Fri, Sep 18, 2015

SDBR Analysis: Inside Our Roster Projections

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RB Branden Oliver. Photo by Shana Siler, SDBoltReport.com

Just over a week ago, we published initial projections for San Diego's 53-man roster and 10-player practice squad. At the request of some readers in our message boards, I've decided to go into some more detail regarding some of our more controversial selections.

Troutman Starts at Right Guard

Several fans, upset by Johnnie Troutman's uneven performance in 2014, are loath to see him penciled into a starting spot again this season. They prefer the Chargers move D.J. Fluker inside to right guard and start Joe Barksdale at right tackle. It's an option the team spent some time exploring during mini camp -- an experiment that will surely continue in training camp -- but one I'd like to keep as "Plan B."

There are several reasons for this. Firstly, I'm not as high on Barksdale as others. There are reasons he was still available weeks after the draft, several of which have been overlooked. He struggles with speed rushers and allows defenders to bend the corner too easily. He gave up 8.5 sacks last season and was called for a half-dozen false starts. If he starts at right tackle, he would certainly be the weak link on San Diego's offensive line. Personally, I'd rather have my weak link protected inside at guard than stuck on an island at tackle.

Secondly, I believe Troutman will be better in his fourth season (which includes a rookie year lost to a pectoral injury). In addition to having another year of experience under his belt, he will feel more comfortable no longer rotating with Chris Watt (no offensive lineman likes a rotation system). And assuming Watt can stay healthy and hold down the hub position, Troutman will benefit from having stability at center (as opposed to lining up alongside a different player every week).

Thirdly, I believe Fluker has the ability to be a top-10 offensive tackle. He has enjoyed a fantastic offseason -- reporting in excellent shape and looking eager to bounce back from a self described "sophomore slump" -- so it makes sense to give him the first crack at the more critical right tackle position.

Make Room for the Draftees

Two veterans who would quality as surprising cuts on defense were Kavell Conner and Patrick Robinson. The reason for those moves is the presence of second-round pick Denzel Perryman and third-round pick Craig Mager.

Perryman is a stud. He is going to play a lot of snaps and those have to come at somebody's expense. There is no reason for a veteran backup like Conner when -- in all likelihood -- Donald Butler will be filling that "veteran backup" role by year's end. So the Chargers go with undrafted rookie Nick Dzubnar instead, as he makes less than half as much money as Conner and figures to be stronger on special teams.

As for Robinson, there is just too much competition at cornerback. Tom Telesco did not go into the draft planning to take a cornerback -- Mager just fell into his lap -- which changes Robinson's outlook. I think Mager is the favorite to win the nickel back position, even if he's covering on the outside while Jason Verrett moves into the slot. That leaves Robinson to compete with Steve Williams, Richard Crawford, Craig Davis and Greg Ducre for the dime back role ... I don't like Robinson's odds.

Eyes on 2016

Why keep a third quarterback? And why keep five safeties instead of a player like Robinson? Because of 2016, that's why.

The Chargers do not know what to expect from Philip Rivers. Will he sign an extension? Will his back injury flare up again? Will he balk at following the team to Los Angeles if the Chargers relocate prior to the 2016 season?

With so many critical questions lingering, it makes sense to have some extra protection at the game's most important position. Brad Sorensen had a rough preseason last year, but he has shown some moxie and playmaking ability during his limited opportunities. He is a good fit for the offense currently in place in San Diego and deserves a longer look, especially as the Chargers are forced to consider the future of the quarterback position.

While Rivers is a question mark, Eric Weddle is an exclamation point ... he's as good as gone! Weddle will play out the season and then leave as an unrestricted free agent, which is why I have San Diego holding onto Adrian Phillips. Not only has Phillips impressed during his brief time with the Chargers, but he is a vocal leader who could potentially take over as the quarterback of the secondary.

Extra Bulk in the Trenches

The Chargers struggled on both sides of the line last season, which is why I have the team keeping an extra player in each unit.

On the offensive line, I have Barksdale and Chris Hairston both sticking as backup tackles. Hairston's familiarity with Joe D'Alessandris and Barksdale's inability to play on the left side make this choice an easy one. Trevor Robinson returns as the backup center while Craig Watts rises from the practice squad to take over as the top backup guard (and possibly push Troutman).

On the defensive line, newcomer Mitch Unrein edges out Sean Lissemore. Both players have similar skill-sets, but Unrein's familiarity with Mike McCoy serves as the tiebreaker. Also, I went with Damion Square ahead of sixth-round pick Darius Philon because Square is no longer practice squad eligible. By keeping Square on the active roster and Philon on the practice squad, San Diego can control both of their rights into 2016, when Kendall Reyes and Ricardo Mathews will become free agents.

Brown's Back for More

I was reluctant to bring back Donald Brown after a disappointing first season in lightning bolts. However, the running back position needs protecting. Melvin Gordon is a top prospect but he's still an unknown commodity as far as playing on Sunday's is concerned. Danny Woodhead returns, which helps, but he is coming off an injury and is more of a specialist than an every-down option. Branden Oliver is a nice player, too, but he proved to be in over his head as a full-time starter.

There are situations where Brown can make an impact. He provides veteran depth; he's strong in pass protection; he can catch the ball coming out of the backfield; and he's a leader in the clubhouse. While he's still fourth on the depth chart, he does just enough to justify a spot on the active roster, although he shouldn't be surprised if the team asks him to take a pay cut.

If Brown refuses to accept a reduced salary, he's gone and John Phillips gets his spot back.


Which players do you see making San Diego's Opening Day roster? Talk about it in our message boards!


Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for Scout.com and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. In addition to being publisher of SDBoltReport.com, he also works as the Senior NFL Reporter for Footballinsiders.com. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

Tags: 
Adrian Phillips, Banden Oliver, Brad Sorensen, Chris Hairston, Chris Watt, Craig Davis, Craig Mager, Craig Watts, D.J. Fluker, Damion Square, Danny Woodhead, Darius Philon, Denzel Perryman, Donald Brown, Donald Butler, Eric Weddle, Greg Ducre, Jason Verrett, Joe Barksdale, Joe D'Alessandris, John Phillips, Johnnie Troutman, Kavell Conner, Kendall Retes, Melvin Gordon, Mike McCoy, Mitch Unrein, Nick Dzubnar, Patrick Robinson, Philip Rivers, Ricardo Mathews, Richard Crawford, Sean Lissemore, Steve Williams, Tom Telesco, Trevor Robinson
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