AFC West: Andy Levitre

Rivers/LockerUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, right, will try to keep up with Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who have scored 61 points through two games.
The San Diego Chargers are the Tennessee Titans' white whale.

The teams don’t play that frequently -- just nine times since 1993, including a wild-card playoff matchup in January 2008. The franchises have undergone all sorts of changes during that span, but one thing has remained consistent when they meet: The Chargers always win.

Bill Williamson, why do you think that is, and what are the odds it continues?

Bill Williamson: I don’t see the Chargers' history with the Titans being a factor. I know in Nashville the word "Chargers" makes fans cringe because of the history. Both teams are rebuilding and trending upward. These are two similar teams, and they will both be in the AFC conversation in the coming years.

The Titans made a lot of changes. This isn’t the team the Chargers beat 38-10 last September. What’s the biggest difference?

Paul Kuharsky: The central part of the offseason revamp was the offensive line. The Titans have three new starters on the interior with left guard Andy Levitre, center Rob Turner and right guard Chance Warmack. Turner has been shaky, however, and Warmack is a rookie who is going to take some lumps when he’s across from someone like J.J. Watt. The group hasn’t jelled yet, but the run-blocking has been pretty good.

We've seen the good Philip Rivers and the bad Philip Rivers over the years. With the new regime in place, what is your feeling on who he will be now?

Williamson: I might be the wrong person to ask, Paul. I’ve always been high on Rivers. Yes, his play sank the past two seasons and he committed 47 turnovers during that span. But it wasn’t all on him. The previous regime in San Diego let go of a lot of skill-position talent, and the offensive line was decimated by injuries. Rivers didn’t have much help. He was pressing as a result. So far under head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback coach Frank Reich, Rivers has looked re-energized. He has looked relaxed and confident over the first two weeks. He has shown that he is still a high-level player. Stopping him is the main challenge for the Titans.

How’s Jake Locker coming along?

Kuharsky: He made a bad throw on a crucial third-and-1 late in regulation in the loss to the Texans. The Titans have hardly turned him loose so far. But since the start of camp, he’s shown steady progress. I’m not a complete believer by any means, but I think he has a chance and I didn’t always feel that way. We still haven’t seen some aspects of the offense that should be featured for him. Maybe this week he’ll run around more and we’ll see more boots and rollouts.

I’m curious about one of the guys who will be chasing Locker. The Titans have seen a great deal of Dwight Freeney over the years. How has he fit in the defensive scheme there?

Williamson: An old foe, indeed. Freeney is in a tough spot. He was signed (and paid well) to be the Chargers’ primary edge pass-rusher after 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram blew out his knee in May. But at 33, Freeney is best suited as a rotational player. He has half a sack this season. He has been active and will give his best effort, but he needs help. It would be a stretch to think he can still be a premier player. But he knows the Titans, and I’m sure he will be motivated to perform well Sunday.

What can Rivers and the Chargers' offensive line expect from the Titans’ pass rush?

Kuharsky: The best guys so far haven’t been the ends. Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley should key the rush. Ayers moves from stongside linebacker to end on rush downs but has been limited by a bad ankle. Tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown have been the best rushers so far. The fronts are less predictable and the blitzes more frequent. That’s the influence of defensive assistant Gregg Williams. This defense is far better than I expected.
The Chargers signed former Buffalo guard Chad Rinehart.

He is a favorite of scouts. He has started 14 games in the past two years and will likely get a chance to start. The Chargers have two openings at guard with Louis Vasquez leaving for Denver and Tyronne Green being a free agent.

The Chargers signed tackle King Dunlap on Tuesday. He may get a chance start on the right side. The Chargers have holes on the offensive line, but they are, at least, creating competition.

Rinehart played for new San Diego offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris in Buffalo. The Chargers had interest in Buffalo star guard Andy Levitre, but he signed a high-dollar deal with the Titans. Clearly, D’Alessandris thinks Rinehart, a much cheaper option, can help.

Meanwhile, CBS Sports reports the Eagles are looking at San Diego pass-rusher Antwan Barnes.

Also, San Diego cornerback Antoine Cason is visiting the Cardinals.
Yahoo reports the Titans, Colts and Bills are all chasing top guards, Louis Vasquez of the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo’s Andy Levitre.

The Chargers also have interest in Levitre. The report states Vasquez’s chances of returning to the Chargers are slim. The Chargers have massive issues on the offensive line, so they better figure something out.

Regarding the Chargers’ most pressing need on the offensive line, San Diego general manager Tom Telesco told U-T San Diego there is nothing imminent going on with the status of left tackle Jared Gaither. I expect the Chargers to address their needs and then make a decision on Gaither.

Meanwhile, Early Doucet could potentially be a name the receiver-needy Chargers look at as a No. 3 receiver. He played for new San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona, Doucet was a favorite of the coach there.

In another AFC West-related note: The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Georgia pass-rusher Jarvis Jones received good medical news. There has been concern because he has a narrowing of the spine. If healthy, Jones could be an option for Oakland with the No. 3 pick.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week's topic: Who should be the primary target (including trades) for each team when free agency begins?

Denver Broncos: Glover Quin, S, Texans: Sure, I could see the Broncos making a big splash at a high-profile position like receiver in the form of someone like Mike Wallace or Wes Welker. I wanted to focus on a position that may not get as much thought in Denver, but where the team is interested in getting better. The Broncos are interested in adding to the secondary. A player like Quin would be a great fit. The team likes Rahim Moore (despite his playoff gaffe against the Ravens) and they have high hopes for Quinton Carter. But Quin can come in and help these guys and provide an upgrade from Mike Adams. Getting a tough player in the back of a strong defense would only help Denver.

Kansas City Chiefs: Sean Smith, CB, Dolphins: The Chiefs are an interesting team. Despite being 2-14 in 2012, they don’t have a ton of screaming needs. Getting a quality cornerback to team with Brandon Flowers may be just the thing this defense needs. The Chiefs tried it with Stanford Routt last season (to replace top dollar Dallas free-agent signee Brandon Carr), but it didn’t work. Yes, the Chiefs could use the No. 1 pick on Alabama's Dee Milliner and I still think a trade for Darrelle Revis would be worth exploring. But adding a tall, athletic corner like Smith could be the ticket as well. He won’t be cheap, but he has skills and a Smith-Flowers pairing would be interesting.

Oakland Raiders: Cary Williams, CB, Ravens: The Raiders won't have a ton to spend and they have a lot of positions that need help. But I’m going with a cornerback, because I think it is the team’s greatest need. Really, name a legitimate starting in-house candidate in Oakland that is not an emergency option. Williams may be too sought-after for Oakland to afford. But he is a solid starter who has been through the wars. If the price is right, he’d fill a big need for Oakland. A more affordable option will be former Denver cornerback Tracy Porter. I think Oakland -- coach Dennis Allen was Porter’s position coach in New Orleans -- will be interested, but if Williams fell to Oakland, I think it would be worth considering.

San Diego Chargers: Andy Levitre, G, Bills: Levitre is one of the best guards in the league. He will be sought after in free agency. But if the price is not through the roof, I think the Chargers will be a player for his services. The Chargers’ primary task this offseason is to improve the offensive line. Levitre would be a great start. Levitre, who is from California, likely would be interested in signing and reuniting with former Buffalo offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who was just hired by the Chargers. He has a zone-blocking scheme. San Diego coach Mike McCoy said the Chargers will run the scheme that best fits the players, and I'm sure D’Alessandris would like to reunite with Levitre to help introduce his system. The Chargers’ best offensive lineman, guard Louis Vasquez, is also free. In the best-case scenario, San Diego would be able to keep both players, but it’s difficult to put top resources into two guards, especially with the team needing a left tackle. But because Levitre has experience in D’Alessandris’ system, I could see him being a more valued target than Vasquez.

Fixing Chargers starts on O-line

February, 7, 2013
The San Diego Chargers have started 2013 on the right foot by hiring general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy. Both men are considered among the best young, promising people in their position.

The fresh philosophy is a good start, but the Chargers need to replenish their talent. It starts on the offensive line. The Chargers have been ravaged by injuries and bad luck on the offensive line. Fixing the unit is the top priority of the offseason.

There has been speculation that the team may move to a zone-blocking scheme because new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has a background in it. If that is the case, expect the Chargers to seek smaller, more athletic offensive lineman.

Let’s take a look at who the San Diego offensive line shakes out:

Tackles: The left tackle position is the Chargers’ greatest need. Jared Gaither was signed to a big contract last season, but he can’t be counted on because of injury concerns. The Chargers will almost certainly move away from him. Finding a left tackle will be a top priority either in free agency or with the No. 11 pick in the draft. Right tackle Jeromey Clary isn’t a top level right tackle, but the Chargers can get by with him. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team tries to find a better option.

Guards: Starters Louis Vasquez and Tyronne Green are both free agents. Vasquez is a priority. Green is an average starter. Keeping Vasquez is needed, and then the Chargers can make a decision on Green. But upgrading there would be beneficial. A possible target could be Buffalo’s Andy Levitre. He will be sought after, but he could want to reunite with his former position coach. It could affect Vasquez if the zone-blocking scheme is the direction the Chargers are taking. He doesn’t fit the mold of an ideal player for that scheme.

Center: Nick Hardwick is still a plus player. He is 31, but he is a solid starter along with Vasquez.

The team has a chance to improve, but getting better protection for quarterback Philip Rivers is paramount, starting at left tackle and perhaps, at least, one more starting spot on the line.

Posted by's Bill Williamson

While I can barely pick the first round, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has his four-round mock draft up. It is viewable for ESPN insider subscribers.

To give you a taste, here are Kiper's selections for each AFC West team:

Kansas City Chiefs

No. 3: Aaron Curry, OLB, Wake Forest

No. 67: Andy Levitre, OL, Oregon St.
No. 102: Dannell Ellerbe, LB, Georgia

Oakland Raiders

No.7: Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
No. 40: Phil Loadholt, OT, Oklahoma
No. 71: Rashad Johnson, S, Alabama
No. 126: Gerald Cadogan, OT, Penn St.

Denver Broncos

No. 12: Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU
No. 18: Everette Brown, DE, Florida State
No. 48: Ron Brace, DT, Boston College
No. 79: Asher Allen, CB, Georgia
No. 84: Louis Murphy, WR, Florida
No. 114: Chip Vaughn, S, Wake Forest

San Diego Chargers

No. 16: Rey Maualuga, LB, USC
No. 78: Jamon Meredith, OL, South Carolina
No. 113: Emanuel Cook, S, South Carolina
No. 133: Ellis Lankster, CB, West Virginia
No. 134: Dorell Scott, DT, Clemson