Friday, 10 August 2012

Ryan Mathews' injury will hurt the Chargers in terms of roster depth

 So the consensus is that the prognosis for recovery for Ryan Mathews is that it's going to take longer than the four to six weeks floated yesterday after the game.  That makes sense, four weeks seemed optimistic, even six weeks seemed tight. I've had lots of friends break their clavicle and the recovery time is longer than that. On the one hand, they've rarely had to get surgery, they'd wear this harness that kept their shoulder back and took it easy for a couple months. On the other hand, they weren't going to be tackled by 300 lbs linemen when they went back to work or on their bike or snowboard.

So I'm glad that Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune cleared that up. It seemed the team was trying to soften the blow for fans and reduce the criticism of Ryan by the lunatic fringe.
This injury will hurt the team in the predictable manner.  The offense will be less productive, the running game will be less of a threat and the opposition will be able to back off the line of scrimmage.  They'll be able to blanket guys like Eddie Royal and Antonio Gates who would normally have sneaked behind the linebackers looking to stuff a run.  The passing offense will be less effective with safeties not drawn in by the threat of a Ryan Mathews run, pass rushers will pin their ears back, and with a suspect offensive line, Philip Rivers may rush more throws, as he did last season. 

Another area this will affect is roster depth.  With a workhorse running back, we could have padded other areas of the team.  Now, we will need to carry five RB's on our roster to start the season, and that will cost us Dante Rosario and a linebacker who could have played special teams. Let me explain.

With Ryan in the lineup hoovering snaps, as Coach Turner was apparently preparing his team for, we could have gotten away with three RB's and two FB's and that would have been plenty.  Ryan Mathews gets the most work, Ronnie Brown is the trusty veteran who spells him and brings some extra talents.  The two fullbacks are Le'Ron McClain, who can be effective carrying the ball, especially between the tackles, and Jacob Hester, who can contribute in specific situations.  Add a third RB, either veteran Jackie Battle who can pitch in on special teams, or youngsters Curtis Brinkley or Michael Hayes, and we're set in the backfield, that's a full complement.  Have an emergency RB on the practice squad, and it's a done deal.

Now if we have to carry Ryan on the roster for the first three weeks or so, but he's not playing, we'll need more than Ronnie Brown and just one more complementary back, we need two, possibly three more backs, especially if one of them doesn't separate from the others in camp, A.J. and Norv will want to hedge their bets.  This is how I suspect it will hit the tight ends and the linebackers.

I was looking forward to having four tight ends, with Antonio Gates, Randy McMichael, Andre Rosario and Ladarius Green.  The first three are veterans who can all help Philip Rivers, with Randy McMichael being a good blocker and safety valve, and Dante Rosario being a good receiver more in the mold of Antonio, as we saw in the last-minute loss to Carolina two seasons ago.  Ladarius Green is a project with great upside, but who needs to get stronger and learn route discipline among other things.  It would have been easy to activate the three vets on game days and leave Mr. Green inactive for at least the first few games, until he improved and/or injuries struck.

Now we won't have that luxury.  We'll have to make do with three TE's, and the Chargers won't cut Ladarius Green after spending a fourth-rounder on him at the last draft.  He's got too much talent and comes cheap on his rookie contract.  There's no way they can sneak him on the practice squad, he'll get claimed if they try that, so Dante Rosario will probably be on the outs.

Another area of depth that might suffer would be the linebacking corps.  Guys like Andrew Gachkar, Darryl Gamble and Bront Bird who were fighting for a spot on the roster by playing hard on special teams and working hard to learn their position in practice just saw their chances to make it reduced.  With luck and injuries one or two of those guys could have made it, now I have a harder time seeing that if we need to carry five running backs.  They're not going to beat out the veterans and high-draft picks in front of them, so they're probably now gunning for a job with another team or the practice squad.

Other areas like the offensive line and the defensive backs aren't likely to lose pieces, they're both areas in need of help, we're not going to compromise depth there.  Same with the D-line, we'll have six players for three positions, there's no fat to trim. 

It's a headache, a bad domino effect, but it's to be expected, all teams have to deal with injuries.  We can't refuse to accept the situation.

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