Saturday, August 28, 2010
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Sunday, August 22, 2010
1. Ryan Mathews is for real, but... Mathews again showed his toughness and burst. He still needs to learn to show a bit more patience (he knocked over Hardwick on a screen play). Charger fans should also worry about Mathew's health. He's tough and doesn't avoid pounding tackles, and this resulted in a bloody nose last night (and concussions in college). He can't try to run over every linebacker in the NFL if he wants to last a full season.
- Dombrowski's OK!: He stood up well for the most part against DeMarcus Ware and made some nice blocks down field in the run and screen game. One more point for AJ Smith in the ongoing test of wills against Marcus McNeill.
- Clary's not OK!: Jeromey Clary still looks below average at right tackle. Rivers' one interception was partially caused by Clary getting pushed right back into his QB's face, causing a poor throw. He also seems to have trouble blocking anyone in the open field. The guy is simply a weak link on the line. If the Chargers could bring back McNeill, I'd bet Dombrowski would end up starting at right tackle, putting Clary on the bench (where he belongs).
- Louis Vasquez looks great: The second year guard started last year, was injured in the first game, causing him to miss significant time during the season and slowing his development. Last night he showed great skill and strength in blocking down field on screens and firing off the ball and smacking linebackers in the face on run plays. His development could be the difference in the success of the running game this season.
- Tolbert will back up Mathews: Mike Tolbert ran around, through and over defenders last night, showcasing not only his obvious strength, but his surprising speed. He was able to turn the corner a few times, beating linebackers to the edge (anyone remember Natrone Means?). While good news for the Chargers and Tolbert, this is likely bad news for Marcus Mason, Shawnbrey McNeal and Curtis Brinkley, who will have to fight for a spot on the practice squad.
- Stuckey is not ready: Darrell Stuckey got his first dose of major playing time last night, and while he looked athletic, fast and strong on the field, he also didn't seem comfortable in the defense or in the flow of the game. He has been out with an injury, so perhaps he'll get up to speed with more practice and two more preseason games, but if I had to bet right now, I would say Steve Gregory will be the starter in the opening game.
- Larry English is not a game changer: English still looks quick, but somewhat one-dimensional, as all he can do is rush around the edge on passing downs. Tackles can simply nudge him past the QB. He needs to get better to not be considered a bust of a first round pick.
- Cam Thomas should start at nose: Of all the DT's rotating in at nose, the rookie Thomas looks the quickest and most dangerous out there. The other guys hold the line, Thomas pushes the center backwards or zips across the line of scrimmage on passing downs. He should be "the guy" when the regular season starts.
- Antwan Applewhite deserves consideration for a starting job: Again this week, the most dynamic and aggressive linebacker was Applewhite. If Shawne Merriman continues to have injury problems or is simply ineffective when the regular season starts, Applewhite should get the nod. The guy is a beast who finds ways to create chaos.
10. Nathan Vasher is a gamer: The former Pro Bowl free agent pick up was all over the field last night. He's not a real big or imposing guy, even for a corner, but he fought through blocks and made some great tackles on the edge against the run and was always right with his receiver on passing plays. He will be very valuable at some point this season.
Overall, the Chargers looked a little better this week and the Cowboys looked horrible (anyone notice Wade Phillips' body language throughout the game? Exasperation). Tony Romo looked completely out of sorts all night, and I don't think it had much to do with what the Chargers were doing. It could be a season of disappointment in Dallas.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Saturday night's game WILL be televised this time for local San Diego fans at 6:00. I'll be looking to see some improvement from players that showed weaknesses last week and some debut performances from others.
On defense, rookie safety Darrell Stucky is healed and ready to show what he is capable of this week. Despite being a rookie, the Chargers have pencilled him in as the starter opposite Eric Weddle. The team has raved about his field intelligence and work ethic in practice so far. It will be interesting to see if practice translates to a strong game performance. Tony Romo and the Cowboys will no doubt challenge the Chargers' young DB's. If Stuckey doesn't work out, they will have to revert to Plan B, which is the mediocre but hard working Steve Gregory.
Also on defense, hopefully we'll get to see the supposedly improved Larry English. Reports out of practice have lauded his speed, but I don't think speed was his problem last year. He was capable of getting around the edge quickly, but because that seemed to be ALL he could do, offensive tackles could just push him past the QB with a little nudge. Has he found other ways to get to the QB that will work in the NFL? We won't get to see Shawne Merriman who's out with a strained hamstring. This could be a bad sign for Merriman's health this season, as it is a chronic injury.
The defensive line did a decent job last week. I'd like to see rookie Cam Thomas get a shot at playing against the Cowboys' first string. While the other DT's in the rotation seem like just a bunch of journeymen sharing a position, Thomas showed some spark last week. Maybe he can step up and become "the guy" to replace Jamal Williams (he's already comandeered his jersey number). Another strong performance and they'll have to move him up the depth chart.
On offense, again, look to see if the O-line can actually push people off the ball and open up holes in the running game. They did not do this last week. In the passing game, this group should get more of a test from DeMarcus Ware and Cowboys creative blitzing 3-4 defense. Wade Phillips is the best coach in the game at running this thing. Will Dombrowski and Clary hold up? If not, the pressure will increase on AJ or Dean to concede and bring back McNeill. This is a test of wills yet to play itself out.
All San Diego fans should be extremely excited to get another glimpse of the electrifying Ryan Matthews at running back. I'm looking for him to show more patience this week in letting his blocks develop. Poor Kris Dielman had to put up with Mathews running up his back the whole first quarter last week. As a former high school offensive lineman, I know exactly how much it sucks when your own guy is smacking you in the back (one of the few places without much padding). If Mathews does show some patience and the O-line blocks just a little bit, he could bust a big run, increasing the buzz in SD and The League for the 2010 season.
I'm hoping the coaching staff will give rookie running backs Shawnbrey McNeal and Curtis Brinkley and longer look this week. If anything happens to Mathews during the season, McNeal, Brinkley or Marcus Mason (who looked unimpressive last week), will have to take on more of the load than most people realize.
Lastly, the receiving core minus Vincent Jackson will have to continue to show they can do it without him. I'd like to see some deep balls to Malcolm Floyd and Legedu Naanee. Can they run past people, or are they confined to leaping over them? Without a speedy deep threat, safeties will be able to converge more closely on San Diego's running game and blitz without fear.
The best news? We're one week closer to the regular season.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
- Antwan Applewhite looked the best of the outside linebackers in getting to the ball and putting pressure on the QB. He knocked the 2nd string Bears QB out of the game. Jyles Tucker is big and strong, but seems to lack the quickness to get around the tackle.
- Rookie defensive tackle Cam Thomas showed off his quickness in the second half in throwing the center out of the way and getting into the backfield. He may be a real find. I'd like to see him get a chance against the starters of the Cowboys next week. Thomas also seemed to be having fun out there. There's something special about this kid.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
Rookie strong safety, Darrell Stuckey is looking to prove the Chargers can trust him as a starter. The knock on him out of the draft was that he didn't have optimal speed for the position, but he's probably faster than anyone the Chargers have been playing back there (Clinton Hart, Steve Gregory, Kevin Ellison). Look to see if he seems to be in the right place on passing downs and how aggressive he can be in run support. One could argue that this position has been the greatest weakness of the Chargers' defense for years. Finding a real player here could make a huge difference.
At corner, Antione Cason has to prove he can replace, and improve upon, the job Antonio Cromartie did last year. After be demoted out of the nickle back position in 2009, he has a lot to prove. One time Pro Bowler Nathan Vasher is hot on Cason's heals, trying to prove he can still be relevant, if not great, in this league after injuries struck him down in his prime.
At the linebacker position, I'll be looking to see if OLB Larry English is actually improved over last year. Reports out of camp laud his increased speed and technique. If true, this could make Merriman irrelevant (and trade bait?) if not, some might begin rumbling about AJ Smith's new "bust," as English went at #16 in the draft last year. The most cheering and applause of the night will come if English can get his hands on the hated whiner, Jay Cutler.
On offense, everyone will be looking to see if Ryan Mathews has the burst, cutting ability and vision to merit shipping LT off to New York. Look to see if he can burst through the line and make people miss while not fumbling. This could be the start of a new era in San Diego. However, will the starting line be able to run block even a little bit? We will find whose fault last year's horrible running game was.
Will the rest of the guys on the receiver corps be able to do much without Vincent Jackson? A poor performance could increase the calls for AJ to make a deal and get Jackson in sooner than later.
On the strategy front, we won't get to see much creative blitzing with the defense, but the offense may want to practice an intriguing formation they've reportedly been working on: the three tight end set. Lining up with tight ends Antonio Gates, the talented and experienced Randy McMichael, and Kris Wilson, this formation challenges defenses to prepare for the run with all the "bigs" in there, but all three of these tight ends are fast and great pass catchers. Those of you who play Madden might know this formation works incredibly well in the game...will it translate to reality? If it doesn't happen Saturday night, look for it later in the regular season.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
The wounds of last season have healed slowly, leaving scars of skepticism and new questions for the San Diego Chargers in 2010:
- Was is it all LT's fault last season? After hearing the Union Tribune's constant droning in 2009 about how the The League and the Chargers had changed and running the ball was simply no longer a priority, they released LT then went out and picked Ryan Matthews in the first round. This implies running the ball actually is important, but the lack of change on the offensive line, in coaching or personell, would imply someone (Norv and/or AJ) has actually made the calculation that last year's atrocious running game was actually LT's fault.
- Will Ryan Matthews live up to the hype? This guy is talented and tough. He ran through and over defenders at Fresno State, which caused some injury and concussion problems toward the end of his collegiate career. Will he hold up in the NFL? The Chargers hope the answer is "yes." The preseason may be telling if Norv gives Matthews a real chance to show his stuff.
- Will the offensive line be exposed as the "real" problem when an aging LT isn't around to blame anymore? There appeared to be no push and no holes last year against even the most mediocre of defenses. What has changed this year? Oh, the team has refused to sign their best young lineman, Marcus McNeill, bringing us to our next question.
- Has AJ Smith grown even more arrogant and overconfident, letting this team take a step backwards by forcing a holdout of Marcus McNeill, Vincent Jackson and Shawne Merriman(although there are reports Merriman is signing as this goes to press)? Or is he simply smart and tough, figuring he has these three over a barrel and they will have to report for the sake of their careers?
- Will the receiver corps suffer without Vincent Jackson? None of the remaining receivers contain both the size and speed of Jackson. Buster Davis is often injured and seems more of a prototypical slot receiver rather than a wideout. Malcolm Floyd has the height and pass catching ability of Jackson, but lacks the pure speed to stretch the field. Legedu Naanee is big and athletic, but also not as fast as Jackson. Will teams be able to stack the box with safeties even more if no speedy deep threat emerges?
- And the defense....Who will fill that final safety spot? The promising rookie, Darrel Stuckey or will the job default back to the average but gritty Steve Gregory? Will the team regret letting go of Antonio Cromartie at corner, or will Antione Cason provide more reliability and run stopping stoutness? Will the new free agents, Vasher and Strickland provide the solid experience lacking in the nickel and dime packages of previous years?
- Can the front seven regain its pass rush and run stopping swagger? Is Merriman done, or about to return to form? Is Ron Rivera simply not knowledgeable enough to run the 3-4 defense properly (like Wade Phillips)?
- Lastly, will the Chargers dominate a befuddled AFC West again this year only to get out coached, out-physicaled, or out kicked (Kaeding!) in the playoffs once again?
We'll be exploring all of these questions in depth as well as breaking down the preseason games over the next four weeks. I hope you tune in. Broken heart or not, it's going to be an interesting season.