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Why Nick Hardwick and Matt "Money" Smith are Fans of Bolts' Offseason Changes
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They are still a couple months away from calling their first game together, but that hasn’t stopped Matt “Money” Smith and Nick Hardwick from diving headfirst into the Chargers’ roster.
While one has deep roots with the franchise as a former Pro Bowler and member of the 50th Anniversary All-Time team, the other is a newcomer with decades of experience in the industry. Each man provides unique perspective on the Bolts, but came to the same conclusion.
“I think fans are hearing excitement from lots of places because there is a lot to be excited about,” Smith said. “Number one, you have an elite quarterback. Philip Rivers is a likely Hall of Fame quarterback. That is rare. When you watch the Super Bowl, rarely do you have a team in there that doesn’t have an elite quarterback. So the fact that you start there with one of the best, who is certainly still in his prime even at his age, that’s exciting.”
“Fans are going to get a team that will play some really exciting football,” Hardwick added. “This is a young group that is really starting to find themselves, and they are going to face some unique challenges this year, but they can use those challenges to fortify the team. You are getting a Philip Rivers led team who is going to play with unbridled passion and energy. They have a lot to prove. I think it is going to be very exciting for the franchise, and very exciting for the fan base.”
A major reason for their excitement is a revamped offensive line.
The Chargers boast an explosive offense with the majority of their key playmakers back in the fold for 2017. However, they knew the o-line needed to be retooled, placing a heavy emphasis on the unit this offseason. They locked up steady veteran Russell Okung early in free agency, and then selected a pair of highly regarded guards in the NFL Draft in Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney.
The latter two additions were a major coup according to Smith.
“Look at this draft class. This team really improved its offensive line with Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney. As someone who covers the draft, I can tell you the analysts I work with (at NFL Network) were very excited about Lamp. Not only with what he was able to do in that Western Kentucky game against Alabama, but even going through the Senior Bowl dominating against top level competition. A leaky offensive line has been a problem for the Chargers the last couple seasons. If that gets fixed, I can only imagine what the possibilities are.”
Meanwhile, no one knows the inner workings of an offensive line like Hardwick, who spent 11 years in the trenches for the Chargers. He believes revamping the o-line was of the utmost priority.
“For me, the offensive line is the work ethic engine of a football team. When you’ve got young guys who are highly talented mixed in with veterans who know how to work and perform, and are also tough, then you have a chance to permeate that work ethic throughout the football team. When those are the guys setting the tone day in and day out, who are willing to fight, compete and ramp up the aggression and tempo during practice and on the field, then you have a chance. Because those are the guys who are setting the tone. They make the front seven on defense better. The front seven spreads that energy to the secondary, which challenges everyone to compete in the passing game. So for me, it all starts with the offensive line when you have a tough, hardnosed crew who loves the game.”
Fortunately, Hardwick is also fan of the players the Bolts elected to bring in to create that engine.
“I like the changes a lot. After talking to (Kris) Dielman about Dan Feeney, who both went to Indiana, and seeing the talent of Forrest Lamp, I like the decision to draft those two players. Kicking (Matt) Slauson over to guard, which I think is his natural position to be the moderator between the center and left tackle, is going to increase Russell Okung’s game. He is going to make him an even better left tackle. He’s also going to make the center a better player. You are going to have a really solid part of the line. Slauson gets to take off his cerebral mask playing center, and gets to put on his tough guy mask at guard. That’s what he’s best at. When he’s the bar room brawler, then the offensive line is going to be something special. He has a lot of power and strength. He has a lot of technical savvy, so look out; he’s going to be a wrecking ball.”