San Diego Chargers: 8 Things We Learned Through Week 3 of Preseason
The San Diego Chargers are 1-2 after three preseason games, and it could be difficult to get an accurate gauge on where this team truly stands.
The team played well in a loss to a Seattle Seahawks squad that may or may not be overrated.
Then they played poorly in a loss to a Chicago Bears team that may or may not be underrated.
Finally, they looked fantastic in a win against the Arizona Cardinals, a team that may or may not be horrible.
Even with a lack of concrete evidence of how the Bolts will be once the games that really matter start, it appears some trends have emerged through three weeks of preseason action.
Beat writers were amazed at the pace of practice during OTAs and training camp. Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego pointed out the team was running more plays in practice than they had in years.
New head coach Mike McCoy justified the up-tempo by saying he was trying to get the team into shape and by trying to get the team ready to play against no-huddle teams. It is apparent the pace was also to get the offense ready for shorter rests and better snaps during the regular season as well.
The Chargers have run 201 offensive plays in the preseason. Their opponents have run 169.
An average of more than 10 plays difference per game will help San Diego in many ways. First, it is more opportunities (theoretically, at least) to score. Second, it helps keep the defense off the field and rested. Third, it wears down the opposition, which could lead to better scoring chances late in games.
McCoy, who was the last starting quarterback at Long Beach State before it discontinued its program following the 1991 season, was known for his ability to adapt to circumstances while the offensive coordinator in Denver.
It seems the circumstances in San Diego are permitting a hurry-up offense.
One of the critiques of the previous coaching regime was the inability to establish the running game. While
former head coach Norv Turner deserves some blame. A porous offensive line and the need to pass when behind in games were also factors.
The last four regular seasons, San Diego averaged 25.7, 27.3, 28.6 and 26.7 running plays per game. The passing plays per game were between 32 and 36.4.
In three preseason games, the Chargers have averaged 33 pass plays and 31 run plays.
The average per run has not been dramatically different (3.7 per rush in the preseason compared to 3.6 during the 2012 regular season) but the commitment to the run looks to be present.
A running game will help the team in multiple ways.
First, it will keep defenses guessing what the offense will do, opening up bigger plays in the passing game. Second, it will control the time of possession keeping San Diego’s defense off the field and well-rested. Also, a strong running attack gives a team a sense of toughness, something fans have derided about the Chargers since the departure of former left guard Kris Dielman and left tackle Marcus McNeill.
Also in the running game, it is apparent McCoy is a fan of calling plays to the right side. The Chargers used their first round pick on right tackle D.F. Fluker and moved former right tackle Jeromey Clary to right guard.
That duo may have deficiencies in pass protection, but they know how to move a pile in the run game.
Freeney Could Be a Beast
No one can second-guess Dwight Freeney’s career. Anyone with more than 100 sacks in the NFL is a legitimate Hall of Fame candidate.
But at 33 years old, it is obvious the former Colts’ best days are behind him.
Or are they?
Freeney was not re-signed by Indianapolis in the offseason, and he was scooped up by the Chargers after Melvin Ingram injured his knee at the start of OTAs.
From 2008 to 2011, the former Syracuse standout registered 42.5 sacks in 61 games, an average of almost 0.7 sacks per game. In 2012 he had 5 sacks in 14 games, less than 0.4 per game.
So far in the 2013 preseason, Freeney has looked fantastic. U-T San Diego’s Tom Krasovic called the outside linebacker the team’s Preseason MVP.
He only has one official sack in three preseason games, but he has been disruptive applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks.
If he can avoid injury, Freeney’s signing could be the biggest free agent move in the NFL from 2013.
Wide Receiver Questions
Before the preseason even began, there were questions regarding the San Diego receiving corps. It looked deep but not spectacular. The biggest concern was the lack of a true No. 1 receiver.
The closest thing to a No. 1 (Danario Alexander) was lost for the season with a knee injury, then the next-closest thing to a No.1 (Malcom Floyd) was sidelined with a knee injury.
Through three preseason games, the top receivers are Dan DePalma (7 catches for 70 yards), Keenan Allen (6 for 48) and Mike Willie (6 for 42).
In actuality, the best receivers on the team have been the tight ends. Ladarius Green leads the team with 8 receptions for 148 yards while Antonio Gates has 7 catches for 75 yards.
All wide receivers have caught 30 passes for 329 yards, an average of almost 11 yards per reception. All tight ends have caught 19 passes for 268 yards for a 14.1 average. Running backs have 9 receptions for 71 yards, 7.88 per reception.
Maybe the thought of a No. 1 wide receiver is antiquated.
Maybe McCoy is bucking the old school thought of needing a “go-to” receiver. Maybe McCoy is just using what he has on the roster.
Fans looking for the top receiver may be searching until next year when the Chargers are on the clock for the 2014 NFL draft, because it does not look like there is one currently on the roster.
Green Will Be a Star
As mentioned in the previous slide, tight end Ladarius Green has been the best receiver for the Chargers. It could be argued he has been the best player for San Diego this preseason regardless of position.
As a rookie in 2012, Green only played in four games and caught all four passes thrown his way last year.
The lack of a stand out wide receiver has helped Green emerge as a rising star on the team. He leads San Diego with 8 receptions for 161 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Antonio Gates is 33 and recovering from various injuries. Gates has looked very good in the preseason so far, but it looks like Green is the future tight end for San Diego.
And that future could be here sooner than expected.
Depth Is a Concern
The preseason is partly a time when veterans are able to shake off any proverbial rust from the offseason, but it is mainly a time to find the backups needed during the regular season.
In all three preseason games, the starters looked good.
In all two of the three preseason games, the backups raised eyebrows for all of the wrong reasons.
Against the Seahawks, the backup offensive and defensive lines looked atrocious.
In Chicago, the reserve wide outs and secondary were suspect.
Things seemed to come together in the latest game against Arizona, but that could be because the Cardinals are not expected to have very good depth either.
If starters are lost because of injuries (which is a certainty in the NFL), San Diego could be in real trouble if backups are being asked to carry the load.
About the only positions where depth is not a major concern are tight end (Green and John Philips) and running back, where Fozzy Whittaker is making a strong case to be on the 53-man roster.
Seventh-round draft pick Brad Sorensen has also looked nice, but it seems Charlie Whitehurst will retain the No. 2 quarterback spot.
Undrafted free agent Kwame Geathers has looked solid as the backup nose tackle, but all other positions seem precariously thin.
At the very least, no backups have stood out as potential starters during the preseason.
O-Line Is a Work in Progress
One of the biggest weaknesses from the 2012 San Diego Chargers team was the offensive line. The unit allowed 49 sacks in 2012 and another 21 quarterback hits.
The lack of protection caused Philip Rivers to feel pressure even if it was not there, leading the entire offense to struggle.
Through three preseason games, San Diego quarterbacks have been sacked nine times.
The line has opened up holes for running backs, though. San Diego has averaged 3.7 yards per carry. That is the same as the 49ers, which has arguably the best offensive line in the NFL.
Rookie D.J. Fluker looks to be exactly as advertised: a masher in the run game and a work in progress in pass protection. Once Fluker gets his hands on a defender, that player is essentially deleted from the play, whether it is a pass play or a run play.
His trouble is moving his size-22 feet swiftly on pass protection. Still, Fluker has not been an absolute liability in protection like some thought he would be.
The line looks to be better than last year’s unit and should get better during the regular season.
King Dunlap is an upgrade to the left tackles from a year ago, but he is not an elite blocker.
Following the victory over the Cardinals, however, head coach Mike McCoy praised Dunlap and the entire offensive line.
Still, there is a good chance San Diego will use a high draft pick on an offensive lineman come next April.
Defense Could Dominate
The San Diego Chargers offense is still coming together. That is to be expected with a whole new playbook, new terminology, and new scheme.
The defense is looking like it might have to carry the team while the offense comes together.
Luckily, it looks like the defense is up for the task.
The starting defense shut out the Seattle Seahawks in the first preseason game. It played very well against Chicago, despite the Bears receiving advantageous field position due to special teams. And the defense dominated in Arizona.
The starters have been able to apply pressure to the quarterback, take away receiving options in the passing game and close in on running backs quickly.
The Chargers secondary has allowed 48 receptions this preseason, tied for the second-fewest so far. Only 10 teams have allowed fewer than the 4.7 yards per play the Chargers defense has allowed this preseason.
Effectively, the defense could be poised for a huge year.