5 Biggest Areas of Concern for San Diego Chargers Heading into Training Camp
When the San Diego Chargers opened training camp last year under new head coach Mike McCoy, the term "rebuilding" was used to describe the state of the franchise, but little did we know that McCoy's first year with the Bolts would exceed expectations with a postseason run.
Now in his second year with the team, McCoy is preparing for yet another training camp with the hope that he can get San Diego back into the playoffs in 2014. But before the Chargers can start thinking ahead, they'll need to address several areas of concern in camp.
In terms of health, the Chargers are in a far better place now than they were at the start of last year's training camp.
At this point last July, San Diego was coping with the losses of Melvin Ingram and Danario Alexander to ACL injuries. Heading into this year's camp, the most common obstacle players face is recovery from previous injuries.
The most notable players coming back from offseason surgeries include:
- Dwight Freeney (quad)
- Manti Te'o (foot)
- Jason Verrett (shoulder)
- Jeromey Clary (hip, shoulder)
Freeney, Te'o and Verrett attended OTAs and participated in some regard while Clary was a no-show. Nick Hardwick, who injured his ankle in minicamp, is another name to keep an eye on, though he's expected to be ready by camp.
Finding the Right Fit at Right Guard
With Clary on the mend from offseason surgeries, the chance at a starting gig on the offensive line has come down to three candidates.
Johnnie Troutman, Rich Ohrnberger and third-round draft pick Chris Watt each received reps with the first team during OTAs. Troutman and Ohrnberger made at least one start at right guard for the Chargers last season, and Watt, a three-year starter at left guard for Notre Dame, is in the midst of a transition to the right side.
While consistency on the offensive line would be preferred, a change at right guard could be on the horizon if Clary is beaten out by one of his three competitors.
GM Tom Telesco quickly recognized the need for some changes in the secondary and delivered with first-round draft pick Jason Verrett and former Kansas City Chiefs standout Brandon Flowers. Now that the pieces are in place, it's up to defensive coordinator John Pagano to rebuild his defensive backfield, which finished 29th in pass defense last season.
The pairing of Flowers and Shareece Wright on the outside sounds promising, but both have something to prove in 2014. Flowers, a first-time Pro Bowler last year, is looking to prove that the Chiefs made a mistake in letting him go. Wright has just one more year on his contract to convince the front office he's a player the team can build around.
Verrett, when he's 100 percent recovered from shoulder surgery, should slide into the slot and bring the same feistiness he displayed at TCU. All-Pro safety Eric Weddle will return for his eighth season at free safety, and a position battle at strong safety should bring out the best from Marcus Gilchrist and Jahleel Addae.
Compared to 2013, this group should do quite well.
Getting Comfortable with a New Offensive Coordinator
The arrival of Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt in 2013 did wonders for the offense, especially with the play of Philip Rivers. Now that Rivers has regained his elite form, can he pick up where he left off with a first-year offensive coordinator running the show?
According to Bucky Brooks of NFL.com (via Chris Wesseling of NFL.com), Reich's grasp of the no-huddle offense will benefit Rivers and the Chargers offense:
I think they're going to give Philip Rivers more leeway than he's ever had. I think you're going to see them play at a pace that we haven't seen them play at, and I think they're ramping up and they'll be far more exciting than we're used to seeing the Chargers in terms of passing.
Getting Pressure on the Quarterback
The Chargers defense managed just 30 sacks last season, and it was the secondary that paid the price from the lack of pressure up front. The added time in the pocket allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete a little more than 66 percent of their passes and throw for nearly 260 yards a game.
Getting to the quarterback is clearly one of San Diego's concerns heading into camp because the 2014 schedule is loaded with signal-callers who thrive off of extra time. Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick will demolish San Diego if there's no pressure by the defense.
Training camp will give Pagano an extended look at what he has to work with in terms of pass-rushers. Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram will be at his disposal this time around, and second-round draft pick Jerry Attaochu is another player he can work into the rotation. Thomas Keiser, who had 4.5 sacks last season, could be a player to watch as well.