Over the past five months, we’ve kept a watchful eye on the teams who appear on the Redskins’ 2013 schedule.
We’ve tracked their free agent signings. We’ve examined their drafts. Now, in our final edition of Enemy Intel, we’re taking a look at three storylines that will dominate each team’s preseason.
Up today …
2012 record: 7-9
Key acquisitions: LB Dwight Freeney, OT Max Starks, DE Jarius Wynn, CB Derek Cox, RB Danny Woodhead, TE John Phillips, G Chad Rinehart, OT King Dunlap, WR Deon Butler
Draft picks: OT D.J. Fluker, LB Manti Te’o, WR Keenan Allen, CB Steve Williams, DE Tourek Williams, QB Brad Sorensen
Storyline No. 1: Can Philip Rivers turn it around?
The Chargers made the playoffs in each of Rivers’ first four seasons as a starter (2006-2009). But they’ve missed the playoffs each of the past three seasons.
GM A.J. Smith and Coach Norv Turner paid the price for the failures when they were fired in January.
Now Rivers is on the hot seat.
The four-time Pro Bowler committed 47 turnovers the past two seasons (only Mark Sanchez had more). Furthermore, his passing yards declined by more than 1,000 yards last season to a rather pedestrian 3,606.
Some analysts have begun to wonder about Rivers’ footwork and arm strength. Others point to the declining talent around him as well as a suspect offensive line (more on that later) as the reasons for his recent woes.
But this much cannot be argued: Rivers has no connection to the new regime, general manager Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy. And, because of that, the 2013 season is, without a doubt, Rivers’ most important in San Diego.
Storyline No. 2: How’s Te’o fitting in?
It wouldn’t have been complete a shock had Te’o received a little ribbing from his veteran teammates.
But, in an interview with SiriusXM NFL radio last week, the Notre Dame product revealed that he hasn’t been teased about the dead girlfriend scandal that dominated sports headlines in January.
“To be honest with you, I was kind of expecting the worst,” said Te’o, who was drafted in the second round. “I was careful where I went. I was careful with what I said. The first day (of OTAs), guys are coming up to me and saying, ‘Just have fun. Be you.’ With that encouragement, I slowly started opening up a little more. I became myself — fast.”
No one will soon forget Te’o’s connection to one of college football’s strangest stories. But if he’s getting a free pass as a rookie in an NFL locker room, perhaps the embarrassing episode will indeed disappear in the rearview sooner rather than later.
Te’o is projected as a starting inside linebacker.
Storyline No. 3: About that offensive line …
One of Rivers’ problems last season was the fact that he was sacked 49 times – 19 more than 2011 – for a total loss of 311 yards. Only Green bay’s Aaron Rodgers was sacked more (51).
After that debacle, Telesco quickly went about retooling the unit that protects his quarterback.
Fluker, the 11th overall pick out of Alabama, is projected start at right tackle. Free agent additions Chad Rinehart and Max Starks are expected to start at left guard and left tackle, respectively. Last season’s right tackle, Jeromey Clary, is expected to slide to right guard and replace Louis Vasquez, who signed with Denver. Former Eagles’ tackle King Dunlap, meantime, will push Starks and provide some depth.
Will it work? Telesco (and Rivers) had better hope so.