On the the plus side:
- Philip Rivers looked good and ready to go, although Norv kept the passing game very simple
- The coaches were confident enough in the health of tight end Antonio Gates to involve him in several plays early on. His pass catching ability has not changed. I'd still like to see that old burst down field that was missing due to the toe injury last year.
- Free agent acquisition from Dallas, Kevin Burnett, was all over the field at inside linebacker. He appears to be a huge upgrade from the timid Matt Wilhelm released in the off season. Burnett is tall, athletic and speedy getting to the ball. He should have some picks this season. Only one concern here and thing I did NOT see: Is he able to fill the hole at the line of scrimmage on run plays? You need to have tough run stopping middle linebackers in the 3-4 defense.
- 3rd round draft pick Jamaican/Canadian force of nature Vaughn Martin played for the majority of the game at defensive end, picking up some of the experience he needs. He consistently and easily knocked offensive linemen into the backfield on running plays. He seems to still need to work on his ball awareness and pass rushing technique, but this guy could be AJ Smith's find of the year.
On the "jury is still out" side:
- The running game: It was great that LT got some carries and is working on his timing. This will help the team start faster. The run blocking was not crisp, efficient, or forceful. You might say that this is only preseason, however, in years past, when the run game was strong, under Marty, or even back to the Bobby Ross days, you could see that something was different even in the first games of preseason. Kris Dielman, Nick Hardwick, and Marcus McNiell are some of the best in the game, but on the other side, Jeromey Clary and Kynan Forney are unproven. Is this a problem of personnel or coaching? Does Norv Turner put too much emphasis on the passing game, neglecting to practice and stick with the run? If you don't think this is important, think about what the Steelers did to us last year in the playoffs, controlling the clock and confidently wearing us down with the running game. Think about the New York Giants and how they won the Super Bowl the year before...It was not because of Eli Manning. This is a key area of concern that I have a feeling will come up again in the course of this season.
- Shawne Merriman limping? Merriman said he felt great, but he did not seem to have a great burst, despite the optimistic telecast of Billy Ray Smith and Ron Pitts. In fact, he seemed to be limping and a bit tentative. Everyone has assumed Merriman will be back at 100% of his old disruptive self when the regular season starts, but will this injury hold him back this year? Watch him in the upcoming preseason games.
- Rookie running back Gartrell Johnson did not show that burst or instinct for the hole I mentioned in my last post. He did have a bit of that "deer in the headlights" look when he was on the field. Watch to see if he can calm down and progress in the remaining preseason games.
Other areas of note:
- Projected 3rd string tight end Kris Wilson made some great plays including a beautiful, twisting catch of a long pass along the sideline, stuttering his feet in bounds like the most skilled of receivers. He was also flying around on special teams.
- The hit of the game by safety Steve Gregory, jarring the ball loose from the receiver.
- Another big hit behind the line of scrimmage on a run play by rookie safety, Kevin Ellison, out of USC. This guy looks like a real NFL player already and may be the starter next year. AJ Smilth can be credited with another sterling late round find.
- Clinton Hart's starting safety job may be in jeopardy with the strong play of the two above.