The Chargers head into the third preseason game on Saturday at the Arizona Cardinals. The team has shown good and bad over the first two games but that’s the point of preseason games, separate the bad from the good. Last week against the Bears there was plenty of good and bad. Here’s what I saw:
The most important part of the Chargers equation is the offensive line. Fluker, Starks and Clary all let their man get by them for a sack. Of course, this being the Thursday Night ‘Monday Night Football’ game, there were copious replays of them getting beaten badly by the Bears linemen. However, that was their one hiccup and the line held for the most part. Fluker and Starks maintained their sides admirably and Rivers had time to throw, most of the time.
Ryan Mathews continued to look impressive. In the first two games, Mathews has been decisive when hitting the hole instead of dancing in the backfield and losing yards or being stuffed at the line. Mathews has been running downhill, has shown great burst and has made it two games without getting injured. Excuse me while I look for wood to knock on…hard.
Fozzy Whittaker has looked great on the field. He has shown ability to pass block and catch passes as well as run with speed and power. Whitaker could be a hidden gem, gift wrapped by new Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt who saw Whittaker daily on the Arizona Cardinals practice squad. Whitaker has not played a down in a live game until now but you would never know by looking at him.
Antonio Gates is running, cutting and getting open as well as he has in years. Very encouraging.
Edwin ‘Rock’ Baker looked good running the ball but against the Bears third unit, its hard to gauge how much stock to put into it.
Mike Willie did a great job of recovering from the vicious, CLEAN hit levied on him by Jon Bostic. Any player could have called it a day after taking a shot like that but Willie dusted himself off, and scored two touchdowns after that hit. Gotta admire the effort and perseverance after knowing he made the wrong end of the Sportscenter highlight.
Charlie Whitehurst played well in leading a touchdown pass and making good passes. He looked bad by throwing interceptions, getting sacked and not being able to separate himself from the third string quarterback. Speaking of whom…
Seventh round draft pick Brad Sorensen has looked very impressive in both games. Sorensen throws a tight, accurate ball. He reads the defense and makes quick decisions and moves fluidly in the pocket. There is ten times more upside in Sorensen than there is with Whitehurst. Considering they’re both on equal footing having to learn a new offense, Sorensen is playing better than Whitehurst in my opinion.
The defense didn’t camp in the backfield like they did last week against Seattle but they did get good push up the middle and Dwight Freeney looks like he hasn’t lost a step.
The first team secondary gave up big plays, partly because of the line not being able to get consistent pressure. The Bears receivers got open repeatedly and Forte got loose on multiple plays. This should be a better than average defense but part of this is going to be being able to stifle top running backs. Forte had a field day against the first unit.
Atrocious. The Bears got free on kick returns, punt returns and they stayed on short fields as a result of it.
Richard Goodman was terrible. When he wasn’t fumbling the kickoff and losing sight of it on the turf, he couldn’t find the hole and gained very little yardage if any at all. You will see his name on the chopping block.
Keenan Allen didn’t fare much better in the return game. Allen also fumbled a ball, trying to run before the catch. The ball actually hit Allen in the helmet but at least it wasn’t a Raiders helmet he was wearing.
THE BRIGHT SIDE:
The most impressive and encouraging part of the game was none of the above things. The roster is undergoing a massive overhaul and the team has gotten considerable younger. The team taking the field will be one of the youngest in the league. This is a boom or bust team but you can’t help but enjoy the infusion of youth and talent from our draft picks like Mantei Te’o and Keenan Allen to unknowns like Willie and Whitaker.
Already the team speed has improved significantly. Starting corner Shareece Wright fell early on a play, got up and caught Matt Forte from behind as Forte had burst through the line, scooted to the left sideline and was running full speed, untouched toward the end zone. Had that been Quentin Jammer or Antoine Cason, there is no doubt in my mind Forte would have scored. Wright didn’t give up on the play and showed blazing speed in catching Forte, who had a ten yard head start.
On another play, undrafted free agent Marcus Cromartie showed his great speed as he caught a Bears kick returner from behind as the returner had made it into the open field and had nothing but grass and the kicker in front of him. Cromartie came from out of view of the camera to run down the returner just yards short of the end zone.
The new guys are funneling renewed energy, unseen speed and more ‘want to’ than previous editions of this team. That should be as encouraging as anything we’ve seen of this team so far. No one is giving up easy scores. Mistakes might be made but they are fundamental mistakes, mistakes that can be fixed. These mistakes are not because the player is too old and can’t hang with the competition, as has been the case with the team the last few seasons. As a lifelong Chargers fan, I am as encouraged to see this team hit the field as I have been to see the team since the LT days. You should be too.
The Greg One