Pickin’ Bolts: A Comprehensive Look at Chargers’ OL

Credit: UT San Diego
Credit: UT San Diego

So who will make the team?

Working from left to right the starters are easy:

Starters:

LT: King Dunlap

LG: Orlando Franklin

C: Matt Slauson

RG: D.J. Fluker

RT: Joe Barksdale

The rest of this exercise might be easier in terms of who they won’t be keeping.

The first and most obvious is Trevor Robinson. Robinson was supposed to be a backup G/C for the Chargers in 2015 but ended up playing in all 16 games and started 13. Unfortunately he wasn’t up to the task. He has a fairly lucrative contract (for a backup) and with the presence of freshly signed Matt Slauson and newly drafted Max Tuerk, Robinson will be handed walking-papers as soon as the Chargers are able (coming off a surgery, the Chargers are not allowed to cut him yet since he is an injured player).

The next obvious cut-candidate is Spencer Pulley. With three Centers ahead of him on the pecking order (Slauson, Tuerk, and Watt) Pulley has zero chances of sticking on this roster.

The two Guards whom the Chargers signed as UDFAs, Johansson and McQueen, are the next most likely candidates. Johansson, whom I know nothing about as a player, is really interesting because of his Swedish heritage and strength/strongman background. I can’t help but wonder if he could be retained as a scout team player and could work on his craft and if his strength could help him develop into a prospect.

Just because he’s an UDFA, Oregon Tackle Tyler Johnstone is also a cut candidate. Johnstone, however, is quite the prospect. He was the LT for the Ducks when they made their title run in 2014 until an ACL injury prematurely ended his season. He hasn’t been the same player since but he’s also dealt with multiple injuries. Prior to injuries he was looked as a potential 1st round draft pick and even after the first ACL injury people talked about Johnstone as having 2nd-3rd round draft status. The Chargers would do well to hang on to Johnstone (perhaps creatively IR’ing him) and seeing if good health allows him to regain his athleticism and top-shelf form.

The last cut potential cut would likely come from one of OT Tyreek Burwell, G/T Kenny Wiggins, or freshly drafted G Donavon Clark.

So who will the Chargers keep?

The Chargers will absolutely keep Max Tuerk. You don’t cut a 3rd round player right after you draft him. So Tuerk along with the starting 5 are guaranteed a 53-man roster slots. Also, freshly re-signed Chris Hairston is another virtual lock.

AP Photo/John Cordes
AP Photo/John Cordes

After the starting five and the two listed above, the Chargers will probably keep at least two of the following on their active roster:

  • G/C Chris Watt
  • T/G Kenny Wiggins
  • T/G Tyreek Burnwell
  • G Donavon Clark

And it wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see Johnstone or one of the other guys sneak in and grab one of those slots either.

Okay, so let’s look closer at the starters:

King Dunlap – We can really sum up Dunlap in two phrases:

  1. He’s talented.
  2. He’s been injury-prone.

When Dunlap is healthy he’s solid. Look, Dunlap isn’t going to make anyone forget about Orlando Pace. But if he’s healthy he’s better than anyone we’ve had since the 2011 version of Marcus McNeil. The problem is the “if he’s healthy” part. He was mostly a backup in Philly starting 19 games over four years while seeing action in 52 over that span. Since San Diego brought him in he’s played & started in 34 games while missing 14. If he’s right he can give Philip Rivers the time he needs to throw. He vowed this offseason to stay healthy but that’s not always something a player, especially lineman, can control.

Orlando Franklin – Before missing 6 games last year with San Diego, Franklin had only missed one game in his previous four years in the NFL. The former Miami Hurricane has been relatively healthy since coming to the NFL. And when he converted to Guard in 2014 he established himself as one of the better guards in the NFL. If he can regain that form and revert to his former health, the Chargers should have a stout left side of the OL.

Matt Slauson – Slauson is an interesting guy to evaluate. He didn’t start a single game as rookie with the Jets but since then has started every game he’s played in (he missed 11 games in 2014 – those are his only missed games since his rookie season). On tape with Chicago he played very well. And ProFootballFocus.com rates him very highly. But the Bears didn’t believe in his talent enough to keep him despite the fact that he was already under contract (they may have needed cap space). He’s easily an upgrade over Chris Watt and Trevor Robinson and he’s probably keeping Center warm for Max Tuerk but even if he loses his starting job to Tuerk soon, he provides much-needed depth for a unit that has struggled when the starters were absent.

D.J. Fluker – Fluker is another tough guy to grade. Rivers raved about Fluker playing while injured last season and grinding for his teammates when he could have begged off. But the unit was so injury-riddled Fluker felt he needed to do what he could. And in that we realize that we can’t be sure if what we saw out from Fluker last year was actually what he was capable of doing. Fluker has slimmed down considerably from last year but he should still be playing at 320+. Guard is an obviously more natural position for someone of his size/weight/athleticism but he hasn’t played it much. So there is still learning and developing going on. Also, the Chargers just picked up his 5th year option (for 2017). This season will be telling whether or not the 2013 first round draft pick was worth the big investment.

Joe Barksdale – Barksdale, as you all know, was the only starter to stay healthy for all 16 games. Even that statement, however, isn’t completely accurate. Barksdale was helped to the sideline in at least one game but played and started every game last season. ProFootballFocus.com rates Barksdale about average but he’s quite solid. If he can repeat his healthy season, Chargers fans should be pleased.

Max Tuerk – Tuerk won’t have a starting role to begin the season, but make no mistake, the Charger view him as a long-term starter at Center. They will be grooming him for that role. Tuerk is athletic enough to have started at LT and RT at a big-time college program (USC) but ultimately moved inside to Center. He was talked about as the best Center prospect in the draft until he tore his ACL in October. Slauson’s presence will allow the Chargers to bring Tuerk along slowly and will let Tuerk rehab his injured leg slowly and learn the nuances of the NFL position. Then if any of the middle 3 are injured Tuerk could fill in at Center and Slauson would slide to Guard.

Conclusions

Why should Charger fans be excited about 4 of the 5 same starters from last year’s injury-wrecked OL with a “retread” at Center and a rookie waiting in the wings? One, Slauson isn’t a retread. He’s legit. Is he Travis Frederick? Probably not, but he’s a major upgrade over Watt/Robinson and he provides much-needed depth in the interior. And with Rivers’ lack of mobility the team needs to have a stout interior OL so he can step up into a clean pocket. Adding Slauson and Tuerk will help dramatically.

Thanks for reading. And please, if you’re not already doing so, follow me on Twitter: @PickinBolts

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Peter Friberg
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