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Evaluating the Offensive Line with OL Coach Joe D’Alessandris
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Over the coming weeks, we’ll be checking in with the Chargers’ position coaches to get the inside scoop about the Bolts. We now turn our attention to OL Coach Joe D’Alessandris to get his thoughts on the offensive linemen.
Evaluating the Linebackers with LB Coach Mike Nolan
Evaluating the Tight Ends with TE Coach Pete Metzelaars
Evaluating the Special Teams with ST Coordinator Kevin Spencer
Evaluating the Wide Receivers with WR Coach Fred Graves
Evaluating the Running Backs with RB Coach Ollie Wilson
Evaluating the Defensive Line with DL Coach Don Johnson
Chargers.com: With the offseason program now over, what is your assessment of the offensive line as we get ready for training camp?
D’Alessandris: We acquired some players that will help us out. Acquiring Orlando Franklin, re-signing King Dunlap and Trevor Robinson, bringing in Joe Barksdale, Chris Hairston, Michael Huey and some other guys, it gives us more quality players and competition at all levels. So along with what we had with existing players, it has made our offensive line grow with greater depth. Our three college free agents, Tyreek Burwell, Ben Beckwith and Forrestal Hickman, have done a very good job learning the offense through OTAs which will give them a chance to compete during training camp.
Chargers.com: What are your expectations for Chris Watt now that he takes over as starting center?
D’Alessandris: I think he has grown tremendously. The sky is the limit for this young man. He’s like a sponge. He likes to grasp all the knowledge he can get with the teaching aspects of it. He’s great with the technical aspects of it in the classroom and on the field. So like I said, he will put the ceiling on his potential. There is a lot of growth, and we saw last year very good growth during the season, so having him back on the field is great.
D’Alessandris: We saw Orlando make the transition to guard last year in Denver, and he made that adjustment very, very well. And so far, he’s been a real plus for us. He is good for our O-Line room. He takes coaching and is a hard worker.
Chargers.com: At the other guard spot we have Johnnie Troutman. How much has he grown over your time with him?
D’Alessandris: Johnnie has really developed from when I first got here. He was injured his rookie year but our first spring he began to learn the offense. He came into his own and before we knew it, he did a nice job throughout that first training camp and preseason. Johnnie continued to grow as a player. He then got his first career start against the Cowboys in 2013. That helped developed his confidence. Last season he began as a starter against Arizona and has continued to make steady progress through spring OTAs.
Chargers.com: There has been a lot of talk about D.J. Fluker this offseason. He really put the onus on himself heading into year three to take that next step. What are your thoughts on D.J?
D’Alessandris: I thought he came in as a rookie and really competed. The guy walked in here day one as the starting right tackle, and he took that role upon himself. He had a heck of a rookie year playing right tackle, and then had to play left tackle for several games in the middle of the season. The last time he played left tackle I think was in high school, but he did it exceptionally well and had a really good rookie year. Last year he was a little bit up and down. All of a sudden he played against opponents who figured him out in some things, and he was figuring them out. I think players go through that throughout their career. And the way D.J. approaches everything, he’s going to work at it and improve. He’s done a very nice job in the offseason program. He has had solid, consistent practices and has worked very hard on his overall technique. He has shown a lot of consistency.
Chargers.com: The very first move we made in the offseason was re-signing King Dunlap. How important was that not just to the offensive line, but for the team?
Chargers.com: The other offensive lineman we re-signed was Trevor Robinson on the first day of free agency. How easy of a decision was it to bring him back?
D’Alessandris: I can’t say enough good things about Trevor Robinson. This young man came in the later part of our season last year and had to learn a new system. He was put in a difficult situation against Baltimore, and going into the fourth quarter, we are trying to regain the lead. Chris Watt got hurt right at the end of the third quarter, so Trevor came in and helped us upset Baltimore. He never batted an eye. He accepted the challenge and made some key blocks. He did a fantastic job communicating up front with the offensive line making sure everyone was on the same page. Then early against San Francisco, Chris got hurt again and Trevor did the same thing (as against the Ravens). He stepped right in and did a phenomenal job, and we beat San Francisco after they had a big early lead. He was instrumental in that game and showed a lot of promise. I think it gave him a lot of confidence, and it gave us a lot of confidence. This offseason he’s been nothing but a plus. It’s been great to have him back.
Chargers.com: Joe Barksdale was added late in the offseason. How did his adjustment go?
Chargers.com: You coached Chris Hairston in Buffalo, so what is it like to be reunited with him?
D’Alessandris: Chris is a quality player. When I was in Buffalo, we drafted Chris in the fourth round out of Clemson. He came in his rookie year and he had to start for us at right tackle. Very similar to D.J., during the course of our season our left tackle got hurt and he had to play left tackle as a true rookie. He had a heck of a nice year, and did a very nice job being a swing starter that year. Chris is a very intelligent young man. He really tries to become a technician, so it is good to be back with him. He just has to get back to using the communication system faster. He was exposed to this system when we were in Buffalo. Repetition will speed up this process.
Chargers.com: Michael Huey was with the Chargers in training camp a few years before you started coaching here. How much did his time in the AFL help him?
D’Alessandris: Like you said, I was not here when Michael first arrived. I have watched him grow and learn during our OTA's. He approaches each day with a purpose to improve and applies his skills on the field. He really works on his trade. Center is something new for him. He has been a guard and is learning how to become a center. He has done a nice job thus far.
Chargers.com: Jeremiah Sirles spent most of last year on the practice squad, joined the active roster before the Baltimore game and then saw extensive time at guard the final two weeks. What is your impression of Jeremiah from how much he developed from when he first signed with the Chargers until now?
D’Alessandris: Jeremiah grew from being a right tackle and a little bit of guard last summer, and now he is growing so much more across the offensive front playing multiple positions. That second year is always a big growth year. His confidence is there. He executes. He is a very tough competitor, and very productive. So it’s nice to see him grow from year one to year two.
Chargers.com: Craig Watts followed a similar path but remained on the practice squad all of last season. What are your thoughts on Craig?
D’Alessandris: Craig came here from West Texas A&M. He has grown as a professional. He works diligently every day. He has improved his size and strength in the weight room. In the classroom Craig is a conscientious note taker. He has shown steady growth on the field, which is encouraging. Growth is always a positive sign.
Chargers.com: Kenny Wiggins was on the team in 2013, let go at the end of last year’s preseason but brought back at the end of the year. What does Kenny bring to the O-Line?
D’Alessandris: Like you said, we had Kenny in here in 2013 after he was with San Francisco. We played San Francisco in the preseason, liked what we saw in him and when he became available, we brought him in. He fits our bill as a tackle, and then we cross-trained him to play some guard. Kenny is steady and consistent. You will get the same Kenny every day, and that’s a plus. You look for that consistency in an offensive lineman. It was a hard decision we had to make when we didn’t keep him, but fortunately we got him back, and that was fun for us and fun for him. Now he gets another opportunity.
D’Alessandris: Well, in the NFL, you only have so many spots. Early in my career when I first started coaching at Livingston University in Alabama, I was very fortunate that I had a mentor in Coach Frank North who taught me how to cross train. Not only does it help the player be more versatile but it also increases his total knowledge of the offense and game. It then gives him more opportunities as a player to help our team. Read