of the '05 draft....Clark was a stud at Texas A&M and got some experience with the squad last year, but was never active for a game.


Louis Vasquez, Tyronne Green: Vasquez -- a 6-4, 330-pound guard -- was drafted in the 3rd-round of this year's draft out of Texas Tech where he helped protect and serve for the nation's highest-flying pass offense. Since the Red Raiders mostly threw, skeptics wonder whether or not Vasquez has enough experience to run block effectively....Green -- also a guard (6-1, 309 from Auburn) -- went to the Bolts in the 4th-round...Both players will have an opportunity to compete for key playing time, especially at the right guard spot which was vacated when Goff departed.

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