Improving the Los Angeles Chargers offensive line has been a focal point for the team the entire offseason. The front office aggressively pursued free agents, added some exciting rookies, and have completely transformed how they look upfront.
The movement along the offensive line is a refreshing site for fans who have watched the Bolts field sub-par units for YEARS. PFF graded last year’s unit as the worst in the league when it came to performance, so the rebuild comes at the perfect time.
How much better can the revamped Chargers’ offensive line be in 2021?
Bryan Bulaga was a 2020 free agent signing who enters his second season in Los Angeles after spending his first nine seasons in Green Bay. He did miss six games last year due to injury and he is 32-years-old, however, the savvy vet can still be a valuable contributor next season. With 121 career starts to his name, Bulaga is a proven commodity in this league and will reclaim his starting position at right tackle.
The Bolts drafted Trey Pipkins in the third round of the 2019 draft with the hopes that he could develop into their starting left tackle of the future. Coveted for his athleticism and quick footwork, he has not quite lived up to expectations during his first two professional seasons. Appearing in just eight games, the sample size is too small to fully determine what type of player Pipkins can be. At this point in his career, he is a promising, young backup who could flip over to the right side upon Bulaga’s retirement.
Coming over from the XFL last offseason, Storm Norton finished the year as the team’s top-ranked lineman after appearing in six games. He made two starts at right tackle and held his own in both run and pass blocking. Norton is a cheap backup piece with versatility, having logged snaps at both tackle positions.
Tyree St. Louis battled his way off the Chargers’ practice squad and cracked the Week 1 starting lineup at right guard. He did not allow a single sack on 80 total snaps, appearing in five games which led Los Angeles to re-sign the 24-year-old to a one-year extension. Last year, St. Louis proved he’s more than just an emergency depth piece. Expect to see him on the initial 53-man roster as the backup left guard.
The Chargers’ offensive line has been hammered with injuries the past few seasons so to see that Scott Quessenberry has appeared in all 32 games during that span is impressive. A fifth-round selection in the 2018 draft, Quessenberry has established himself as the team’s best depth piece along the interior. In 2021 he will serve as the backup center with the ability to spot start at guard.
The Chargers traded for guard Trai Turner last year, sending former offensive tackle Russell Okung to the Carolina Panthers. Following five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances from 2015-2019, Turner’s production hit a steep decline this past season. He missed seven games in 2020 due to injury and finished the year as PFF’s second-worst graded guard in the league. The Bolts released Turner in March, a move that freed up $11.5 million of cap space. Turner will look to bounce back this year after signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Detroit Lions.
Dan Feeney has been the most reliable offensive lineman for the Chargers over the past few seasons. A third-round pick in the 2017 draft, Feeney has started in all 48 games from 2018-2020. His consistency will be missed, especially on a unit that has been plagued by injuries in recent years. Feeney has spent time at center and both guard positions during his time in Los Angles and will look to bring that versatility to New York after signing a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Jets.
Forrest Lamp was also taken in the 2017 draft by the Chargers as a second-round selection out of Western Kentucky. Derailed by injuries during the first three years of his career, Lamp appeared in every offensive snap for the Bolts in 2020. The only problem was that his talent didn’t match his resilience. He performed admirably in pass protection but was a liability in the run game which inevitably led him to sign elsewhere. Lamp will look to carve out a role as a backup guard for the Buffalo Bills this upcoming season.
The third lineman taken by the Chargers in the 2017 draft, Sam Tevi, made the switch over to left tackle and started 14 games in 2020. Tevi allowed only two sacks on 1,025 offensive snaps. An extremely impressive feat considering he gave up 16 through 2018-2019. His increase in production gained the attention of the Indianapolis Colts with the two sides agreeing to terms on a one-year, $2.5 million deal. Tevi will compete for a starting tackle position along an incredibly talented offensive line in Indy.
Mike Pouncey officially called it quits this past offseason, putting an end to an impressive nine-year career. The four-time Pro Bowler announced his retirement along with his twin brother Maurkice, the longtime Pittsburgh Steeler. Mike spent the first seven years in the league with the Miami Dolphins before signing with the Chargers in 2018.
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Free Agent Signings
The Chargers needed help at center and began their offseason by signing the best player at the position. 2020 All-Pro selection Corey Linsley brings a wealth of experience and consistency to Los Angeles, appearing in 99 games during his seven-year career. His services did not come cheap as Linsley became the highest-paid center in NFL history, signing a five-year, $62.5 million deal. He is an extremely gifted blocker who is applauded by teammates and coaches for his leadership. That communication ability will make things much easier for young quarterback Justin Herbert to make the necessary pre-snap adjustments. Linsley instantly makes this team better and is sure to be the anchor of the Chargers’ offensive line for the foreseeable future.
Continuing the rebuild upfront, the Chargers brought in versatile lineman Matt Feiler from the Pittsburgh Steelers on a team-friendly three-year, $21 million contract. Feiler served as the Steelers starting right tackle from 2018-2019 but put together his best season to date this past year after bumping inside to left guard. In 2020 he totaled 621 snaps in pass protection and only allowed 17 pressures. He is projected to be the Bolts starting left guard this year but the fact he has experience at right tackle makes this move even more valuable.
Inking guard Oday Aboushi to a one-year, $1.6 million deal is another underrated offseason acquisition for the Chargers. Aboushi appeared in all 16 games for the Detroit Lions last season, making eight starts and logging 622 snaps. He allowed just one sack on 11 pressures and provided some much-needed stability along an offensive line that saw its fair share of injuries. As of now, the starting right guard spot is Aboushi’s to lose. However, he will need to put together a solid training camp to solidify his claim as he should expect some competition from a certain rookie on the roster. More on that below.
With the No. 13 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Chargers selected their franchise left tackle of the future in the form of Northwestern product Rashawn Slater. Considered by many analysts to be the best offensive lineman of the class not named Penei Sewell, many Bolt fans were left speechless as the 6-foot-4, 304-pound behemoth slid right into their laps. As far as fit goes, it doesn’t get much better than this pairing. Slater provides the Chargers with a generational talent at the team’s biggest position of need.
Fifth-round selection Brenden Jaimes is a technically sound blocker with tremendous strength and excellent vision. Jaimes cracked the starting rotation at Nebraska as a true freshman and went on to set the program record for consecutive starts by an offensive lineman (40). He only has game experience at tackle, however, during the Senior Bowl, he proved he can handle himself at guard as well. With Aboushi spending most of his career as a depth piece, expect Jaimes to receive a legitimate opportunity this summer to prove he has what it takes to be an NFL starter as a rookie. Worst case scenario, he provides a developmental depth piece.
Chargers Offensive Line Outlook
Justin Herbert was harassed on nearly every snap last year so to see him turn in the best rookie season from a quarterback EVER is a testament to his football abilities. The good news for Chargers fans is that he won’t be asked to do it all by himself anymore. Telesco went all in this offseason to ensure their young signal-caller could be kept healthy and upright. On paper, the front office did everything in its power to reshape this offensive line unit. Now it’s up to the players and the coaching staff to turn that into success on the field during the 2021 season.