Positional Reviews

Will Subpar Tackles Submarine the Offense?


The Chargers addressed a lot of needs this offseason, adding offensive weapons like Travis Benjamin and Hunter Henry along with defensive enforcers such as Joey Bosa, Brandon Mebane and Casey Hayward. While most items were crossed off Tom Telesco’s offseason to-do list, there are some pressing concerns that remain with training camp roughly two months away.

Namely, the situation at tackle is somewhere between worrisome and debilitating.

King Dunlap and Joe Barksdale are projected to start at left tackle and right tackle, respectively. Both are veterans who have experienced a lot of success in the league, having started a combined 100 games. However, both come with red flags ready to run up the pole at a moment’s notice.

Dunlap missed nine games last year with ankle and head injuries. It was the concussion that was most concerning, as it was his fourth concussion since entering the league, and his third since joining the Chargers in 2013.

“Concussions, they happen. We play a contact sport,” Dunlap said earlier this offseason. “As far as I’m concerned, if I have another one that’s not the end.”

Dunlap, 30, has missed multiple games in six of his seven seasons. Last season, he played just 317 offensive snaps; backups Chris Hairston (786) and Kenny Wiggins (790) each played more than twice as many.

It’s not a matter of if Dunlap will get injured in 2016, but when.

Things are more stable on the right side, where Barksdale started all 16 games for the Chargers last season — the only offensive lineman on the team to do so. However, while steady, Barksdale is far from spectacular. He allowed eight sacks in his first season with the Chargers after allowing 8.5 sacks the season prior with the Rams.

Things were not much better with Barksdale’s run blocking. He earned a run-blocking grade of 68.0 from Pro Football Focus, which ranks No. 49 among offensive tackles.

Despite those shortcomings, the Chargers signed Barksdale to a new four-year, $22.2 million deal earlier this offseason. The hope was to improve the offensive line by providing the stability that has been sorely missing over the last couple seasons.

“When you get an opportunity to be with a team that has pieces in place to win, you want to stick with it and help the team out,” Barksdale said after inking his new contract.

Behind Dunlap and Barksdale are veteran Chris Hairston — who also signed a new deal this offseason — and 2015 undrafted pickup Tyreek Burwell. Neither is a starting caliber player (they earned PFF grades of 36.2 and 34.2, respectively, last season), but their versatility certainly gives them some value for the backup roles they currently occupy.

The problem is these four tackles are the same ones the Chargers went into last season with. The result? An offensive line that ranked No. 31 in adjusted line yards (3.18).

It is wild to think that, just 24 hours before the 2016 NFL Draft, rumors were circulating that San Diego planned to take Notre Dame OT Ronnie Stanley with the No. 3 overall pick. Instead, not only did the Chargers not take an offensive tackle in the first round, but they did not select one at any point in the draft.

Even when Willie Beavers fell to the fourth round and Joe Haeg slipped to the fifth, Telesco still went in another direction.

Maybe this will work out for the Chargers yet. Perhaps Dunlap will stay healthy. And if RG D.J. Fluker can stay healthy, too, it will make Barksdale look a lot better by extension.

Then again, it is even more likely the same group of offensive tackles from 2015 will encounter the same struggles this time around. And, if that’s the case, the Chargers will have a tough time blocking their way out of the AFC West cellar.

About Michael Lombardo

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, Football Insiders and MySpace Sports.

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