As the calendar changes from 2012 to 2013, the San Diego Chargers are making some big changes of their own. Head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were both relieved of their duties on December 31st, thus beginning the dawn of a new era in Chargers football. The rebuilding process can now begin in earnest. In this installment of my continuing series, we will take a closer look at the athletes who competed for the Bolts at the wide receiver position this past season. There are some, like Seyi Ajirotutu, who will not be part of this article because they were signed as “fill in” players due to injuries. Instead, I will focus on those players that will be assessed by the new coaching regime for their long-term employment with the organization moving forward.
Besides being the Chargers’ longest tenured wideout, Floyd has clearly been its most consistent. Malcom’s huge frame (6’5″, 225 lbs.) and awesome leaping ability poses problems for cornerbacks around the league, making him a definite red-zone threat. Floyd accounted for 15 plays of 20+ yards this season and scored 5 touchdowns. His “big” plays, those accounting for 40+ yards, dropped to zero from three last year and four the year before that. Despite the decline, he still makes spectacular catches look routine. He signed a multiyear contract extension early in the season and will return next fall as a starter heading into training camp.
This past season was supposed to be Vincent Brown’s coming out party. With the departure of All-Pro Vincent Jackson to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the opportunity for Brown to step-up his role in the offense was set to occur. After some magnificent play early in the 2012 preseason, Vincent broke his ankle making a touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys before the regular season began. What initially looked like a 6-8 week absence soon turned into a season-long recovery, costing him the entire 2012 season. During the 2011 campaign, Brown averaged 17.3 yards per reception in limited action. Expectations are high that Vincent can pick up where he left off before the injury. If that comes to pass, the Chargers already have a “star in the making” on the roster. Only time will tell…
Alexander joined the Chargers at the end of October, after two injury-plagued season with the St. Louis Rams, and has simply shined ever since. Alexander became a big play receiver that Philip Rivers turned to in crucial moments of drives. In ten games this season, Danario accumulated 658 yards on 37 receptions- for an average of 17.8 yards per catch. He turned a quick slant against the Buccaneers into an 80 yard touchdown by busting a tackle and outrunning the secondary to the endzone. He had been known as having unreliable hands while in St. Louis, but displayed the opposite while in San Diego this year. The one big question mark remains Alexander’s past knee problems. His performance this season has many Chargers fans hoping that the team resigns him, as his contract expired at season’s end. At only 24 years of age, Danario’s upside may be too enticing to let get away.
Coming into this past season, Robert Meachem was supposed to be one of the key free agent acquisitions who would get the Chargers over the proverbial hump and help land the team in the Super Bowl. As a former first round selection of the New Orleans Saints, the thought was that the Saints hadn’t fully tapped into the talent that Meachem possesses. While a member of the pass-happy Saints, Meachem had to split time with a myriad of talented receivers and hadn’t put together 1st rounder type numbers. In five seasons with New Orleans, Meachem’s best season was 2009 where he gained 722 yards and scored 9 touchdowns.
Coming into San Diego last fall, Meachem was expected to challenge Malcom Floyd for the #1 receiver position. As the season progressed, it became clear that Robert was having trouble releasing off the line and getting open. Rivers rarely attempted to throw his way because he was covered. After a few weeks, Turner decided to go in another direction, relegating the expensive free agent signee to situational, spot duty. At season’s end, Meachem had accounted for only 207 yards on 14 catches. Robert averaged a meager 13.8 yards per game. Meachem is under contract for next season so he will be given a chance to respond, but with the kind of money he’s making don’t expect the new head coach to be very patient…
Royal was another free agent addition that A.J. Smith made coming into the 2012 season. Royal is a quick, agile receiver that had made a name for himself as a kick returner in Denver for four seasons. Along with helping the Chargers return game, the Bolts envisioned utilizing Royal’s running skills as a slot receiver. He would pose a difficult matchup problem on third downs for opposing defenses. At the conclusion of the season, Royal had gained just 234 yards on 23 receptions, and even more surprisingly, was a non-factor in kick returns. Royal is just 26 years old and is under contract to return next season, but with the return of Vincent Brown, Eddie’s offensive touches are likely to drop. It is difficult to say, at this point, how valued Royal’s services will be under the new coaching regime.
Spurlock was signed by the Chargers before the start of the season and survived preseason, only to be released early in October. The release was not made due to disappointment with Michael’s play, but rather to make room for the addition of CB Chris Carr- a move necessary due to a rash of injuries in the Bolts’ secondary at the time. Spurlock would be resigned by the Chargers at the end of November and he made an immediate impact. Along with teaming with Rivers on multiple key 3rd down conversions in December, Spurlock provided a spark in the Charger kick return teams. He averaged 25.7 yards per return this year, including an electrifying kickoff return of 99 yards for a touchdown against the hated Raiders on the first play of the last game of the season. Michael will be 30 years old next year and that may factor into the team’s decision-making moving forward, but there is little question about the impact he made upon his return last December.
Wildcard: Mike Willie
I am including Willie in this article, not because of his contributions this past season, but because of the play he demonstrated last preseason. Though he didn’t make the final roster, the Bolts signed him to the practice squad so they could continue to develop his talents. First off, I love his size. At 6’2″ and 220 pounds, he presents an intimidating physical challenge for cornerbacks. Secondly, he demonstrated nice hands last preseason, making a number of difficult catches in traffic. Lastly, he seems to posses a knack for making clutch catches. Though I know it would be a long-shot, Mike Willie may catch the eye of the new head coach as a building block for the future…
In terms of overall “rebuilding” need, on a scale from 1 to 10 (with 1 being “no need” and 10 being “replace at all costs”), I’d rate the wide receiver position as a 3. It would be nice to add a burner with blazing vertical speed, but when compared to other areas of need on the team, this position seems workable. Key components of that, however, include the health of Brown, whether or not Alexander gets resigned and the growth of the undewhelming Robert Meachem…