The San Diego Chargers host the Arizona Cardinals for a week of practice leading up to their game Friday. The Cardinals begin practice at Chargers Park on Tuesday after having their home turf taken over by Guns N’ Roses’ massive arena tour on Monday. On Tuesday, practice will be at Qualcomm Stadium, Wednesday at Chargers Park. Both teams will take the day off Thursday to rest before the game Friday.
The joint practice will be a nice change-of-pace for both teams. Undoubtedly, they’re all tired of hitting each other in practice. One could expect the intensity level of practice to heighten with men in different colored jerseys on the opposite sideline. This will be a big week for the players fighting to make the roster.
Living in Phoenix, I have heard plenty of juicy tidbits coming from the Cardinals’ side of the ball. The Arizona Cardinals are a Super Bowl favorite and a great way for the Chargers to test themselves against one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the league. Cardinals’ head coach Bruce Arians expressed his respect for Chargers’ head coach Mike McCoy on local radio Monday and talked about the joint practice.
“That’s the one thing, I enjoy working with Mike McCoy because we have the same philosophy.” Arians said. “We wouldn’t practice any different. We wouldn’t hit a guy going over the middle on our team in practice; we won’t hit one of their guys going over the middle. We always stay away from the quarterback.” Arians continued.
“It’s creating competition but it’s practice, and we’ve got 180 guys on the same team for three days. Then we’ll play them in the game and all bets are off.” Arians said on the Doug and Wolf morning radio show Monday.
More interestingly, Cardinals’ General Manager Steve Keim was also on the radio Monday talking about the road trip and made no bones about the fact he was looking to wheel and deal if the opportunity presents itself.
“I reached out to Tom Telesco last night and he and I will get together before practices start and talk about both of our rosters,” Keim started. “See where our deficiencies are you know; in hopes that you can always talk about, hey, is there an area where we can help each other improve?” Keim stated.
This kind of talk goes on behind-the-scenes at every joint practice if the front office is worth their salt. There are two 90-man rosters full of guys playing their hardest to showcase their talents for their current team and whomever else may be watching. What’s curious about this case is that Keim, who does a radio segment every week in Phoenix, has made it no secret over the past two weeks that he will be actively pursuing a healthy exchange of ideas and hopefully players during this trip to San Diego.
Sounds like the Chargers have something the Cardinals want…
Let’s look at the possibilities. The Cardinals have a wealth of depth at their defensive line, wide receiver, secondary and running back positions. They are lacking on their offensive line, especially at right tackle. The Cards are currently starting D.J. Humphries. Humphries was their first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Arians listed Humphries as inactive for every game last season because of his inability to grasp the playbook and laziness on the practice field. Humphries earned the unfortunate nickname “knee-deep” referring to Arians’ disposition with Humphries in 2015.
Arizona’s deficiencies at linebacker have been hidden due to the effectiveness of the secondary and defensive line. If the Cardinals plan on carrying a third quarterback, it won’t be NFL journeyman Matt Barkley or Jake Coker, an undrafted free agent signee out of Alabama. Both quarterbacks have been unimpressive in camp and in their first preseason game.
San Diego has an abundance of talent at linebacker where they currently have 15 linebackers on their roster. The Chargers also have better depth at tight end, quarterback and offensive tackle. The possibilities for a talent exchange is endless but I will give you five names to watch.
RB Andre Ellington: The Cardinals drafted Ellington in the sixth-round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Lower leg and foot injuries have derailed what was a phenomenal start to his career. Ellington is finally back to full strength from his injuries but with Chris Johnson (who led the NFL in rushing yards before he went down to injury in 2015), the emergence of David Johnson, Stepfan Taylor (considered the best pass protector of the group) and Kerwynn Williams on board, Ellington may be the odd man out. Ellington would be a great insurance policy for Melvin Gordon and he is an electrifying return man as well. Just how fast is Ellington? He ran the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine in 4.51-seconds with a pulled hamstring!
QB Mike Bercovici and G Vi Teofilo: Both of these men played their college ball right down the I-10 at Arizona State University. Bercovici has been the most impressive of the quarterbacks the Chargers have brought in during the offseason. Kellen Clemens and Zach Mettenberger are likely to be second and third on the quarterback depth chart unless Telesco sees enough promise in Bercovici to make one of the two expendable. Teofilo is a 6″3′-inch, 315-pound guard who fills a need for depth at that position.
CB Justin Bethel: In a very crowded Cardinals’ secondary room, Bethel has sat on the sidelines with a foot injury and watched as his job is threatened by rookie third-round pick Brandon Williams. Williams has wowed the coaching staff with one head-turning practice after another and is making the most of his quick ascension to the first team.
Bethel was a key piece of the Cardinals’ 2015 secondary as the number two cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. With Peterson locking down his side of the field, lots of balls came Bethels’ way and he was up to the task with 46 combined tackles, nine passes defensed, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and two forced fumbles. Bethel was signed to a three-year, $15-million dollar contract extension in the offseason and made the Pro Bowl for the third consecutive year in 2015 as a special-teamer. Arians has a reputation for his disdain for players in the trainers’ room. Bethel could be moved if the price is right.
ILB Manti Te’o: Manti isn’t on the bubble but this is a contract year for him. Many stories are afloat about Te’o finally coming into his own as a leader. Foot injuries limited his effectiveness in his first two seasons but he finally showed what he is capable of in 2015 as he led the Chargers in tackles with 107 combined tackles. Te’o had a strong finish to his 2015 season, especially after Denzel Perryman was promoted to starter midway through the season. The two had an unspoken chemistry and played well off each other.
Why would the Chargers let him go now?
Te’o leaves you wanting more and not necessarily in a good way. Every missed tackle, every time a receiver catches a ball right in front of him, every time he’s left behind by a running back we shake our heads in frustration. To his credit, 2015 was hands down the best we’ve seen of him. However, there is a reason Telesco hasn’t offered him an extension when he has been diligently signing the Chargers’ core players to multi-year deals.
A Te’o-for-Bethel deal works for both sides.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
The Greg One
I sat in the rafters at University of Phoenix stadium, better known as the home of the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night. The Chargers closed week one of the NFL regular season against the Cardinals. From my seat, parallel to the ten yard line three rows from the top of the stadium, I couldn’t be happier to see my guys in lightning bolts take the field.
The electricity filled the stadium long before kickoff and didn’t dissipate until after the stands had cleared over three hours later. Kurt Warner was on hand to initiate the coin flip. He would be inducted into the Cardinals Ring of Honor at halftime. The Chargers won the toss and chose to kick off. The regular season had finally begun for our beloved bolts. This wasn’t my first Chargers game, I started going to games two seasons ago. This was my first Chargers road game and first time at a Monday Night Football game. I could barely sit still as other members of Chargers Nation provided a great turnout for the road team.
The game started. When the Chargers finally took the field on offense I sat ready for fireworks. The whole half passed and I wasn’t getting what I came for. There were some excellent plays made by both teams. The Chargers forced an Andre Ellington turnover and the defensive line got penetration, harassing Carson Palmer most of the half. Rookie Jeremiah Attaochu blocked a punt. A Cardinals cornerback made a great diving interception of Rivers that led to a field goal as halftime descended with a score of 6-3, Cardinals.
I couldn’t help but shake my head. The whole team was out of sync. The running game was going nowhere. Rivers didn’t look as crisp with his passes as he usually does. Receivers dropped ball. Antonio Gates dropped a ball! Rivers overthrew Malcom Floyd who had gotten a good two steps behind the Cardinals defense and there was nothing but green between him and the end zone had that pass hit its target.
Where was this no-huddle offense that was supposed to be unveiled? I understand not showing it during preseason but now it’s game on! Wins and losses count. I watched each play and after each play was a normal huddle. No muddle huddle. No nothing. No one was more excited than yours truly to see Philip Rivers dissect a defense in the no-huddle offense OC Frank Reich spoke of implementing. It never happened. Ironically this would have been the perfect team to unveil it against. The Cardinals had lost the meat of their defense during the offseason. Daryl Washington is lost for the year after his second incident involving banned substances. Karlos Dansby left for Cleveland. Darrell Dockett was injured in camp and will be gone all year. Safety Tyrann Mathieu was not activated for the game. With the instability on the defensive line, it would have been a great idea to blitz all the unproven players with nonstop offense and light up the scoreboard like Times Square on New year’s Eve.
After halftime, it seemed like Warner’s speech fired up the Chargers instead of the Cardinals as the Chargers bolted out of the locker rooms and delivered two touchdowns in the second half as they shut down the Cardinals offense and went ahead to take the lead 17-6 going into the fourth quarter. The reverse happened in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals capitalized on Chargers errors and responded with two field goals and a touchdown to eek out a one point win.
Like the rest of us, I had a lot to cheer about in that game, especially in the third quarter. Similarly, there was a lot that left me scratching my head.
On the positive side, Malcom Floyd looked great on the field. He showed his speed, got behind the defense on a couple occasions and showed he is all the way back. Antonio Gates showed he is still the go-to guy in the clutch. Despite the drops, the Cardinals were forced to rotate coverage to him throughout the game. Jeremiah Attaochu showed he is going to be a force to be reckoned with. Attaochu blocked a punt, forced a fumble sacking Carson Palmer and was in on a host of tackles. I heard Mantei Te’o name quite a bit it seemed. Te’o even caught Ellington on an open field tackle which is an achievement in itself. Hopefully this is a sign Te’o is okay and will be a key contributor on defense as well. The defense played great for three quarters, holding the Cardinals to two field goals despite giving up big plays. For a change, they managed to force turnovers and come through on third downs keeping the game close at hand.
Conversely, the defense fell apart when the Chargers needed it most. With a 11-point lead going into the final quarter, a playoff level team should be able to close the show, even on the road. All the key stops ceased in the fourth quarter. Carson Palmer, who would probably tie Rivers in a 40-yard dash, was allowed to leave the pocket and pick up first downs with his legs. The Chargers couldn’t produce anything in the run game against a patchwork Cardinals defensive line. Aside from Mathews’ touchdown run, the Chargers running backs barely advanced past the line of scrimmage on most attempts. On a related note, guess who was the second leading rusher for the Chargers: that’s right, Philip Rivers! Rivers 10-yard first down run put him second behind Mathews 40 yards rushing. Atrocious. The run defense also needs work. They allowed an injured Ellington to rush for 53 yards on 13 carries and the Cardinals as a team ran for over 100 yards including 29 from Palmer. Lastly, there were too many missed sacks. Not tackles, sacks. By my count, at least four times the pocket collapsed on Palmer and it looked like the sack was imminent. Lo and behold, out pops Palmer getting away and picking up positive yardage or at least getting back to the line of scrimmage.
By the way, Mike McCoy, please stop running Eddie Royal on end arounds. Thank you.
The Chargers and Monday Night openers don’t seem to mesh well as of late. Correction, the Chargers and the fourth quarter of Monday Night Football season openers don’t seem to mesh well. For the second straight year, the Chargers gave up a fourth quarter lead in the last three minutes of the game, and took the loss. The good news is last season, after taking that loss on the chin from the Texans, the Chargers faced the Eagles who had unveiled the Chip Kelly offense against the Washington Redskins and their blowout win was the talk of the league. The talking heads got on the bandwagon and some had the nerve to say they would post 50 on the Chargers in week 2.
The Chargers took the challenge, marched into Philadelphia and beat the Eagles at home to the shock of the league. This season the Chargers face a bigger task. The Chargers face the defending champion Seattle Seahawks sunday. David to the Seahawks Goliath, the Chargers will again shock the NFL world with a win. Seattle will be the opening home game for the Chargers. No one is expecting the home team to win, but I for one will not be shocked if they do. The Chargers have no weaknesses that can’t be fixed and there were plenty of missteps to be coached up on before the Seahawks arrive which is a good thing. Expect a better, more focus squad on gameday.
The Greg One