In the 2010 season, the NFC West division earned the title of “NFC Least” when the Seattle Seahawks became the first team in the league to make the playoffs with a losing record, taking the NFC West with a 7-9 record.
The Seahawks surprised everyone by beating the New Orleans Saints in the NFC wild-card game.
Over in the AFC West things weren’t much better. The Kansas City Chiefs were the only team to make the playoffs in 2010 by winning the division at 10-6. Kansas City was drilled in the opening round of the playoffs by Baltimore, 30-7.
Fast forward three years to the 2013 season, where the AFC West had three teams make the playoffs, including the AFC representative in the Super Bowl in the Denver Broncos.
And the NFC West was no slouch either, with the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers advancing to the NFC title game, and Arizona just missing the playoffs at 10-6. Of course, the Seahawks went on to win the Super Bowl in a rout over the Broncos.
With the San Diego Chargers facing three NFC West teams (Seahawks, 49ers and Cardinals) in the preseason and all four in the regular season, the Chargers will get to measure themselves up-close against what is considered the best division in football.
And in talking to team leaders like Philip Rivers, Eric Weddle and Donald Butler on Tuesday, the Chargers believe they are up to the challenge.
“No question,” Butler said. “People say that’s the best division in football right now. So I cherish the opportunity.”
Rivers says the fact that San Diego traditionally plays the NFC West in the preseason helps in terms of knowledge of personnel. But the starters don’t play against each other for that long during exhibition play, so knowledge of scheme and tendencies aren’t as strong.
“You know their personnel a little more,” Rivers said. “It’s not truly an opponent that you haven’t seen at all in four years. So you do know them. You do have some tape against them, albeit a few snaps playing vanilla stuff -- not a real game plan.
“So I think it can help you somewhat. … It does give you a level of comfort in just seeing them lined up against you. It’s always easier when you’ve seen how they’ve lined up against certain formations -- things like that -- just as a starting point.”
Weddle said the matchups against the NFC West are a chance for the Chargers to measure themselves against the perceived best teams in the NFL.
“That’s one of the top divisions,” Weddle said. “And we feel the AFC West was one of the top divisions last year. So we’ll see what they got, and what we’ve got. Obviously, the world champs are there, so you get to go against the best and see what they’re all about -- on offense, defense and special teams. We get them (Seattle) at our place, so that will be fun.”
In this ESPN Insider piece , ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. examines draft needs for every NFL team. Kiper identifies cornerback, nose tackle, receiver and outside linebacker as top needs for the Chargers.
ESPN’s Kevin Seifert takes a closer look at new helmet technology designed to reduce concussions. Interesting read.
I talked with Mike Costa and Judson Richards of Xtra Sports 1360 AM about San Diego’s draft needs and the stadium issue in this audio link.
Ricky Henne of Chargers.com talks with San Diego strength and conditioning coach Kent Johnston in this video. Johnston says part of the player’s focus this offseason will be on a newly designed injury prevention program.
More Henne: He profiles University of Nevada offensive lineman Joel Bitonio. Chargers general manager Tom Telesco should have some good info on Bitonio, with former high school and college teammate Brian Polian serving as coach at Nevada.
Michal Gehlken of U-T San Diego talks with Ryan Mathews and Seyi Ajirotutu, who have been working out at the beach in preparation of the beginning of San Diego’s offseason program.
Dan Sileo of The Mighty 1090 talks with Hall of Fame defensive back Ron Woodson about the Chargers in this audio link.
Charles Davis of the NFL Network gives the Chargers cornerback Kyle Fuller in his latest mock draft.
Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight takes an interesting look at which cities sleep in, and which cities get to work early. According to the report, the median arrival time for work in San Diego is 7:51 a.m.
But the defense’s inability to create consistent pressure on the quarterback also deserved scrutiny.
Edge rusher Dwight Freeney's focus is on changing that outcome in the upcoming season.
The former Indianapolis Colt and seven-time Pro Bowler says he is healthy heading into the beginning of San Diego's offseason workout regimen, which begins Tuesday.
Freeney, 34, believes this is the most important offseason of his 13-year professional career. And while he plans on taking a methodical approach to getting back on the field, Freeney said he'll be ready for San Diego’s season opener.
"It's the most important offseason because it's the next offseason," Freeney said. "Obviously, I want to keep improving. It's going to be a gradual thing. The main thing is to be ready for the first game of the year.
"There's no reason to rush. You have to give your body rest and work yourself into game shape. The doctors have said that I've healed completely. So now it's all about getting my strength back."
Even though he's a bit long in the tooth, the Chargers believe that Freeney still has some gas left in the tank. Freeney said he took notice this offseason when three of the top six active leaders in sacks switched teams -- with DeMarcus Ware moving to Denver, Jared Allen signing with Chicago and Julius Peppers with Green Bay.
The 30-something pass-rushers did not sign the type of high-dollar contracts they once commanded in their primes. However, each player joined a team that believes it can win now.
Freeney is in a similar situation as that trio. No. 6 on the active list in sacks with 108, Freeney agreed to a contract restructure that will pay him less money to stay with the Chargers, making a total of $2.5 million in total compensation in the final year of a two-year deal.
"It's really interesting seeing some of the elite older guys moving around," Freeney said. "It just tells us that it's a young man's game. We all understand it. We all get it. We might not like it, but that's what it is.
"We're still performing. We're still playing well. But teams don’t want to pay that type of money for the age. But we still have value. For teams that want to win now, that's what's happening."
The Chargers, who finished eight quarters away from a Super Bowl last season, believe they are one of those teams.
In 2013, Freeney finished with just two tackles and half a sack before suffering a torn quad that required surgery in a Week 4 contest against Dallas, effectively ending his first season in a Chargers uniform.
The Chargers and Freeney are in a bit of a drought when it comes to sacks. Freeney hasn’t finished with double-digit sacks since totaling 10 in 2010.
San Diego has not had a player finish with double-digit sacks since Antwan Barnes totaled 11 in 2011. The Chargers have been in the bottom third of the league in sacks for two of the past three seasons, including tied for 23rd last year with 35.
Freeney doesn’t put much stock in sack totals.
"I've always said in my career that numbers are just a product of whatever is happening at the time," Freeney said. "You can make a lot of plays in one year from a statistical standpoint, and it could have nothing to do with how good you played.
"It can depend on the coverage, or if the quarterback is holding onto the ball too long. There’s always different things that are happening where statistics don't tell you the entire story. So double-digit sacks are always a good thing to have, but ultimately I want to contribute to the team winning."
The oldest player in his position group, part of Freeney's role will be to serve as mentor for up-and-coming pass-rushers such as Melvin Ingram. Freeney was signed in May of last year to help replace Ingram after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during offseason training.
Ingram returned sooner than expected at the end of the 2013 season. Freeney said he's looking forward to playing with Ingram.
"It's going to be fun," Freeney said. "He has a lot of energy and plays with the right attitude. I've been in the league a while and have learned some things and tricks, and I think I can help him out. And I'm more than willing to share."
Freeney can look to someone such as John Abraham for inspiration. Released by the Atlanta Falcons last year, the active leader in sacks signed a two-year, $4.6 million deal with Arizona. The 35-year-old Abraham showed his worth, finishing with 11.5 sacks in 2013 and helping to anchor an Arizona defense that led the Cardinals to a surprising 10-6 campaign.
In terms of team success, the Chargers can look to how effectively the Seattle Seahawks generated pressure against Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl for a blueprint on how to create more pass rush in the upcoming season.
The Seahawks played pass-rushers in waves. Seattle's top edge rushers, Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, played an average of 55 percent of the team's snaps during the 2013 regular season. In his first three games for San Diego before suffering a quad injury, Freeney played 74 percent of the defensive snaps.
So the Chargers could benefit from limiting Freeney's snaps to make him more productive.
"The more depth you have, the better pass rush you can create as a team," Freeney said. "The more people that you have that can do what you can do, that keeps you from being out there so that you're not wearing yourself out. I think that's the big thing. From a hockey perspective, you keeping changing those lines and keeping rotating guys to keep those lines fresh."
ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates outlines what teams can do during these offseason workouts. Phase I of the offseason program lasts for two weeks.
During Phase I, teams are allowed to do strength and conditioning programs, and can spend a maximum of 90 minutes on the field. Players with injuries also are allowed to continue rehabilitation at the team’s facility.
ESPN’s John Clayton writes that this year’s depressed running back market could affect runners like Ryan Mathews, who will hit the market in 2015.
Ricky Henne of Chargers.com profiles Indiana receiver Cody Latimer.
Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego profiles Utah cornerback Keith McGill.
Kyle Posey of Bolts of the Blue is not a fan of Stanford guard David Yankey.
Peter King of The MMQB writes that UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr is one of the cold players in the draft right now. Maybe there’s a chance he falls to San Diego at No. 25.
Nate Davis of USA Today writes that Notre Dame’s Louis Nix is the best pure nose tackle prospect in this year’s draft.
Player: WR Keenan Allen
Reason for optimism: At 6-2 and 211 pounds, Allen was expected to serve as more of a developmental prospect his rookie season, but was forced to take on a more prominent role with injuries to Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd. With a full offseason to work as the No. 1 receiver alongside quarterback Philip Rivers, on-field chemistry -- already strong -- should continue to improve. Allen also is another year removed from the knee issue he suffered in college, so his speed will get better as well.
Reason for concern: How will Allen handle playing against the opposing team's top cornerback on a weekly basis? Do the Chargers have enough weapons on offense to keep teams from doubling Allen? And can Allen prove he can consistently get deep so cornerbacks don't sit on the underneath routes? These are all questions Allen has to answer in the upcoming season. And he can begin to answer those questions by working hard during San Diego’s offseason program to develop more core strength, agility and speed to last throughout the duration of the season. The Chargers also need to do their part by adding more playmakers to the offensive side of the ball to help take pressure off of Allen.
Green has been a trendy pick this offseason to put up bigger numbers because of the explosive playmaking he showed in a limited role with the Chargers last season.
Sessler: “After playing just 450 snaps in 2013, Green is ready for a bigger piece of the pie. We got a taste of his speed and sticky hands during a two-week stretch in November that saw Green haul in seven balls for 161 yards and a touchdown. His 22.1 yards per reception topped all qualifying tight ends last season, while his 9.3 yards after the catch ranked third. His late-season production led coach Mike McCoy to acknowledge self-critically that he should have gotten the tight end involved ‘a little earlier’ in the year.”
Mark Walker of U-T San Diego writes that the Chargers are looking at a placing a measure on the ballot for voters to weigh in on helping to fund a new stadium in 2016. Although likely, no date is set in stone as the team and the city continue to negotiate on the issue.
Kyle Posey of Bolts of the Blue breaks down Oregon State pass-rusher Scott Crichton.
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated ranks Crichton No. 4 among his top 10 defensive end draft prospects.
Ricky Henne of Chargers.com profiles Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders takes a statistical look at the impact of the NFL rule change moving kickoffs five yards up three years ago.
And while that doesn't make for an exciting experience for fans attending Chargers draft parties on Day 1 of the draft, scooping up an extra pick could help Telesco fill in depth for this year’s team, especially with no compensatory picks this year.
At No. 25, the Chargers sit in front of a QB-needy team in Cleveland at No. 26. So San Diego sits at one of potential trading points of the first round, particularly if a team such as Jacksonville, Oakland or Houston didn’t get their quarterback at the top of the first round, and now wants to trade back into the end of the first round to draft someone such as Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles or Derek Carr.
As ESPN Jaguars beat reporter Mike DiRocco indicates, Jacksonville had Bridgewater back for a second visit. The Louisville quarterback fits Gus Bradley’s offensive system. And from Bradley’s experience in Seattle with Russell Wilson, he understands how important it is to have good leadership and a strong work ethic at the quarterback position.
But the Jaguars probably will not pull the trigger at No. 3 on Bridgewater. Jacksonville has 11 picks overall, including the seventh pick in the second round (39th overall), so they have enough draft ammunition to trade back up into the first round to select someone like Bridgewater.
The Jaguars probably will not use all 11 picks, and they can afford to lose a pick in order to get the player they want.
Getting ahead of a team that needs a quarterback, such as Cleveland, would be advantageous for Jacksonville. And Jaguars general manager David Caldwell has a good relationship with Telesco from their time working together in Indianapolis.
Actually, the two have known each since their high school days at St. Francis in Buffalo, N.Y., and played college together at John Carroll University, where Telesco played receiver and Caldwell played linebacker.
Both the Chargers and the Jaguars probably run similar draft boards, so putting a deal together should not be too complicated. According to this draft chart, the Jaguars could trade their second round pick (39) and third-round selection (No. 70) for San Diego’s first round selection (No. 25).
The trade would give San Diego four picks in the sweet spot of this year’s draft, at 39, 57, 70 and their own third-round selection at No. 89. According to ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay’s top 150 draft prospects, the Chargers could still fill the team’s most obvious needs in the second round.
Cornerbacks such as Nebraska’s Stan Jean-Baptiste or Lindenwood’s Pierre Desir are still available. Interior offensive lineman such as Nevada’s Joel Bitonio and Xavier Su’a-Filo likely will be on the board.
Pass-rushers such as Auburn’s Dee Ford or Oregon State’s Scott Crichton could be available in the second round.
Or San Diego could get a playmaking receiver such as Indiana’s Cody Latimer or Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews at this point of the draft. By trading down, the Chargers could give themselves an opportunity to add three impact players in Day 2 of the draft.
For players drafted with picks 11-32, the value of the fifth-year option is equal to the average of the 25 highest-paid players at their positions, excluding the top three highest players.
Liuget was selected No. 18 overall in the 2011 draft. He's set to make $1.5 million in total compensation for the upcoming season. According to ESPN Stats & Information records, Liuget would make nearly $7 million in 2015.
Liuget led San Diego in sacks in 2013 with 5.5, and is considered a foundational player for the Chargers, so this news comes as no surprise.
Now, the Chargers can turn their attention to signing the University of Illinois product to a long-term contract, as Liuget will be at the top of the priority list during the 2015 offseason.
Chargers general manager Tom Telesco already has shown a willingness to retain young players who perform, including inking middle linebacker Donald Butler and safety Darrell Stuckey to multi-year deals this season.
Expect San Diego to do the same with Liuget, who has developed into one of more disruptive interior defensive linemen in the NFL.
ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay discuss picks 21 through 24 in this year's draft in this audio link .
Gil Brandt of NFL.com offers a list of lesser-known draft prospects creating some buzz with good pro days. Montana middle linebacker Brock Coyle makes the list. He visited the Chargers this week. Also on the list is Eastern Washington defensive tackle Andru Pulu. The Chargers attended his pro day in Seattle.
Evan Silva of Rotoworld has the Chargers selecting Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby at No. 25 and Clemson receiver Martavis Bryant at No. 57 in his two-round mock draft.
Former NFL general manager Jerry Angelo, writing for the National Football Post, debates drafting the best player available vs. drafting for need.
Mike Tanier of Sports on Earth wonders if NFL running back is the worst job in pro sports.
The 2012 Defensive Player of the Year has 36.5 sacks over his first three seasons.
Teams have until May 3 to make a decision on whether to exercise the fifth-year option, which is guaranteed for injury only until the final day of the 2014 league year. It becomes guaranteed at the start of the next league year.
For players drafted in the top 10, the value of the fifth-year option is equal to the transition tag for their position during this offseason.
For players drafted with picks 11-32, the value of the fifth-year option is equal to the average of the 25 highest-paid players at their positions, excluding the top three highest players.
San Diego opens exhibition play on Thursday, Aug. 7 at 7 p.m. PT at Qualcomm Stadium against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Chargers’ second preseason game will take place on Friday, Aug. 15 at 7 p.m. PT at CenturyLink Field against the Seattle Seahawks.
The third preseason game is a nationally televised contest on Sunday, Aug. 24 in San Francisco. That game will be played at 1 p.m. PT and carried by Fox.
The Chargers conclude exhibition play on Thursday, Aug. 28 at 7 p.m. PT against the Arizona Cardinals at Qualcomm Stadium.
Games against the Cowboys, Seahawks and Cardinals will be televised locally by KFMB-TV, Channel 8 in San Diego. Local blackout rules will apply for the two home games against Dallas and Arizona.
With the Chargers selecting No. 25 overall and No. 57 in the second round, Kiper pegs two playmakers with speed to burn for San Diego in his two-round mock draft 4.0.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Rang identifies cornerback, outside linebacker, defensive tackle, offensive line and receiver as needs for San Diego. Though he believes the Chargers could draft as many as two cornerbacks in this year’s draft, Rang identifies Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix as a target for San Diego in the first round because of the lack of depth at the position in this year’s draft.
Rang also points to Utah outside linebacker Trevor Reilly, Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins, Stanford offensive lineman David Yankey and Pittsburg State receiver John Brown as potential targets for San Diego.
Ricky Henne of Chargers.com talks with edge rusher Dwight Freeney, who expects to make more of an impact in 2014 after an injury shortened his 2013 season.
TCU cornerback Jason Verrett talks with Darren Smith of The Mighty 1090 in this audio link.
Kyle Posey of Bolts from the Blue evaluates Louisville pass-rusher Marcus Smith.
ESPN Broncos beat reporter Jeff Legwold writes that with the success of Seattle cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell, big cornerbacks are en vogue, but in short supply in this year’s draft. One of the reasons the Seahawks have had success with big cornerbacks is because of the scouting department’s ability to find players who have the measurables, and the coaching staff’s commitment to develop and play young players.
Brandon Stone of KUSI News talks with San Diego native Dillon Baxter about his workout with the Chargers in this video.
According to Pro Football Focus, new San Diego running back Donald Brown was the most elusive runner in the NFL in 2013.
Player: OT D.J. Fluker
Reason for optimism: Fluker should experience a jump in development in his second season with an offseason to refine his technique, along with working with trainers to improve his flexibility, strength and endurance in order to perform at a high level during the NFL’s marathon season. The Chargers have all five projected starters returning up front, so maintaining chemistry and cohesion with that group will be important.
Reason for concern: Fluker and the rest of the offensive line must stay healthy. Fluker missed one game in 2013 due to a concussion, with Mike Harris replacing him in the lineup in a Week 3 contest at Tennessee at right tackle. The Chargers played six different starting offensive line combinations last season. And while San Diego’s offensive line still played at a relatively high level with some of the team’s frontline starters out, guys are named starters for a reason. The Chargers, including Fluker, need to stay healthy for this team to make another deep playoff run.
The receiver still has hurdles to clear as he attempts to return from a serious neck injury that cut short his 2013 season. Floyd, 32, said he's been cleared to run and workout, but has not been cleared for all football activities.
"I'll definitely be there for that," Floyd said about San Diego's offseason program. "I'm excited to be back and just be around my teammates again. You don't realize how much you take for granted until you go through something like I did, so it feels good to be back. I know I'm in good hands with [head athletic trainer] James Collins and his staff. I'm listening to their advice and to my body, and I feel like I'm in a good position right now. I feel really good running and everything."
Darren Smith of The Mighty 1090 talks with NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock in this audio link. Mayock said cornerback and pass rush are San Diego's top draft needs.
Bucky Brooks of the NFL Network has the Chargers selecting Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round and Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III in the second round in his two-round mock draft.
Michael Gehlken of U-T San diego reports on some draft prospects that will participate in the Chargers' local pro day on Wednesday.
Aaron Wilson of the National Football Post reports Montana linebacker Brock Coyle will visit the Chargers on Wednesday.
ESPN's Paul Lukas of Uni Watch has an interesting report on Riddell's new football helmet SpeedFlex. The helmet has a cutout at the crown of the helmet, creating a flexible panel designed to disperse impact.
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated ranks his top 10 cornerbacks in this year's draft. Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard tops the list.