San Diego Chargers Winners and Losers from Training Camp
Training camp is over. The third preseason game marks a philosophical shift around the NFL from evaluation of their own team to the evaluation of other teams. It's a somewhat gradual shift that will occur over the next two weeks.
As rosters and roles are finalized, we'll find out what players were winners and which ones were losers in training camp. Unlike little league, they don't give you a trophy for participation, and they take away your playbook.
Winner: Atari Bigby
When training camp started, rookie third-round pick Brandon Taylor and Atari Bigby were competing for the starting job at strong safety. Bigby got the reps with the No. 1 defense, but instead of quickly losing snaps to the rookie, he continued to get them.
Taylor may still be in the long-term plan for the position, but Bigby has solidified himself as the starter opposite Eric Weddle. The veteran Bigby has had health issues in the past and has only been able to stay healthy for a full season as a starter once in his three years as a starter.
Bigby was a key reserve in Seattle last year, but could be primed for a big year as a full-time player for the first time since 2009.
Loser: Ryan Mathews
All Mathews needed to do to become a winner was stay healthy. His starting job was not in danger, and his role was not in danger. Mathews could have sat out every training camp practice and preseason game and still been the unquestioned starter.
Mathews got hurt, the much talked about broken clavicle that will take some time to heal. The team hopes Mathews can come back early in the season.
Mathews has said he wants to come back after just three weeks of healing and start on Monday Night Football against the Raiders. Now, we have to question Mathews' durability and intelligence.
Winner: Melvin Ingram
Five years after Shawn Merriman registered double-digit sacks for the Chargers, they might have found his replacement. Melvin Ingram has just about all the qualities you could ask for in an pass-rushing linebacker except his much talked about short arms according to Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. (h/t Bill Williamson of ESPN).
The Chargers landed Ingram with the 18th overall pick in the draft, and it may prove to be a steal. Ingram might not start, but he's going for force his way onto the field his rookie year and it will only take a big game or a minor injury for the Chargers to make him a starter.
Once Ingram is a starter, he may never not be a starter again. Ingram has impressed the media, the coaches and his teammates, and for the first time in several years, fans in San Diego aren't holding their collective breath hoping that general manager A.J. Smith got a gem with his first-round pick.
Loser: Jared Gaither
Jared Gaither is, perhaps, one of the most important players in San Diego. Before Gaither arrived, the Chargers were a dumpster fire, and the ownership was probably preparing to have the coaching staff and many of the players dumped at the nearest landfill.
Gaither was thrown on the trash heap himself by the Kansas City Chiefs and Smith brought him in hoping he could solve some of the issues the Chargers were having with the offensive line.
Gaither came in, put out the fire and turned trash into treasure. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late for the Chargers, but the ownership gave Smith and Norv Turner another year, and Gaither was given a lucrative contract to stay in San Diego.
Whoops! Gaither missed nearly all of training camp, and the Chargers had no one behind him and have resorted to using an undrafted rookie at left tackle while Gaither has missed time.
Gaither is still not back in action, and there is a great deal of panic at Chargers' headquarters, whether they want to admit it or not.
Winner: Antoine Cason
Antoine Cason is a former first-round pick who became a starter in his third season, but has been disappointing in his two seasons as a starter. Cason was even benched briefly in 2011.
It was understandable that the Chargers were going to let Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright battle with Cason for the starting job. That hasn't happened.
Cason seems to have solidified his role as the starter and comes out of camp having won one of the biggest camp battles in San Diego this year.
Loser: Vincent Brown
The Chargers brought in Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal in the offseason, and Vincent Brown's role in the offense was in serious question.
Brown was having a great training camp and preseason and would have forced the Chargers to figure out how to get him on the field, but broke his ankle after catching a touchdown pass against the Cowboys in the second preseason game.
Brown will miss eight weeks and a big chunk of the regular season. By the time Brown comes back, the offense may have moved on without him.
Winner: Corey Liuget
The Chargers have spent a lot of premium picks in the past few seasons trying to fix the defense—notably in the front seven. Larry English, Melvin Ingram and Corey Liuget were all drafted in the first round.
Liuget started 13 games last season as a rookie, but he didn't make the impact that everyone was hoping he would. It wasn't a bad start for a 3-4 defensive end, but the fans expected more.
Training camp has shown the fans that Liuget is poised for a jump in his second year. He's using his hands better and working on his pass-rushing skills, according to Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
There was very little competition for Liuget's spot, but he's self motivated himself, and he could be a big part of a turnaround on defense in 2012.
Loser to Winner: Eddie Royal
Eddie Royal was making all kinds of noise in OTAs and minicamp after he was signed by the Chargers. Then, Royal hurt his groin at the start of training camp and missed the first two preseason games and two weeks of practice.
Royal clearly lost a lot of steam and probably was going to lose his role as the team's slot receiver to Vincent Brown. Despite the injury that cost him so much practice time, he's close to returning and has nearly two weeks to prepare for the regular-season opener.
With Brown's injury, Royal has a chance to recapture the role he likely lost by missing so much of training camp and could still be heavily involved in the offense.
Royal was a training-camp loser, but as camp ended, the pendulum swung back his way. Talk about a turnaround.