Football is back. (Ok so it may only be preseason but it still counts!)
After weeks of offseason workouts, minicamps and training camp reports, we finally get the chance to see the Chargers ditch the practice field and return to playing games. With an impressive offseason, the team look set for a big improvement this year. After two consecutive seasons of missing the Playoffs, a return to the Postseason should be the minimum expectation for Norv Turner and this roster.
The first preseason game kicks off on Thursday against the Green Bay Packers and so here are just a few things you should watch out for during the game.
New faces from free agency
Its certainly been a busy offseason for the Chargers this year and the team has brought in a whole host of new talent on both sides of the ball. Although its difficult to judge these new players in preseason as there playing time will likely be limited, it will still be interesting to see how new players like Robert Meachem and Jarret Johsnon perform.
Meachem will be a starting wide receiver for the Chargers and after spending his entire career as a number 3/4 receiver with the New Orleans Saints, developing a solid connection with quarterback Philip Rivers early in the preseason could prove vital further down the line during the regular season.
Moving onto the defensive side of the ball and Jarret Johnson was the team’s biggest free agent signing. A long time starter with the Baltimore Ravens, he’ll now be asked to start alongside Shaun Phillips in San Diego and be a run stopping force. With most of the Chargers’ other outside linebackers best used as pass rushers, it will be interesting to see if Johnson can step in and be as stout against the run as a Charger as he was during his time with the Ravens.
Rookie draft class
Were a few months removed from the draft and the Chargers will be expecting big things from their rookie class. The team went for defense with their first three picks and all three players have the potential to be key starters for the team further down the road. For now though, Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes and Brandon Taylor will be slowly worked into the defensive rotation as they adjust to playing in the NFL.
Another standout rookie to watch will be Ladarius Green. With so many tight ends on the roster he faces a tough battle ahead for playing time in the regular season. But as starter Antonio Gates doesn’t usually play many snaps during preseason, Green will be given his chance to show what he can do in preseason.
Backup players to watch out for
Lets face it, this is preseason football after all and so don’t expect to see many of the starters given any significant playing time. For now at least, its the backups time to shine and there will be a number of players looking to make an impact in preseason and that starts vs the Packers on Thursday. Although the Chargers roster appears to have much greater depth going into this season compared to years past, there are still some concerns.
On offense, backup quarterback is starting to become a issue. After Charlie Whitehurst got hurt in Training Camp, the Chargers signed veteran Kyle Boller on a one-year contract. The only problem was that Boller decided to retire from football after just one day after signing with the team.
This left the team with unproven rookie Jarret Lee as the only backup for Rivers and so the Chargers opted to bring in former San Diego State quarterback Kevin O’Connell. O’ Connell has spent most of his career just fighting battling to stay on a roster after spending time with the Patriots, Lions, Dolphins and two stints with the Jets. Preseason will be his chance to show that he is capable of being a reliable backup for Rivers.
On defense, although there are plenty of backups who will be looking to make an impact, there’s really only one player who stands out and that’s Larry English. Since being drafted in 2009, he has only managed to make 7 career sacks and he’s also made just 4 starts in his career as a Charger.
With Shaun Phillips, Jarret Johnson, last seasons sack leader Antwan Barnes and this years first round pick Melvin Ingram already on the roster, English knows this could be his last chance to make an impact. He needs to perform well in preseason if he wants to have a future with the Chargers and that starts against the Packers.
The Chargers have the longest streak in the NFL of fifteen consecutive seasons with at least one undrafted free agent making the 53-man roster after training camp. Daryl Gamble kept that streak going last season after his impressive performance in the first preseason against the Seattle Seahawks. Gamble had 8 tackles and a sack in that game and for just a brief few players, he was slightly reminiscent of a rookie Shawne Merriman. Unfortunately for Gamble, injuries limited his playing chances in his rookie year and he failed to make an impact.
Despite not making much of an impact, Gamble still made the roster and expect to see another undrafted rookie make a name for himself again this year. Keep an eye on offensive tackle Mike Harris who has already been given some first team reps in practice. With Brandyn Dombrowki placed on injured reserve, the offensive line lacks depth at tackle and so Harris is the early favorite from the 21 udfas the Chargers signed to land a roster spot.
Football is back
Eric Weddle and Shaun Phillips
Lastly, the most exciting thing to watch in the game will just be real football again. Don’t get me wrong, the nfl offseason is fun in all with the draft, free agency, training camp etc. but its now time to get back to basics and see how the players react in a real game situation.
Can the Chargers reclaim the AFC West and get back to the Playoffs? Is this the year the team finally wins a Superbowl? It may only be the first week of preseason but such high expectations are what preseason football is all about. Lets go bolts!!!
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