San Diego Chargers 2012: 6 Takeaways from the Bolts' First Preseason Game
It is no secret that the San Diego Chargers have not lived up to their hype over the past few seasons. Whether it was early postseason exits or missing the playoffs entirely, all that matters is that they have continually fallen short of their ultimate goal of winning a championship.
After former team leader Ladainian Tomlinson recently retired without that elusive ring, many players came out acknowledging that they cannot afford to keep squandering opportunities, and that their window is ever closing. The Chargers can still win a Super Bowl with this current group but with an ever-aging core of players, the opportunity may be fading fast.
But, with every new season comes new hope and new opportunities. It is difficult to judge the season's prospects after just one preseason game, but after the 21-13 win over the Green Bay Packers on Thursday, fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Here are six things to take away from Thursday's game.
The Defensive Line Is Shaping Up with New Talent
The San Diego Chargers are an offensive-minded team centered around Philip Rivers. The offense has never been a problem under Coach Norv Turner. Since the offense has been more or less set, the past few drafts have been very defensively minded.
For some fans, it has been a painful waiting process, but now, as some of these draftees are developing, we should see the fruits of our patience. Now the formerly meager defensive line unit is suddenly stacked with talented young players waiting to prove themselves.
While talking about this budding defensive unit, it is impossible to leave out the Bolts' highly touted first round draft pick, DE Melvin Ingram.
After seeing his college career blossom at the University of South Carolina, he had the potential to be dominant at the professional level. At times during this game, he was just that. Four or five different times he blew by the his defender for an open lane to the quarterback. What impressed me the most was his versatility rushing the quarterback. He not only has the speed to fly by people, but also the strength to bull them over. If he keeps working, Ingram can be something special.
After a few underperforming draft classes in recent memory, it was certainly refreshing to see another early round draft pick, DT Kendall Reyes, show how relentless he can be getting after the quarterback as well. A strong pass rush can boost a team to the next level, and it has been something the Chargers have lacked in recent years. Pay attention to these two players as the preseason progresses.
Third-Down Defense Improves
The most glaring defensive weakness was its inability to get off the field on third down. The team was dead last in the NFL in that category, allowing conversions 49 percent of the time.
Against Green Bay on Thursday, the team improved on that clip, allowing conversions on 7 of 18 third downs, or 39 percent. This statistic will be crucial this upcoming season. In 2011, after allowing long drives all game long, the defense consistently ran out of gas by the fourth quarter and couldn’t make crucial stops. Although preseason games must be taken with a grain of salt, this improvement is promising.
The Receiving Corps Will Not Miss Vincent Jackson
With Vincent Jackson leaving, there might be cause for alarm regarding the Chargers offense. I admit one cannot easily replace a player as dynamic and physically gifted as VJ. Although the sample size is small, this one preseason game gave fans confidence this group will be as high powered as ever.
Right now, Malcolm Floyd is the stalwart of the receiving corps and the de facto No. 1. Although he didn’t have his number called much against Green Bay, he is a proven asset that already has chemistry with Philip Rivers.
Replacing VJ will be done by committee. This was clear when General Manager A.J. Smith brought in two veteran receivers, Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem, to take the load off Floyd. Look for these two to continue to establish chemistry with Philip Rivers.
Another man expected to see more action is Vincent Brown. The second-year man had four catches for 81 yards and an impressive touchdown. He continues to look like a legitimate deep threat. After a strong finish last season, if his play continues, don't be surprised to see him starting opposite Malcolm Floyd Week 1.
Curtis Brinkley Pushes for a Bigger Role in the Offense
A.J. Smith has not been shy this offseason, and he has brought in a few new faces to replace Mike Tolbert. However, after one preseason game, it looks as if he didn’t have to look any further than his own team for Curtis Brinkley.
Brinkley had big moments last year and a solid first exhibition game this year. He gained 42 yards on 11 carries with one touchdown. It remains to be seen if he can be a featured back but he seems to be a good fit for about that many carries per game. He had similar stats in the game in Kansas City last year—arguably his best game as a pro. Against Green Bay, the former undrafted free agent showed impressive burst on his 12-yard gain and could be a nice change-of-pace back for San Diego.
The Team Will Have to Adjust (again) Without Ryan Mathews
The oft-injured RB Ryan Mathews broke his clavicle on Thursday and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. It remains to be seen if an aging Ronnie Brown can shoulder the load for the first few weeks of the season. If not, the aforementioned Curtis Brinkley may be called on for a larger role, and rookie RBs Michael Hayes and Edwin Baker should have ample opportunity to prove their worth.
The Kicker Question Needs to Be Answered
The kicking situation was a big question mark during the offseason. Would Nate Kaeding win the job back after his injury or would Nick Novak be able to hold off the veteran and keep the job?
Well, if the season started tomorrow, Novak would be sweating after putting a 35-yarder off the upright. Kaeding is very solid and Novak was serviceable as his replacement. The team could defend hiring either guy. But until the coaching staff puts its confidence in one or the other, the team will remain in kicker purgatory.
Right now, either kicker sent out on the field will not be at his best with legitimate uncertainty about his job security looming overhead. The sooner this question is answered the better.
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