Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 2/10/12
Philip Rivers will not turn the ball over another 27 times. John Pagano has replaced Greg Manusky as Defensive Coordinator with the intention of pressuring opposing quarterbacks more. Norv Turner has to know by now that he is coaching for his San Diego life. The window of opportunity has threatened to close on nearly 50 separate occasions, and these Chargers need to harness their individual talents and play like a fully-charged team - not an iPhone with 45% of its battery that could last the entire road trip as long as you keep closing all of the apps. What moves can they make this offseason to finally maximize their potential?

-Find a new Darren Sproles. Mike Tolbert is an unrestricted free agent, and after ten total touchdowns San Diego should re-sign him (although recent history indicates they will not - see Michael Turner). However, while it is beneficial to have a bruiser in your rotation (despite Tolbert's mere 4.1 yards per attempt and a few key 4th-and-1 stuffs throughout the season), he is not the ideal third-down back and complement to Ryan Mathews. A rushing attack that ranked No. 16 in the league, the Chargers genuinely missed the sideline speed, pass-catching ability, special teams contributions, and overall difference-making that Sproles provided back in the day and for New Orleans this past year. There are hardly any running backs in the free agent pool that fit this description - they can super glue the shambles of Steve Slaton, or place a tender on restricted free agent LaRod Stephens-Howling of Arizona. It is more likely that they find their sub-5'10'' Sproles 2.0 in the third round of the Draft, whether it be Boise State's Doug Martin, Oregon's LaMichael James, or even Florida's Chris Rainey. That's right, steal a page from Oakland's playbook and select the running back with the fastest 40 time (4.36).

-Say goodbye to Vincent Jackson. It's not that the Chargers wouldn't love duplication of Jackson's Pro Bowl production (60 receptions, 1,106 yards, 9 touchdowns). There is just a better chance of Rivers being replaced by Peyton Manning than the wide receiver responding well to a second consecutive franchise tag. The truth is that San Diego can undoubtedly survive without him (Jackson's two best performances were in losses to New England and Green Bay), as Rivers has done wonders with no-names in the past (Legedu Naanee, Seyi Ajirotutu, etc.). That doesn't mean that they wouldn't appreciate a stud receiver to serve alongside Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown, but through stressing a new "team" attitude and filling other needs, they don't necessarily have to spend superfluous money on the position or put up with a diva. Three free agents to consider: 2011 practice-squad-waive Laurent Robinson, Brandon Lloyd if he's not intent on a huge contract, and silently aging but humbly skilled Reggie Wayne (Indianapolis should be cleaning house). Of course, the Chargers can make any reasonably priced wide receiver that isn't Roy Williams work, and they'll be targeting from the second to fifth rounds rookies ranging from Rutgers' Mohamed Sanu to Iowa's Marvin McNutt. Regardless, Vincent Jackson will be held out of San Diego's Training Camp once again.

-Breed the next Antonio Gates. Rivers does, on the other hand, depend heavily on Gates' success, and the perennial All-Pro is sadly declining by his standards (64 receptions, 778 yards, and 7 touchdowns through 13 games). This is "The Era of the Tight End," and until Gates is ready to retire and his heir is poised to step into the starting role, the Chargers can attempt to challenge New England with a 1-2 punch of their own. It is not clear whether or not this tight end exists in the upcoming Draft, but San Diego can hope for a projected first-rounder (Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener or Orson Charles) to slide into the second round, so long as the value is optimum. Maybe LA-Lafayette's Ladarius Green or Missouri's Michael Egnew is the guy, but otherwise, the Chargers should at least sign an upgrade from Randy McMichael - Martellus Bennett, Joel Dreessen, or Jacob Tamme, to name a few.

-Pass Rushers for Pagano. San Diego's 32 sacks tied with Cleveland for 23rd in the NFL. Luis Castillo (who should take a pay cut or be released to free up salary cap room) landed on the Injured Reserve in Week 1, and first-round defensive end Corey Liuget did little in his place. Larry English still hasn't panned out, and leading tackler Takeo Spikes is now 35-years-old. It is time to bolster the front seven. The obvious offseason prize on the defensive side of the ball is DE/OLB Mario Williams, but if the price is too steep then the Chargers can look towards Robert Mathis or Calais Campbell off the edges. Pagano will be alternating between 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, so they can take a chance on London Fletcher, Stephen Tulloch, or Johnathan Goff to command the middle of the defense. Also, if there is any Baltimore blood flowing through Chuck Pagano's younger brother, Cory Redding and Jarret Johnson are worth aligning with former Ravens' linebacker Antwan Barnes. As far as the Draft is concerned, USC's hybrid rusher Nick Perry would be an idyllic first round selection, Nebraska's Jared Crick can offer depth along the line, and unless San Diego unwittingly tags Antonio Garay over center Nick Hardwick (if they tag anyone at all), nose tackle Dontari Poe out of Memphis is another option out of many for Pagano to choose from. Make cream out of that crop.

-Remind Billy Volek he is on the team. An NFL roster with only two quarterbacks makes no sense to me in today's day and age, but in order to preserve depth at other positions, the backup must be more than ready. It is no different than when San Diego was without offensive linemen Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman by the end of the season and they scrambled to fill the voids - no unit has immunity. While the veteran Volek is clearly not Caleb Hanie or Tyler Palko, he has not endured significant on-the-field action since his Tennessee days back in 2005. Rivers can at any moment collapse under an O-line that additionally needs attention, so Volek's freshness is just something extra that Coach Turner should evaluate.

As long as every month in the Chargers' custom calendars says "December," the mediocre AFC West could easily be reclaimed. Of course, that was the case last offseason...

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