After the Bolts hadn’t been able to address their need for a quality left tackle in the Draft, due to an early run on the top prospects, it seemed (for a while) as if Tom Telesco’s era with the Chargers was going to start with King Dunlap at last year’s problem position.
A situation many of the analysts and pundits described as highly troublesome. Especially since the Chargers had already lost guard Louis Vasquez, the best man of the Bolts’ 2012 woeful offensive line.
King Dunlap, who had been acquired in free agency in March from the Philadelphia Eagles, wasn’t exactly regarded as the one to fix Philip Rivers’ blind side. Dunlap started in 12 games last year, 11 at left tackle. A job he had earned in training camp.
Even though his performance was respectable, most of said analysts and pundits still see him as a back up swing tackle providing depth and versatility, rather than being a solid starter.
Much to the relief of many fans, Tom Telesco refused to commit to King Dunlap as the starting left tackle and head coach Mike McCoy acknowledged they were looking to bring in other players for competition.
The Chargers had visits from both Bryant McKinnie and Max Starks, the top free agents still on the market at the time. The former chose to stay with the Ravens and reportedly showed up too heavy for training camp. With the latter they were able to come to an agreement and on May 21st the team announced they had signed veteran Max Starks to a one-year deal.
Starks had been with the Pittsburgh Steelers since they’d drafted him in 2004. If we don’t count his rookie year, he was a starter in 96 of the 113 games he’d played in. This includes all 16 games of last season, when he also managed to play every offensive snap! How’s that for reliable? With his immense record and experience he was assumed to immediately top Dunlap at the depth chart.
Now we are more than a week into Chargers Camp and so far it’s been King Dunlap who has seen nearly all reps at left tackle with the first team. Max Starks got his opportunity on the fifth and seventh day of camp when Dunlap was sidelined with a small hip problem, but he couldn’t take advantage of the situation. Quite the opposite in fact.
Starks was regularly beaten, not only by Dwight Freeney, which from a Defense viewpoint should be considered good news, but also by defensive backs on blitz plays. When Dunlap returned to practice he was rotated back into the first-team reps, taking about half the snaps. At Chargers FanFest Starks was playing LT for the second team offense.
It may have come as a surprise to many that King Dunlap has emerged as the early favorite for the starting job at left tackle. I’ll admit I am somewhat surprised as well, but should we be?
Pro Football Focus graded Dunlap as the 33th offensive tackle (out of 80) in 2012. In pass protection he even ranked in the top 20%. Whereas his run blocking was a little below average. In comparison, Starks was rated 71st (!) combined, with his pass protection slightly better (64th) and run blocking even worse (77th).
Both are considered to lack initial push in run blocking, playing too tall and having slow feet. For Dunlap this could be partly contributed to his size – 6’9” – and his enormous arm length actually gives him a natural advantage in blocking edge rushers, compensating for his slower footwork. If Dunlap can improve his quickness he has more potential than Starks, especially in pass protection. The fact that he’s younger than Starks may also work in his favor.
Of course preseason has just begun and Starks is aiming at the four exhibition games to exploit his excess in experience, hoping this will help him close the gap. For now it’s still an interesting battle to follow. However, if Starks fails to impress and Dunlap continues his solid performance, the starting job will be his.
Whether that would be enough to prove some of the pundits and part of the Bolts’ fans wrong, remains to be seen. It would repeat history though; King Dunlap earning a starting job at left tackle out of training camp. Possibly.
Rock’n The Bolt