San Diego Chargers Who Could Surprise at Training Camp
The drought of football is oh so close to ending.
The Chargers open training camp to rookies and veterans on July 25.
San Diego’s first preseason football game is August 8.
Football is right around the corner and just in time. There is only so much baseball, MLS and Tour de France a person can take. Football needs to be here. NOW!
With training camp less than 10 days away, speculation is starting to mount of how the final 53-man roster will eventually unfold.
Training camp is down to the nitty-gritty, where players—veterans and rookies—need to earn roster spots.
Inevitably, someone steps up to the challenge and surprises the coaches, teammates and the media during training camp. Sometimes that surprise is a good thing (see Michael Harris last year). Sometimes it is a bad thing (see Jared Gaither last year).
Who will surprise when the players converge to Chargers Park on Thursday?
Philip Rivers will get a lot of publicity and will probably look spectacular during training camp. Honestly though, who cares? It’s practice. He should look spectacular during practice when no defensive player is allowed within 10 yards of touching him. Let's wait until he faces real pressure before announcing Rivers has reverted back to his winning ways.
Vincent Brown and Danario Alexander both should shine during training camp. This will be the first training camp for Alexander with Rivers and basically only the second for Brown, who broke his ankle in the second preseason game last year. (Brown was a rookie during the strike-shortened 2011 offseason.) With a magic halo around Rivers allowing him time to throw, these two receivers should garner tons of praise.
We have already read how Jeromey Clary transitioned smoothly from right tackle to right guard, and you can expect similar stories during camp. While Clary performing well in practice is better than him performing poorly, many Chargers fans want to see how he does against opposing teams with referees who throw flags for holding and false starts.
Like Rivers and Clary, Mathews will probably look good during training camp. He (hopefully) is inspired to show management and fans he is focused on being a running back and not a mistaken identity at a bar fight. But also like Rivers and Clary, the real test for Mathews is not how he looks in practice. Coaches and fans want to see what Mathews does in a real game.
Deon Butler, WR
Deon Butler was an under-the-radar addition to the team in April. Butler was originally drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft. The former Penn State receiver performed well at the combine, running the fourth-fastest time (4.38) in the 40-yard-dash for wide receivers.
Butler only played in six games the past two years for Seattle. He ended the 2010 season with a broken leg, having caught 36 passes after starting eight games.
Butler is a speedy and shifty player who could make an impact on a crowded receiving group. Unlike Alexander, Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem, who all excel on deep routes, Butler would be a strong contender as a possession receiver. Brown, Eddie Royal and third-round selection Keenan Allen are also battling it out for roster spot.
New head coach Mike McCoy is giving quarterback Philip Rivers more “high-percentage” options in the passing game, which should help Butler. McCoy told Peter King he expects Rivers to complete 70 percent of his passes, thanks in part to having shorter routes as throwing options. Shorter routes mean receivers like Butler will have the ability to catch and run, which is one of his strengths.
D.J. Smith, LB
Manti Te’o is getting plenty of publicity, and it is all probably well-deserved. But he was arguably the biggest name in the 2013 draft and will continue to be a nationally recognized sports figure for the immediate future.
A lot of conversation has been had regarding Te’o’s ability to play passing downs. Pundits were jumping at the chance to debate if the former Notre Dame star was a three-down linebacker.
The Chargers picked up former Green Bay linebacker D.J. Smith the day before Te’o was drafted. Smith played in 22 games over two years. He was the starting inside linebacker for the Packers last year, but an injury put him on the sidelines for the final half of the season.
Smith has shown he is a viable option inside. He will turn heads, especially with so many people looking to poke holes in Te’o’s performance.
Cam Thomas, NT
Cam Thomas is finally getting a chance to show what he can do, and he will probably look pretty good in training camp.
First, he will look good compared to the other options at nose guard, all undrafted free-agent rookies. While Thomas only has five NFL starts over three years, he has also been in the Chargers’ system for three years.
Second, Thomas will be playing against the Chargers offensive line. Four of the five starters will be new, with center Nick Hardwick being the lone returner.
Clary is learning an entirely new position, but all five are learning a new blocking system. New line coach Joe D’Alessandris is bringing over a zone-blocking scheme he used while at Buffalo. While D.J. Fluker used a zone-blocking scheme at Alabama, this is the NFL.
And even though Chad Rinehart played under D’Alessandris with the Bills, he is not assured of a starting position. The bottom line is that Thomas will be playing against a unit learning a new system and learning to play with each other.
Finally, a nose guard does not have to win every battle to do his job. If the inside linebackers are able to make plays, the nose guard probably did a pretty good job up front. With Donald Butler, Te’o and Smith flying around behind him and making tons of tackles, Thomas will earn well-deserved accolades.
Shareece Wright, CB
Shareece Wright might not look so great in training camp. As the starting corner, Wright will be matched up against receivers Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd. Both are listed at 6’5”, while Wright is 5’11”, but it is not just the height comparisons.
As mentioned in the Honorable Mentions slide, Rivers will face zero pressure. He will be able to step into the pocket and throw without being hit. For whatever faults one may want to hurl at Rivers, he can still throw a pretty pass when given time.
Without the threat of being hit, Rivers should be able to pick apart the defensive secondary, including Wright, and that may be surprising to some people.
Dwight Freeney, LB
Dwight Freeney was the biggest free-agent name addition this offseason. At 33 years old, he is also the oldest.
Freeney had an amazing career at Indianapolis, but 10 of his 11 years with the Colts came as a defensive end. Last year was the first year he played outside linebacker, as the Colts switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive alignment.
Besides being 33 and obviously not as fast as he was even two years ago, he will return to a 3-4 outside linebacker position. Freeney should make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but 102.5 of his 107.5 career sacks were at defensive end in the 4-3.
There are high hopes for Freeney. He was brought in after Melvin Ingram was injured at the beginning of OTAs.
But the combination of age, position and a new team may lead to struggles for Freeney—which may surprise some people.