The Biggest Winners and Losers of Chargers Camp, Preseason so Far
With only one preseason game under their belt, it might seem like a little too early to be judging the Chargers. But, any true Bolthead will tell you that it’s never too soon to be skeptical after the last eight years of “success.”
There has been a lot to be optimistic about, thus far, as well as some things that cause deep concern. Every team’s fans can say that about their squad right now, but let’s look at what we’ve seen in the context of what the Chargers have done (and not done) over the aforementioned seasons.
Let’s start with the “winners.”
1. Melvin Ingram
I guess we got a glimpse of why AJ Smith was so high on this guy, huh? I can’t help but join with the masses singing Ingram’s praises. He got after Aaron Rodgers with a ferocity not seen since the pre-injury Shawne Merriman. But we’ll assume that Ingram isn’t taking any “supplements.”
It was great to see a pass-rusher in the face of an opposing quarterback. How did the secondary play? With the closing speed Ingram displayed, it was hard to tell. That’s a good thing.
Those 2006-2007 pass defenses had a lot of help from steady heat coming from the 3-4.
My only concern about Ingram was seeing him play so much in the game. The injury to Ryan Mathews was still fresh in my mind, of course.
Jon Gruden and Mike Trico also made the strong point that Corey Liuget was disruptive in last year’s preseason game at Dallas. That didn’t exactly translate into a strong rookie season.
2. Antonio Gates
As was the case with Ingram, Gates was exactly as advertised on Thursday night. He was billed as lighter and quicker. We can only hope he stays healthier. But, he looked nimble as hell, and once again, found himself wide open in the end zone.
Maybe they can rally around this future Hall of Famer. With the Bolts possessing the most tight end depth outside of Foxboro, it will be interesting to see if spelling Gates will increase his durability and effectiveness.
3. Vincent Brown
When Philip Rivers was getting tossed around like a rag doll during last November’s home contest against Oakland, Brown really distinguished himself. Much like Malcom Floyd, the kid can really go up for the ball. Hopefully, he’ll be a little sturdier than Floyd.
His nationally televised NFL Network performance was also noteworthy because it came on a night when Vincent Jackson “didn’t expect” the Hail Mary-attempt the Chargers desperately needed to stay in the game.
Brown was at it again against Green Bay. There are already rumblings that he’s trying to crack (via Dan McClellan of CBS Sports) the starting lineup as Philip Rivers struggles to get in sync with Robert Meachem. That may be a bit of a stretch, but there is no question that he is making his case for more playing time this season.
The more Rivers distributes the ball, the more effective the Chargers offense becomes.
4. Curtis Brinkley
I’ve written an awful lot about Brinkley’s performance at Arrowhead last season. If not for Rivers’ fumbled snap, Brinkley might have saved the game, and possibly the season, with his fourth-quarter performance. On a night where Ryan Mathews both fumbled and got injured, Brinkley came to the Bolts’ rescue.
As was the case with Brown’s valiant performance against Oakland, it wasn’t enough to thwart a losing streak that would grow to six games.
We’ve all heard about how Brinkley survived a gunshot, a la former Charger Mark Seay. He’s tough, but also provides an element that was missing with Mike Tolbert. Tolbert could break off long runs, but could also be unreliable.
Has anyone forgotten the fumble in Foxboro? Tolbert’s bruising style also led to some injuries. He bravely ran without his helmet against San Francisco in 2010, but was carted off in Cincinnati a few weeks later. Tolbert was also limited when forced to make a quick cut in short-yardage. Brinkley seems less susceptible to being thrown for a loss in those spots.
The “Losers": 1. Ryan Mathews
According to Mathews, he will undoubtedly be on the field in Oakland for Week 1. After seeing Jason Witten get his spleen lacerated, I can’t imagine rushing back is such a hot idea. I’m sure there are a few Raiders who would love to put Mathews back on the injured list.
After a car crash and a single play in preseason, Charger fans are still waiting for the new-and-improved Ryan Mathews.
I’ve been a part of those hyping up Ryan Mathews’ 2012 season. But until he proves himself, it will be just hype. With every injury, we fear the worst.
2. Nick Novak
With Nate Kaeding as kicker, the Chargers have imploded three times on their own field and wasted 12-, 13- and 14-win seasons in the process. Without Kaeding, they’ve missed the playoffs entirely. Which is better? Is there a third option I can choose from?
That’s basically how I feel about this “kicker competition” to begin with. Kaeding is a nice guy, but he should never have gotten a third chance to break our hearts. Mike Vanderjagt’s “idiot” tendencies weren’t why he was jettisoned to Dallas.
I would sacrifice those gaudy regular-season stats for someone who won’t crack like a skittish relief pitcher. That being said, Novak's short kick into the uprights didn't help his cause or my confidence in him one bit.
3. Jared Gaither
Much like with Ryan Mathews, Charger fans are left with that “here we go again” feeling. There seems to be a consensus that the team can survive without Mathews if the result is a sturdier player upon his return. But, the idea of Rivers’ blind side being protected by Mike Harris is a little frightening.
Gaither’s durability issues preceded his arrival in San Diego. However, we’ve seen none of his “Big-Lazy” tendencies. I’m not ready to push the panic button, but with every passing day, I worry a little more—the conflicting reports and the multiple doctors. I don’t know if I can go through this again.
4. The Other Chargers Receivers
Missed chip-shot field goals, an injured Ryan Mathews and a Philip Rivers' red-zone interception. How is this different from the regular season again? Seriously, Rivers’ pick on first down near the goal line was extremely disturbing. He told ESPN that it was better to get it out of the way early, but last season has left me scarred.
Norv Turner intimated that it was Robert Meachem’s fault for not getting more separation. But he might just be trying to keep critics off Rivers’ back. Eddie Royal is yet to play, and Malcom Floyd’s health is always a concern.
As I said earlier, I think the Bolts will benefit from Vincent Jackson’s departure as they did when Anthony Miller went to Denver. But, the jury’s still out at this point.