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
The roster bubble is a constantly moving boundary. What little we do know about General Manager Tom Telesco’s methodology includes his noticeably “anti-that last GM that was in San Diego” style of tinkering up until the day the season starts. Late offseason additions of players like Reggie Walker and Lawrence Guy, as they were released by their respective squads, paid huge dividends for the Bolts’ roster in 2013. Telesco likes to keep a few rotational roster spots on the back-end and wait for final cuts to come throughout the league. Cut down day can become a day for wins as well as losses for an opportunistic GM.
Getting the roster to 75 in August isn’t terribly difficult as many of the camp bodies are easy to identify and likely knew their time would be a struggle and simply a learning experience for future endeavors. Getting down to the final 53 is a bit trickier.
Looking over the current Charger roster, it’s clear that the depth is stronger than it has been in quite some time. Keeping in mind that Telesco will more than likely seek to snag a couple of strong releases from various teams in the twelfth hour, that leaves about 50 or so roster spots guaranteed. Again, looking over the current roster, this process begins to show the difficulty of some of these decisions.
Once the team is down to 53, here are some thoughts on the last five current Chargers to stay on the back-end of the roster, and the last five difficult guys that could be cut before the 2014 campaign officially begins.
Potential Last Few In:
DT Tenny Palepoi or Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe:
It’s clear that after last season John Pagano needs space eaters in the middle of his 3-4 defense. Sean Lissemore does a nice job getting pressure on passing downs, and in this pass-happy league, he was able to make a noticeable impact. What became obvious toward the end of the season, is that as winter and playoffs set in, the Chargers couldn’t stuff the run when it really counted. The addition of Ryan Carrethers shows a step in the right direction, but rotation and competition will be necessary. One of these two undrafted behemoths (6’1″ 298, 6’2″ 309 respectively) will likely find a spot on the bench and possibly on the field.
WR Dontrelle Inman:
Tevin Reese looks to be a nice surprise for a late round pick, but he’s another smaller guy in the receiving corps. The Chargers will be on the look out for affordable targets for Philip Rivers for several years to come. Vincent Brown hasn’t yet panned out, and most of the rest of the gang are average to small route runners moving the chains. Along with Malcolm Floyd (and the tight ends of course) look for the Bolts to hang on to a couple of other receivers to both fill out the roster and potentially make a special teams impact. Inman is 6’3″, making him one of the three tallest receivers on the roster. Improvement in the red zone is an offseason focus for coaches McCoy and Reich, if Inman’s hands are good enough, his size could be enough reason to keep him around.
LB Cordarro Law:
A CFL pass rush standout last year, Law looks to follow in the footsteps of Cameron Wake and make an impact in the NFL. With his skill set and experience, Law shouldn’t have a difficult time making the roster, but the position is now stacked. With Telesco guys like Tourek Williams and Reggie Walker already in the fold, Law will have to work to maintain a spot. Jarrett Johnson is on the decline, and until second round pick Jerry Attaochu or future Hall of Famer Dwight Freeney can prove accountable all season, Law should be kept on for talent sake.
CB Chris Davis:
The Chargers have a rich history of talented undrafted free agents. Davis was brought in along with many others in order to solidify a glaring area of need at cornerback. Now that Brandon Flowers has signed and Jason Verrett is cleared for practice, the depth is starting to show. Lucky for Davis, he’s known in the football world for one thing, and it happens to be another area of need for San Diego, the return game. Davis figures to be a near perfect special teamer. He’s played in plenty of big time situations, he is a stout hitter, and played starting corner at Auburn. Those skills mixed with the now fabled ability to return kicks, may land him a comfortable spot on the roster as a depth defensive back and Swiss Army knife special teams guy.
OT Nick Becton:
Another undrafted player Becton joined the Chargers out of Virginia Tech and spent 2013 on the practice squad. With Mike Harris nursing injuries, and the pure tackle position being thin, Nick could turn into a nice option for coach Joe D. At 6’6″ 323, Becton has hung around with the team long enough to say that he has something they like. Probably size and some athletic ability. King Dunlap is the only true left tackle to block the blind side from a year ago, and he certainly had his struggles with concision problems. Harris and Fluker both tried their hands on the left and both looked overmatched. Giving him more time with the line coaches this offseason, there may be a jump in production. He’s young and fits the size part well and could make his way into the future grooming role behind Dunlap.
Potential Last Few Out:
CB Marcus Cromartie:
The corner position is currently a crowded one. Aside from the clear top four, there’s Brandon Ghee and Steve Williams seeking nickel duties as well. Chris Davis may have an edge if he can be a contributor on special teams, and Crezdon Butler got to play some actual minutes last season, recording a very memorable goal line forced fumble against the Cowboys. Although talented and well liked by the team, it’ll be an uphill battle for Cromartie to make the final 53.
DT Kwame Geathers:
With his 6’6″ 335 frame and athleticism, any football fan would inherently want Kwame Geathers to work out for their team. Fact is, Geathers’ abilities never quite fit into Pagano’s scheme. Built like a young Albert Haynesworth doesn’t necessarily mean that he would have to play best as a 4-3 defensive tackle, but after seeing what he’s brought to the Chargers this far, it would appear that he may be better suited for it. The other DTs picked up this far in the Telesco era show a trend where Geathers doesn’t quite fit. Low to the ground and wide. Space eaters. Run stuffers. After drafting Ryan Carrethers out of Arkansas State and bringing in three others for a shot at the active roster, it would appear that Geathers is a man without a natural place on the line. If only he would be open to trying left tackle.
TE John Phillips:
Phillips is the perfect football player to have somewhere on your team. Well, he was. Having been injured most of last season, the mostly blocking tight end now has some competition for his spot. Veteran fullback Le’Ron McClain was let free in exchange for David Johnson, who can also be effective at tight end. Having the pleasure of choosing between Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green on any given down puts Phillips into a full-time backup role as it is. A versatile player like Johnson and some buzz around a young Michael Flacco could spell the impending end for an occasionally banged up veteran like Phillips.
RB Kerwynn Williams, Marion Grice, Branden Oliver:
One of these guys will stick, and the one that does will be well above the rest. The name of the game in this crowded backfield is versatility. Pass blocking, receiving, special teams, possibly returning, and oh yeah, running the ball. There will be a healthy competition until the last day for this fourth back roster spot, but it’ll likely go to the guy who can do the most to help the team in a variety of ways. All these guys are hard workers and show flashes, which is why I say they’ll be tougher to let go. But it looks like, in the end, Grice will likely fit the bill.
Honorable mention stiff competition:
Tourek Williams versus Thomas Keiser versus Jarrett Johnson
The team could feasibly hold all of these linebackers, as they did last year. All showed value on the field in 2013, and youth is certainly on the side of Williams and Keiser. Johnson is a valued team leader and mentor, but with Freeney healthy, Attaochu brought in, and Ingram eyeing a full season, the need for utility outside backers has hopefully gone down. Williams was drafted by Telesco which gives him a bit of an advantage, Keiser had off the field issues, and Johnson’s salary could be saved nicely. Johnson would be a surprise last out, but it could happen.
Looking over this roster, it’s difficult to want to envision releasing any further prospective Chargers. Due to Tom Telesco’s concept of how to build a roster, it must be stated that it will take quality work to stay on the back-end of this roster going into 2014. Here’s a sampling of roster bubble guys from around the league who could fit the bill on the bargain hunt:
WR Brandon Tate, Cincinnati Bengals:
Brandon has been in the league since 2009, and spent his first two years with the Patriots. He came out of North Carolina in a pair with fellow Tarheel Hakeem Nicks, although hasn’t had nearly the success. Tate has been a kick returner for the Bengals in recent years an is 6’1, 210 pounds. His experience in the league and special teams focus should net him a roster spot somewhere in the league in 2014.
WR Kenny Britt, St Louis Rams:
Britt has had a troubled NFL career after being selected in the first round of the ’09 draft by the Titans. A mix of behavior, attitude, and lack of elite play has him simply looking for a team to prove himself to these days. Britt has struggled through quarterback issues with Tennessee, and now is trying to stick with an up and down Sam Bradford. It’s possible that bringing him into a roster with a solidified quarterback and a well oiled offense could be a chance for him to finally shine. At 6’3″ 223, he has always had the physical tools.
G Cyril Richardson, Buffalo Bills:
Apparently this guy is not what he was thought to be coming out of college. Listed as one of the highest first round possibilities along the offensive line early in the draft process, he ended up being drafted in the fifth round, having been passed over by Telesco several times in an area of need. He’s big, as in huge (6’5″, 329) for a guard. If he doesn’t make the cut for some reason in Buffalo, Tom and Joe D may want to take a flier on the massive prospect.