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Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Chargers' weakness: Offensive tackle

By Bill Williamson
ESPN.com

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson

Last year, the Chargers were solid in pass protection, but their run blocking was poor. In a division that featured some very porous defenses, San Diego averaged just over 4 yards per rushing attempt, with LaDainian Tomlinson only mustering 3.8 per rush.
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Darren Sproles' ability to break off long runs inflated San Diego's overall rushing average a bit, but in a down-by-down situation, the running game was not up to par. The offensive line was not the only reason for this problem, but collectively they certainly did not play great and little was done to improve the weakest overall position of the group -- offensive tackle.

Starting left tackle Marcus McNeill was expected to be a fixture on the blind side for years to come, but his play has steadily declined since joining the league and there are some long-term concerns with his back and neck. The Chargers need him to regain the form he showed as a rookie and to stay healthy.

 
  Paul Jasienski/Getty Images
  The Chargers need tackle Marcus McNeill to regain the form he showed as a rookie.

Even if McNeill is able to get back to where he was, the opposite side is possibly the weakest starting spot (along with strong safety) on the stacked Chargers' roster. Jeromey Clary is the starting right tackle, and while there are some tackles in this league who see significant playing time who are lesser players than Clary, that list isn't very long. He ably replaced Shane Olivea during the 2007 season, but was more of a liability than an asset last season. In fact, the right side of the line could be problematic.

San Diego is able to effectively use double tight end sets and has the luxury of putting the massive Brandon Manumaleuna next to Clary with Antonio Gates as the other tight end. At over 280 pounds, Manumaleuna is as much offensive lineman as he is tight end. However, this right tackle liability could potentially result in Manumaleuna receiving more minutes than San Diego would prefer, which obviously would keep a more dangerous player (like Malcolm Floyd for example) on the sidelines.

While that is a bit of a concern, the real worry here is depth. If McNeil were to go down, the Chargers would then be in trouble. They drafted two interior linemen with promise, but there isn't a suitable replacement at tackle.

The identity of the Chargers' offense has changed into more of Philip Rivers' squad than Tomlinson's. This is a wise decision, as Rivers is San Diego's best offensive player. While the run blocking was lacking a year ago, problems at the tackle position is obviously worrisome in protection as well.

While this is certainly a potential problem, I still see no reason why San Diego would not steamroll the rest of the pathetic AFC West. Not to mention, the rest of the division isn't exactly loaded with dominant edge pass-rushers. But come playoff time, teams like Baltimore, Indianapolis and Pittsburgh most certainly are.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.