It is said in football that depth is a must. After all, it is the nature of the beast. Injuries can happen at any time, from mini-camp and training camp, to practice and games. A team HAS to be prepared for that eventuality.
While the San Diego Chargers were bitten by that bug, most often on the offensive side of the ball (particularly the last two seasons), there were stretches where the defense was banged up, as well. The offseason has seen the Bolts part ways with Donald Butler and Kavell Conner. Of the linebackers currently on the roster, half will be second-year players and at least three of them had limited playing time due to injury.
So, what do you do if you are in Tom Telesco’s shoes?
Maybe you look for someone who can fill the bill in the form of Su’a Cravens.
Weight: 225 pounds
40-yard Dash: 4.65 seconds*
Arm size: 32 1/8 inches”**
Hand size: 9 1/2″ inches**
Vertical jump: 30 1/2 inches”*
Broad jump: 114″ inches**
*Pro Day **Combine
The former USC Trojan converted from linebacker to safety late in his college career. Has room to fill out his frame. A natural playmaker, he is instinctive, tough and smart. Aggressive and athletic, a blitzer. Will not hesitate to jump into the mix. Very physical dropping back and does a great job in press coverage. Would be able to hold his own in man coverage against tight ends and wide receivers. Outstanding with his hands. Ability to engage and quickly disengage his blocker.
What could possible be a weakness for Cravens? Well, the fact that many people aren’t sure where to place him on their D could be considered a problem. Being tagged as a tweener could be tough. Linebacker or safety? His speed is not impressive, at all, and his size for the linebacker position may be a problem at the NFL level. Additionally, he struggles to finish plays while defending the run, occasionally taking poor angles. Knowing that he is still learning the linebacker position, it will take him time to adjust to the power and quickness of the pros, especially when thinking about his ability to shed the blocks of NFL offensive lineman.
Su’a Cravens has a great deal of positional flexibility to offer any defense. The rub will be that he would need to go to a team that can take advantage of his ability to shift back and forth between linebacker and safety. Putting in reps on special teams while adjusting to the speed of the NFL — plus having distant cousin Manti Te’o to learn from and encourage him — would be something for the potential draftee to look forward to.
Hearing Su’a Cravens’ name called as the next citizen of San Diego this week during the draft would certainly help the Chargers’ defense.
Thanks for reading!
Prior to the acquisition of inside linebacker Joe Mays, the Chargers had three healthy players at the position on the 53-man roster (Donald Butler, Kavell Conner and Nick Dzubnar).
Third-year backer Manti Te’o has missed two consecutive games nursing an ankle injury, opening the door for this offseason’s second-round draft pick, Denzel Perryman.
The former Hurricane had started two games in place of Te’o, only to exit Sunday’s loss with a strained pectoral muscle.
It is being said that the team is taking it day-to-day with his injury status.
Initially, it was feared to be much worse than a strain for Perryman.
Trailing only free safety Eric Weddle for the team lead in tackles, the loss of Te’o is additionally significant due to the fact that he was wearing the defense’s “communicator,” the green-dot helmet, relaying calls to his teammates.
In Te’o’s first game missed, Weddle resumed the distinction after being the only safety in the NFL to do so in 2014.
Lo and behold, Weddle would suffer a groin injury in the fourth quarter of the Chargers’ loss to the Packers and miss Week 7, forcing John Pagano’s unit to hand over the defensive signal relay to Donald Butler.
To say that the former third-round selection, Butler, has been a disappointment this year is an understatement.
Despite all of the total tackles that Manti has accumulated during his time on the field in 2015, his missed tackles and poor angles in pursuit are what is being talked about by the masses. Though he seems to be in proper position to make a play more often than not, he has struggled to wrap up and stop ball carriers in their tracks, giving up more yards after contact than any other player on the team.
With no timetable for return truly set for either Te’o or Perryman, the signing of Mays makes sense. The team needs bodies at the position, and the former Jet, Chief, Texan, Bronco and Eagle can do just that.
Mays had an opportunity to sign with the Chargers this offseason but decided to take a chance with the Jets, who cut him prior to the beginning of the 2015 regular season. The 30-year-old was unable to make it past the Jets’ final cuts.
The contract for Mays will certainly be team-friendly. But it also shows that the club might be concerned about how long Te’o and Perryman may be out.
Sitting at a 2-5 record and in last place of the AFC West division, the time to put up or shut up is officially here.
Mays may not see much time on defense, but he does have experience on special teams, which the team will need in the absence of Perryman, who has excelled in the third phase of the game as a rookie.
That injury bug should go ahead and beat the Bolts to Los Angeles, because I am sick of it chilling out and setting up shop in America’s finest city.
San Diego Chargers fans had mixed emotions when the name of the team’s second-round draft pick (#48 overall) was announced this past May. General manager Tom Telesco had submitted the name of Miami linebacking standout Denzel Perryman. Many felt that Telesco should have exercised that choice for additional help along the D-line. It was the third consecutive draft year that TT had chosen a linebacker (Manti Te’o in 2013 at No.38 and Jerry Attaochu in 2014 at No. 50) in that round.
Post-draft via Chargers.com, here is what Telesco offered on the selection of Perryman:
“He’s an explosive, extremely instinctive inside linebacker,” said Telesco. “He plays with a lot of energy. As far as we’re concerned, and obviously it’s just one team’s opinion, as far as inside linebackers go, he has the best instincts in the draft, the best tackling, and he is the most explosive. When he hits people, they go backwards. He’s got some coverage skills too which is going to help him in this league. We’re really excited about getting him in here.”
Even during his high school years, the 5-foot-10, 240-pound Perryman had a reputation as a “thumper,” a force to be reckoned with. The former Hurricane was a tackling machine despite missing the first nine games of his sophomore year due to a high ankle sprain. He amassed 218 tackles (14.5 for loss), three sacks, three forced fumbles, broke up eight passes plus one interception return for a touchdown during his junior and senior years. Those gaudy 2013-14 numbers garnered him a nomination and finalist for the Butkus Award.
This past Sunday on the not-yet-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, we all had an opportunity to judge for ourselves the wisdom of that pick when the rookie ran out onto the field for his first career start.
Earlier in the week, San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano was asked about Perryman playing against the Packers: “It’s about trust,” he said. “It’s about us as coaches trusting him, but also him doing the things that he needs to do with the players out there on the field, that they trust him. So you just go from there. There’s going to be growing pains. All rookies end up making mistakes here and there, but if his time is called upon this week, we need him to step up. We’ll wait and see on that.”
There was little disappointment in his performance last Sunday. He was in on 28 snaps, led the team with eight tackles (7 solo) and forced Eddie Lacy to fumble; not easy considering the bulk of man who is the Pack’s lead running back. Subbing at inside linebacker due to a bad ankle for Te’o, the day became an awesome showcase of Perryman’s abilities and points out why his presence can no longer be ignored.
For comparison, here are what the other inside linebackers (Manti Te’o, Donald Butler, and Kavell Conner) have done in their initial starts: Te’o had three solo tackles versus Dallas on September 29, 2013. Conner (2010 Colts/7th round/#240) had five total/four solo against the Giants on September 10, 2010. And the guy that it seems everyone loves to find fault with lately, the oft-maligned Butler? His rookie season (2010) was derailed by a torn left Achilles sustained in training camp. He returned September 11, 2011 and made six tackles against Minnesota.
Still the question hangs in the air unanswered: if he plays so well, why is the 21-year-old rookie still logging time on special teams when Butler is struggling? Chargers fans may speculate about the future make-up of that unit. Perhaps the future is now, at least short-term – it looks like there may be a roster change as Te’o has not practiced all week.
I hope the young linebacker gets the nod to start in the match-up against Oakland on Sunday. His motor revs high and he doesn’t quit.
I think that challenges the rest to play better.
Let me know your thoughts.
Thanks for reading.
In case you slept through Friday, unplugged for the day or live under a rock, you’ve heard Kansas City’s QB Alex Smith won’t play Sunday against the Chargers due to a lacerated spleen. What you may have missed is that this does not change anything on Sunday.
Chase Daniel, Kansas City’s backup QB, will start in Alex Smith’s place. Last year, with a playoff berth already secured, Daniel started the season finale in San Diego with 19 other backups, a game in which the Chargers narrowly escaped with a 27-24 overtime victory. In that game, Daniel connected on 21 of 30 pass attempts for 200 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Jamal Charles sat out that game, but Knile Davis ran 27 times for 81 yards. Daniel added 59 yards of his own on the ground.
That said, a Charger victory in this season’s regular season finale in Kansas City is not a foregone conclusion. Last year, everyone said that with KC’s backups, it would be a cake game. Far be it from me to throw ice water on the pom pom parade, but a loss in Kansas City ends the 2014 season for San Diego. Lock, stock and barrel.
The key to this game is in the hands of John Pagano and the Charger defense. In all reality, the game plan should remain the same: stop Jamal Charles and you stop the KC offense. Make the quarterback beat you. Rewind to Week 16 in San Francisco. Take away Colin Kaepernick’s 90-yard run in the 3rd quarter which featured glaring whiffs by both Melvin Ingram and Eric Weddle, the defense made the right adjustments and stymied San Francisco’s running game.
Easier said than done
How to stop Charles, you ask? It’s easier said than done, but Pagano needs to put eight in the box. These eight men (front-7 plus the aforementioned Weddle) need to maintain gap discipline. The front three need to tie blockers up (HINT: Chargers need a stud NT like they had in Jamal Williams). ILBs Mantei T’eo, Donald Butler, Andrew Gachkar and Kavell Conner need to be clean and crisp in their tackling. Whiffs cannot happen. And the proper angles toward opposing ball carriers must be taken.
Billy, don’t be a hero
Chargers defenders need to tackle, tackle and tackle some more. Heroism is not appropriate, and may be idiotic when it comes to proper tackling. First man, or two, to get a hand on the ball carrier need to wrap him up, then let the cavalry come in for the strip. All too often, it seems the first man to the runner goes for the ball instead of the tackle. Get the runner on the ground, limit the big plays and play for the third down stop.
Secondly, stop the pass
Concussion protocols notwithstanding, Shareece Wright needs to take a back seat to Steve Williams. Against San Francisco, the ball was thrown in Williams’ direction six times for three completions and a pedestrian 15 yards. I think it’s safe to say that’s a better performance than Wright has produced. With eight in the box, the Chargers’ corners and safeties, Flowers and Williams/Wright/Gilchrist/Addae, et al. will have to play press man coverage. The defense is better when Pagano employs press coverage.
The key to beating the Chiefs and advancing to the postseason is to stop Jamal Charles. It’s that simple, kids. Force Chase Daniel, with limited reps, to have to try to beat the Chargers. Do this, and they’ll advance to the Wild Card Round.
Thanks for reading!
There’s an Amber Alert out at Chargers Park. Donald Butler is missing. I don’t know if there’s a reward for information as to his whereabouts, but if you do see him, please show him the way to the team facility.
There’s been some guy on the Chargers defense wearing #56, but that really isn’t THE Donald Butler, but some imposter. I say this because it’s quite apparent the real Donald Butler, the captain of the defense and impact player has been absent.
The guy wearing #56 is putting up career norms in terms of tackles, but there’s no impact. No game changing presence. That guy out there looks pedestrian. Sometimes he looks lost, and other times looks just straight up stupid — does the Personal Foul call when Ronnie Hillman was on the ground on both knees and #56 speared him ring a bell?
As an inside linebacker, one of the responsibilities is to keep an eye on the backfield and watch for the improvisational run on pass plays. That just hasn’t happened as the likes of Carson Palmer and Alex Smith got big gains on the Charger defense when the pass wasn’t there. Inside linebackers provide run support and drop into pass coverage as well. He and his partner, be it Kavell Conner, Andrew Gachkar or Mantei T’eo are responsible for the back out of the backfield and, at times, the tight end. There have been too many times receivers come clean over the middle or the back comes uncovered out in the flat. This has to be cleaned up if our boys are going to make a serious run at the post season tournament. Butler has to come out of hiding.
I had the opportunity to talk briefly with his former mentor, Takeo Spikes on SiriusXM NFL Radio Saturday afternoon and he agreed. Spikes stopped himself short of saying Butler is off to a slow start this year, but did say “he just needs to play his role.” But Spikes added, “When you’re a linebacker, you’re responsible for everything going on around you.”
Butler wears the headset and is captain of the defense. As such, he is responsible for making sure the other 10 guys are in the right position. He’s responsible for making the pre-snap adjustments as the opposing offense audibles, goes in motion or changes the formation.
Spikes went on to say that, in that role, sometimes a player mentally tries to do too much and winds up not making the plays he needs to make. When Butler and Spikes played next to each other, Butler’s role was to make plays with only 10% of the mental “responsibility” for others. Takeo wore the headset when he played for the Bolts. He also said that he’s been waiting for T’eo to show up, and alluded to his absence might be part of the issue as Spikes isn’t working with the top of the depth chart at his side.
Spikes did not say that any of this is definitely the cause of his lack of impact on the defense. He said he doesn’t know what the cause is as he hasn’t spoken with him recently, but offered up possible scenarios. He did say that Butler does need to spend more time worrying about himself and not “worrying about everyone else.”
Right now, it’s safe to say the Butler didn’t do it.
One look at that headline will have even a devout Chargers fan raising an eyebrow, probably both eyebrows. Tonight, San Diego goes to Denver to face a surging Bronco team four days after losing their first game in over a month against Kansas City. The Broncos are coming off a big win in their Sunday Night Football home game against San Francisco. In that game Peyton Manning broke the all-time NFL record for touchdown passes and his toteboard stands at 510 career touchdowns. Denver gets to stay, heal and rest at home while the Chargers go into high altitude to face their nemesis.
So how does this work to San Diego’s advantage?
The 5-1 Broncos are on a high after taking over first place in the AFC West and celebrating Manning’s record at home. Are the Broncos overlooking the Chargers? Definitely not. No matter who the division opponent, it is going to be a difficult game. The Chargers have proven to be the Broncos toughest opponent in the division. How quickly can the Broncos shift from the euphoria of their last game and get back into the proper state of mind to face the wounded Bolts?
San Diego narrowly lost at home against Kansas City in what was easily their worst played game of the season. They could not stay on the field as the plodding Kansas City offense dominated time of the possession. On top of that, the injuries continued to mount. Denver is definitely a game where you want to have all hands on deck to give yourself a puncher’s chance of winning.
The Chargers find themselves hamstrung in the one area you definitely don’t want to be hamstrung when facing Peyton Manning; in the secondary. Cornerback Brandon Flowers, signed by the Chargers in the offseason, has excelled as a starter in the secondary. Flowers left the Chief game with a concussion after a violent hit on Jamaal Charles as the ball carrier crossed the goal line for a score. According to the analytics based site Pro Football Focus, Flowers is the best cornerback in the league. He has been ruled out for the game. Rookie cornerback Jason Verrett is rated second. Verrett (shoulder) is ruled questionable for Thursday, as is cornerback Steve Williams. Williams is the Chargers 2013 fifth round draft pick who missed all of last season. Williams has also performed admirably in his first on the field work.
Combined with those injuries is the instability on the defensive unit with Te’o ruled out and his replacement Kavell Conner, also among the walking wounded but at least scheduled to play. Rookie Jeremiah Attaochu has added some bite to the pass rush alongside Dwight Freeney, but Attaochu is fighting a hamstring issue and Freeney is playing but hampered with a knee injury. The key to beating Peyton Manning is getting pressure on him. If the key components are not able to play, the Chargers chances of pulling out a road victory seem bleak at best.
Therein lies the rub, as they say.
The Broncos are fully aware of the Chargers injury woes. Peyton Manning is licking his chops knowing he will be facing a depleted San Diego secondary. We all know Peyton will not take the game for granted. But what about his teammates? His coaches? If there is such a thing as a good time to take advantage of the Broncos, it is now when they don’t have a full week to prepare. We all saw what happened when the Chargers found themselves in the same position last season. The Bolts went on the road and faced the Broncos on Thursday night and won 27-20. Denver was 12-2 at the time and had won five of their last six games.
Our team is not without advantages of their own. No team has been more successful slowing down the high-octane offense of the Broncos than the team from Ameica’s finest city. San Diego implemented an often imitated ball control offense based on a balanced run game and short passing game to chew up clock and leave Manning where he can do the least damage – on the bench. Aside from the Super Bowl, the three games the Broncos scored their lowest amount of points (regular season and playoffs) were their three games against the Chargers.
Let’s not discount the gunslinger on the other side of the field. Philip Rivers has been, for all intents and purposes, Manning’s equal this season. Rivers is the third highest rated quarterback in the league, while Manning is ninth. At the moment, Rivers is ahead of Manning in passing yards but the Broncos have had their bye week already. For all the fanfare Manning gets, he’s only thrown two more touchdown passes than Rivers (19 to 17) and both have only thrown three interceptions all season.
The Broncos feature elite pass rushers in DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Additionally, they have a strong secondary featuring Aqib Talib, TJ Ward and Chris Harris Jr. With the instability that has been the Charger offensive line, this would seem to be a huge advantage. Rivers doesn’t get the respect Manning does when it comes to blitzing. Defenses know not to blitz Manning. Rivers is one of the most blitzed quarterbacks in the league. The Arizona Cardinals blitzed Rivers on 57% of the plays in their Monday Night Football season opener. Seattle blitzed Rivers over 50% of the time.
Rivers loves blitzes. Despite a shaky offensive line, Rivers has only been sacked 11 times in seven games. No quarterback has more touchdown passes on third down (an obvious blitzing down) than Philip. He has shown an uncanny ability to elude the rush and deliver strikes down the field. Blitzing puts pressure on the quarterback, but the downside is it also opens up the middle of the field where those linebackers and defensive ends were. Who is roaming the middle of the field for the Chargers? An elite tight end who is third in the league in touchdown receptions behind the Broncos Julius Thomas, Antonio Gates. (Thomas 9, Gates 7). Blitzing could very well work against the Broncos if the San Diego tackles can hold them at bay long enough for Rivers to get the ball off.
While the running game has been hit with a wrecking ball, out of the rubble has emerged Branden Oliver. In only three games, Oliver leads all rookie running backs in rushing yards and he’s helped stabilize the running attack. The running game will also open up play action down the field where Rivers has his strongest stable of receivers in years all excelling and, more importantly, all healthy. The Broncos second ranked defense is a huge step up in degree of difficulty. But, remember at the time the Jets were one of the top rushing defenses in the NFL when Oliver was pressed into duty? He ran over, around and through them to the tune of 182 yards from scrimmage (114 rushing, 68 receiving one touchdown).
The Broncos find themselves in a similar position in the running game. The season opening starter, Monte Ball, is out and the running game has fallen into the hands of former San Diego State product Ronnie Hillman. Over the last two weeks, Hillman has been Denver’s feature back and he has played well. Stopping Hillman can turn the vaunted Manning passing attack into a one-dimensional, defendable concept. The only reason I don’t say the same for the Chargers is it has been shown that, no matter how meager the run production is, it is important for the success of the Charger offense that it remains three-dimensional. Mike McCoy will not abandon the running game at any cost.
This game is a great time for the San Diego to show the Broncos, and the rest of the league, that they are a team to be reckoned with in 2014. It is encouraging that it still took a last second field goal to beat them on their worst day. It is also encouraging that the Bolts have found their killer instinct and finished off lesser teams they way playoff caliber teams do. It is worth mentioning that the Chargers two losses are by a combined four points. San Diego has arrived and no one has been able to walk over this perceived soft, finesse football team. They have been able to out-physical teams all season long, most notably against the world champion Seattle Seahawks.
This game looks like a slam dunk for the Broncos to the talking heads all over TV and radio. But they thought the same thing last year. The Chargers are a wounded animal, ravaged by injuries and put into a corner by the biggest dog in the yard. A wounded animal is a dangerous animal. I fully expect the Chargers to shock the world (again) by getting the win in enemy territory. San Diego will assume first place in the AFC West once again by defeating Denver 31-27.
The Greg One
It is getting pretty depressing writing about the Charger’s injury report. The team has been banged up from the start of the 2014 season and its backups have been forced into starting roles at an alarming frequency.
Next man up.
Tom Telesco has done a solid job adding depth in his first two years as general manager of the San Diego Chargers. That depth has been tested early and often. Reserves like Branden Oliver have been thrust into key roles and he has been a strong contributor to the Charger running game. No one expected to see Andrew Gachkar play so many snaps on defense as he has been splitting time with another reserve, Kavell Conner.
The defensive secondary has been reshuffled as well. Brandon Flowers, Jason Verrett and Shareece Wright have all missed time due to injuries. Eric Weddle is a constant on the back-end, but it is difficult for him to quarterback the defense with so many different combinations of players on his side of the ball.
The San Diego offensive line has been marred by injuries. The center position has seen 4 different starters in the early portion of this year. That is not exactly what you’re looking for when it comes to building cohesion among the hogs upfront. The right guard spot has seen turnover too. Both Johnnie Troutman and rookie Chris Watt have played the position.
It is no secret that the running backs have been hit incredibly hard by the injury bug. Danny Woodhead is out for the year with a broken fibula while Ryan Mathews is still nursing an MCL sprain. The severity of Donald Brown’s concussion is unknown, but due to missing the last three weeks, the concern is mounting that he might not even make it back onto the field in 2014. Heck, Ronnie Brown has even returned to the Chargers to help supplement the mash unit that is the San Diego ball carrier group.
Below is the week 7 injury report for the Bolts.
RB – Donald Brown ( Concussion )
CB – Brandon Flowers ( Concussion )
RB – Ryan Mathews ( Knee )
ILB – Manti Te’o ( Foot )
OLB – Jerry Attaochu ( Hamstring )
CB – Jason Verrett ( Shoulder )
CB – Steve Williams ( Groin )
ILB – Kavell Conner ( Ankle )
RT – DJ Fluker ( Ankle )
OLB – Dwight Freeney ( Knee )
C/G – Rich Ohrnberger ( Back )
Mike McCoy and the coaching staff are going to have to find ways to put the players that are healthy into positions that accentuate their strengths. Having so many backups in can change the gameplan to a degree, but I would expect there to not be too much deviation from what the team does on offense and defense.
The Chargers are heading into Denver tomorrow to take on the Broncos. No one in the Denver organization feels sorry for the Bolts about their long injury list. It is up to San Diego to rise up and overcome this adversity and escape Mile High with a win. It will not be an easy task, but it can be done. The lead in the AFC West is up for grabs and this could be a huge statement game for the Chargers.
Regardless of all of the injuries, I cannot wait for tomorrow’s game.
Thanks a lot for reading.
In a busy day for the Bolts, one of the new Chargers added to the 53-man roster was Kevin Reddick, formerly of the New Orleans Saints. He is an inside linebacker and a solid special teams player.
The injury to Manti Te’o has pushed Kavell Conner into the starting lineup at inside linebacker next to Donald Butler. Conner will now be a very important part of the defense as a starter. Tom Telesco then made his move to find a guy that could take over Kavell’s special teams duties to keep him fresh for defensive play.
Reddick was a special teams standout for the Saints. In 2013, he led New Orleans in special teams tackles with 12. He also managed a forced fumble which led to a touchdown on the very same play by one of his teammates.
Kevin stands 6’1″ and weighs 246 pounds. Last year was his rookie season in the NFL. At the combine prior to the 2013 draft he ran a 4.72 second 40-yard dash and put up 225 pounds 23 times. Like another newly acquired player in Shaun Draughn, Reddick is a former UNC Tarheel.
Although he will not be expected to see the field on defense often, he is capable of doing so and an above average tackler. But his skillset is better suited for special teams work. It’s safe to assume that he’ll be thrown into the fire this Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
You can expect to see him on kickoff coverage among other jobs for San Diego’s special teams coordinator Kevin Turner. He has a lot to learn in order to earn the respect of his peers as the 3rd phase of the game in America’s finest city is incredibly solid.
On a side note, I like this signing and I think he’s a guy who could push for time on special teams even after Te’o comes back from injury and Conner is no longer needed to start. Or will that be the case? ( I’ll leave that for another article after Manti is healthy )
It is worth noting that he is still eligible for the practice squad if need be after the team slowly gets healthy.
The San Diego Chargers are in the news again due to an injury. This time, per Michael Gehlken, the injured player is inside linebacker Manti Te’o. Despite all of his deficiencies, Te’o currently leads the team in tackles.
In comes former Colt Kavell Conner.
As I’ve written before, Conner may not be as instinctive as Manti, but he’s a solid substitution. I don’t expect there to be much of a drop-off at all. Conner has 241 career tackles along with three fumbles forced and three fumbles recovered.
The former seventh-round selection in the 2010 draft by the Indianapolis Colts is a sound tackler. He has good size at 6’0″ and 245 pounds. In his second season in the NFL with Indy, he amassed over 100 tackles. Tom Telesco obviously liked Conner’s skillset enough to sign him during the offseason.
The injury bug has been hanging out in San Diego during the early stages of the 2014 offseason and regular season. The versatility of a guy like Reggie Walker will help due to his ability to play both inside linebacker and outside linebacker. He will most likely be called upon to back up Conner. Andrew Gachkar will also see snaps in relief at the ILB spot.
Mike McCoy has preached his “Next man up” mantra over and over again. The Bolts will stick with that plan and continue to find that next guy to step up and fill the shoes of another injured starter. As I mentioned on Facebook, the aforementioned injury bug needs to go inhabit and harass the cities of Denver, Kansas City and Oakland. The Chargers have had more than their fair share of injuries. Shoo, fly!
There is a lot for Charger fans to be excited about going into the 2014 NFL season. Now that it’s the second year under both Tom Telesco and Mike McCoy, there is a solid foundation in San Diego that the team has not had for quite some time. To be quite honest, these two gentlemen were left with quite the mess to clean up. And at this point, the Bolts are not only heading in the right direction, they are set to make some noise for the foreseeable future with Telesco and McCoy leading the way.
Despite all of the optimism surrounding Chargers Park, there are some questions going into the season that will help determine if this year ends up being another successful campaign.
Everyone knows the game 20 questions.
Below I’ll listing 20 intriguing questions that the answers will help provide the blueprint for what the 2014 season could be hinging upon for your San Diego Chargers.
1) Can this team stay healthy?
Like all NFL teams, so much of the success during the season depends on the health of the squad. Last season the Bolts lost both of their starting wideouts and starting outside linebackers in the early stages of the process. Injuries on the offensive line were overcome by the versatility that has been taught by coach Joe D’Alessandris. Despite losing a few key reserves, San Diego approaches the year healthy; minus a hamstring injury to Jahleel Addae.
2) Will Sean Lissemore play well enough at nose tackle to anchor John Pagano’s 3-4 defense?
Let me start this out by reminding fans that the Chargers were only in their base defense for roughly 40% of the time last year. That being said, Lissemore is not exactly built like a 3-4 NT. Look for teams to test the middle of the defense early and often. It won’t take too long to see how this position will be as far as being one that makes a solid impact, or becomes a question mark in 2014.
3) Can Ryan Mathews improve on his career year from 2013?
I truly believe he can and will. The team and Tom Telesco have been on record stating that Mathews will be the bell cow of the running back stable. The addition of Donald Brown seems to be more of an insurance policy than one that will eat into too many of Ryan’s touches. After finishing seventh in the NFL in rushing yards, he seems primed to carry the load as one of the main focuses of the offense.
4) Will Danny Woodhead continue to produce at such a high level as a receiver out of the backfield?
It will be difficult for Woodhead to put up the receiving numbers he did last year. But, make no mistake, Philip Rivers trusts him and uses him as a safety valve very often. Danny is a threat out of the backfield and he has very reliable hands. To expect him to finish with 76 receptions and 6 touchdowns receiving may be asking too much.
5) Will Johnnie Troutman hold down the fort at right guard while Jeromey Clary is out?
Cohesion along the offensive line is paramount to the success of the offense. Troutman has shown, at times, that he can be abused as both a pass blocker and run blocker. The drafting of Chris Watt in the third round of the draft had some believing that Clary may not make this team. After talking with Telesco for about 10 minutes at the Charger walk through at MCAS Miramar, it doesn’t seem that Jeromey is going anywhere. Watt received some snaps with the first team offense and then ending up losing out to Troutman. The right guard spot will certainly be one that is worth keeping an eye on.
6) Speaking of health, can Malcom Floyd rebound from the serious neck injury he suffered during week 2 last year versus the Philadelphia Eagles?
I have the utmost respect for Floyd, but he’s only played 16 games once – 2009 – over his NFL career. Sure, he’s seen some live action during the preseason, and made a play here and there. Losing Malcom again would, without a doubt, be an issue that would need to be addressed. In addition to his acrobatic catches, Floyd’s size and catching radius provide Philip a target that is uncommon among the other receivers. He is no longer relegated to solely being a deep threat as he has been asked to run many different routes in the passing game. Every single time he catches the ball, fans should be holding their collective breaths.
7) Will John Pagano be creative enough to confuse opposing offenses and avoid predictability in playcalling?
I am rooting for Pagano to have a breakout year as a defensive coordinator. His gameplan last year against Indianapolis was brilliant. But I’d like to see more of that. Disguised blitzes and more aggressive coverage outside by the cornerbacks must be a focus for this defense to succeed. The lack of pressure last year was sad. Ranking in the bottom 5 of the league in passing defense will not be acceptable in 2014. Pagano now has a few more playmakers/toys he can utilize moving forward. The question remains whether or not he’s able to put them in the best positions to make those plays that change games.
8) After watching Kendall Reyes be driven back off the line of scrimmage often, can he prove to be a solid player on the opposite side of Corey Liuget on the defensive line?
Reyes is a solid pass rusher for a 3-4 defensive end. But he struggles against the run when facing top-tier offensive linemen. Watching Kendall on roller skates while defending the run is quite a point of concern. It will be interesting to see how long he remains in the base defense on running downs.
9) Will Melvin Ingram convert those “almost plays” into game-changing plays?
Although disruption and quarterback hurries have taken a backseat, statistically speaking, to sacks, they are still vital to a team’s defense. Ingram played admirably after missing most of the year due to a torn ACL suffered last May. It is time to see him take that next step. It would be nice to see him moved around a bit more making it harder for teams to stop his pursuit. This is a big year for Melvin.
10) This will go with some of the aforementioned themes read above. Can Donald Butler stay on the field for sixteen games?
After signing a seven-year deal, Butler is expected to be a leader of the San Diego defense for many years to come. But his inability to stay healthy is an issue. Donald is a playmaker when on the field. Sure, he has his deficiencies, but he’s a very good all-around player. The Charger defense needs him on the field.
11) Will Kavell Conner eventually replace Manti Te’o in the starting lineup?
Many Te’o fans will be upset by this question. I do my best to not be too critical of players. It is worth pointing out that Telesco is familiar with Conner from his days in Indy. Kavell may not be as instinctive as Manti, but he has better speed and seems to be a better tackler; this dates back to tape of his time with the Colts. Do not be surprised if Kavell Conner is announced as the starter next to Butler at some point during the year. Let us hope that it isn’t due to a banged up, or injured, Manti Te’o.
12) Are Donald Brown and Eddie Royal the answers at kick returner and punt returner, respectively?
The special teams unit has been searching for an explosive, dynamic player in the return game since the loss of Darren Sproles. That search is still on. Donald Brown seems like Ronnie Brown’s double as a returner in the kicking game. A reliable guy that won’t turn it over, but doesn’t have the ability to break the big one. When looking at Royal as the punt returner, he’s a safe bet back there. But he hardly practiced most of last season. If given more exposure with return duties, is it more likely that Royal may end up being injured? Only time will tell.
13) What kind of impact will the addition of Brandon Flowers bring to the secondary?
The Bolts made a splash by signing the former Chief and adding him to the defensive back group. Despite his lack of size, Flowers is physical and can play multiple positions in the San Diego secondary. The team needs him to step up and wreak havoc while facing some of the league’s top receivers. Brandon is a clear upgrade and the hope is that he will help change games due to his aggressive style of play.
14) Have the Chargers found the answer at strong safety?
Jahleel Addae is a hard hitter. He has some work to do at wrapping up and in coverage. But, when healthy, he’s improving as he receives more playing time. But that’s the problem. It appears as though Addae will miss week one in Arizona. In comes Marcus Gilchrist. After being moved to the strong safety spot, he still has some learning to do. Marcus will be the starter week one. Book it. But when Jahleel is healthy, look for San Diego to make the switch to Addae. Despite being an undrafted free agent, he has impressed as a former CMU Chippewa. The position has been in serious flux since the days of Rodney Harrison. Richard Marshall will also factor in until Addae reruns to the field.
15) Was Jason Verrett the right choice at number 25 in the 2014 draft?
Yes. For those of you that didn’t approve of the drafting of Verrett, give him time and watch him impress you. The guy can make plays. He has great speed and his instincts accentuate that speed even more.
16) Can the Chargers improve on their dismal red zone performance from last year?
Settling for field goals with a brutal, difficult schedule will not cut it in 2014. The San Diego offense must score touchdowns. When you look at teams like Seattle, New England, San Francisco, Denver ( twice ) and Arizona, it will take maximizing scoring opportunities in the red zone for the year to be successful.
17) Will Mike McCoy’s conservative gameplan limit the Chargers and their ability to make a splash this season?
I have a ton of respect for McCoy and I like a lot of what he did as a rookie head coach in 2013. But, occasionally it seemed as though the team was calling plays not to lose, as opposed to having that killer instinct and going for the jugular. One could only hope, considering the weapons on offense, that coach will go into games with an aggressive mindset. Although Frank Reich is the offensive coordinator, McCoy sets up the gameplan every week. A “pedal to the metal” mentality is so important in what is a highly competitive league. You play to win the game.
18) Will Philip Rivers put up numbers similar to last year?
Rivers had a phenomenal year in 2013. He led the NFL in completion percentage at 69.5% while throwing 32 touchdowns and he posted a passer rating of 105.5. This is now year two within the new offense and it fits him very well. Not only will Rivers have another great year, fans should expect to see him exceed some of the stats from 2013.
19) Can Keenan Allen avoid having a sophomore slump after a fantastic rookie campaign?
Teams now have NFL tape on Allen. He is not going to surprise any defenses this year like he did as a rookie. He will most likely receive quite a bit of attention from opposing secondaries via double coverage, bracketing or a robber over the top. Keenan is one year removed from a knee injury that caused his stock drop to the third round of the draft. He has worked on increasing his speed and bulked up some, as well. Keenan Allen is a special player. Like Rivers, Allen has a great shot at bettering his numbers from his rookie year.
20) Will the Chargers play consistently enough to win the games they are supposed to win?
Houston. Tennessee. Washington. Games against the three aforementioned teams should have been wins. You cannot play down to the level of your competition and expect to be handed victories. For some reason, this has been a problem for the Bolts for many years. Playing each game like it’s your Super bowl should be the mantra of this team. No matter who the opponent is on the field, you must act as though they are a serious threat to steal a win.
Those are 20 questions that I believe will help develop the identity of the 2014 San Diego Chargers. The team has not had depth like this for almost 10 years. Heaven forbid the club has to deep too deep into their reserve players..
A healthy Charger team is a dangerous one. Despite a tough schedule, San Diego has a chance to be special. The hope in America’s finest city is that the Monday night opener will be the first of two trips to Arizona this season.
Thanks a lot for reading.