The Chargers have been hard at work rebuilding the administrative side of the organization since my last article. General Manager Tom Telesco has been hired to replace A.J. Smith. Telesco had previously been working side by side with Bill Polian in Indianapolis as a key member in the Colts scouting and player personnel department. After 15 seasons with the organization, he spent 2012 as the vice president of football operations for the Colts. He has been coined a “diamond in the rough” by a number of well-respected NFL brass around the league and has been credited with helping establish the rebound the Colts made this past season under rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
Soon after the Telesco hiring, the Chargers signed Mike McCoy to take over the reins as Head Coach. McCoy was a hot commodity this off-season and was coveted by a number of teams. While the offensive coordinator in Denver, McCoy was given the monumental task of re-imagining the Broncos entire offensive scheme, in mid-season mind you, in order to meet the limited skill-set of then quarterback Tim Tebow. McCoy not only devised an offense to best utilize Tebow’s mobility and minimize the effect of Tebow’s inaccurate passing ability, he managed to guide that team to a post-season victory. The following season, upon Tebow’s departure and the arrival of future Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning, McCoy reconstructed the offense to suit Manning’s unique talent. There is no questioning McCoy’s creativity or adaptability- two assests he will have to rely on as he works his magic with the Bolts’ sputtering offense.
The Chargers then hired former Cardinals Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt as their new Offensive Coordinator. This signing was very well received around San Diego as well as by NFL experts in the media. Whisenhunt had offensive line and quarterback issues in Arizona the last couple of years, but his long-term track record of success in Pittsburgh and a Super Bowl trip with the Cardinals cannot be understated. The Chargers also retained Defensive Coordinator John Pagano- a move that made a lot of sense due to the solid play of the defense over the last month of the season.
As the Chargers move forward in the rebuilding process, all of the players will be assessed by the new brass. In my continuing series of articles examining each position of the current roster, we will be focusing on the tight ends. As you will read, McCoy and Telesco will have to do some serious contemplation regarding this position moving forward.
Number 85 broke a long standing Chargers record last season by scoring his 82nd receiving touchdown in week 16 against the Jets. The previous record had been 81 by Lance Alworth. Gates would add his 83rd TD the final week of the season. There is no doubt that Gates has had a Hall-of-Fame career in San Diego. In his heyday, he was simply uncoverable. The last three seasons have seen their fair share of injuries, however, and the perennial pro-bowler has seemed to be but a shadow of his once dominant self. That is not to say, however, that Gates cannot still get it done. Antonio caught 49 passes for 538 yards this season, scoring 7 TDs along the way. The reality though is that this superstar’s career is winding down. He simply does not possess the same ability he had four seasons ago when he tallied 1,157 yards on 79 catches- 61 of those grabs for first downs. The wear and tear of ten seasons of punishment has caught up to him. He will still be our starter next season. He will still be fairly effective. However, it is time to find a young TE to groom over the next couple of years that will take over for this Charger legend…
Like Gates, McMichael is getting up in age. Next season will be his 12th in the league. Unlike Gates, however, McMichael’s contributions were paltry last season- accounting for just 51 yards on 9 catches. Randy filled in nicely for Gates when Antonio went down with injuries during the 2010 and 2011 seasons. He did a workmanlike job “holding down the fort” while Gates healed up. With McCoy looking to take this team in a new direction, the question of cost vs. production will hurt McMichael’s standing. I would expect the new staff to look to go younger at this position, so McMichael will have to dazzle them next preseason to hold on to his roster spot.
Dante will be heading into his eighth NFL season and he has been a member of four different teams. Last season with the Bolts, Rosario tallied 95 yards on 10 receptions- chipping in 3 touchdowns. Like McMichael, limited game action combined with inconsistent offensive line play hurt Rosario’s chance at accounting for better statistics. What the new Chargers coaching staff will have to decide, however, is whether or not Dante has enough to offer the team moving forward. Rosario is a free agent this off-season and will likely be looking for a pay raise above the $700,000 he made last season. Like McMichael, cost vs. production will be a big factor when deciding if Dante returns next season. My gut tells me no…
Ladarius was drafted in the 4th round of last April’s draft out of Louisiana-Lafayette University. While in college, Green demonstrated good speed and decent hands. He poses a difficult match-up for defenses thanks to his huge frame, standing 6’6″ tall and weighing 240 pounds. The knock on Green has been his blocking ability. Former coach Norv Turner rarely activated Green on gameday and as a result, Ladarius was unable to show much on the field. He played in just 4 games last season, catching 4 passes for 56 yards. His young age and potential for growth, combined with his size, should make him an intriguing option for McCoy and Whisenhunt. If his blocking skills improve, look for this young man to see far more game action next season.
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 tight end position as a 5. With so many other areas needing addressed offensively, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Gates-McMichael-Green lineup at TE next season. The Bolts could look to address the position in 2014…