San Diego Chargers' Biggest Preseason Disappointments so Far
The San Diego Chargers' starters looked every bit like their 2013 playoff counterparts in the team's preseason win over San Francisco, locking down quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the 49ers offense.
But it’s not all sunshine in San Diego—the Chargers have several players and units that have disappointed this preseason, including a handful from general manager Tom Telesco's past two draft classes. San Diego's road back to the playoffs becomes much rockier if those listed on the following slides do not improve their performance.
Disappointment does not exclusively relate to expectations and performance. Health is a vital component of NFL success, and the lack of it is the primary reason that one player and one unit is on this list.
To start off, let’s figure out what is ailing Telesco's first-ever draft pick.
The film doesn't lie: D.J. Fluker is a swinging gate versus speedy pass-rushers. And at the NFL level, there is no shortage of explosive athletes ready to feast on slower offensive tackles.
Fluker impressed at right tackle in his rookie season thanks to his strength and imposing presence as a run blocker. He was largely up and down as a pass protector, but his first-round status made it safe to assume he would improve in that area as a sophomore.
So far, it doesn't look like Fluker will make that second-year leap. In Week 2 of the preseason against Seattle, Fluker was flagged for a false-start penalty, and he allowed four hurries in just 15 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson.
Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril regularly beat Fluker off the snap, with the big tackle never able recover quickly enough to protect his quarterback.
In equally limited action against the Dallas Cowboys and the 49ers, Fluker fared better. However, he didn't do anything to suggest he has improved his pass protection over his rookie season.
Fluker's preseason is a disappointment because he is capable of much, much more. What's even worse for the Chargers is that NFL coaches had an offseason to figure out and exploit Fluker's tendencies and weaknesses.
Unless Fluker continues to build upon what he did at the end of last season, the right side of San Diego's offensive line is vulnerable to divisional pass-rushers like Denver's Von Miller and Kansas City's Justin Houston. Philip Rivers should tread lightly.
Health of the Defensive Line
The Bolts were already thin up front when starting nose tackle Sean Lissemore injured his ankle versus the Seahawks. When backups Kwame Geathers and Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe suffered serious knee injuries at San Francisco, the defensive line situation went from bad to worse.
Last season, San Diego tied for 29th in the NFL with 4.6 yards allowed per carry. This year, a bolstered rotation and the expected improvement of young players like Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes was supposed to help the Chargers' defense tremendously.
But one of those factors is already out the window thanks to the aforementioned injuries. Things quickly could get out of hand if Ryan Carrethers and Doug Worthington have to play a heavy number of snaps.
Although injuries are largely out of the players' control, expectations were high for San Diego's defense to take the next step. Now with injuries piling up along the defensive front, the offense will have to remain its efficient and effective self.
The Chargers could survive their troubles up front if second-year linebacker Manti Te'o continues to evolve as a defender.
That's easier said than done—Te'o is sidelined yet again with a foot injury.
Te'o's sprained left foot prevented him from playing at San Francisco. For most players this would be of minor concern, but Te'o dealt with a foot injury less than a year ago: In his rookie season, he sprained his right foot and was out for the Chargers' first three regular-season games, an injury that after the season would require surgery on a fractured bone in that foot.
It's likely that Te'o played hurt for the entirety of the 2013 campaign.
Te’o certainly had his share of “welcome to the NFL” moments as a rookie, but he showed flashes of being a quality cover linebacker. A season of full health would help his development and San Diego's defense in a big way. Now the Chargers have to wait and see if this injury is as serious as last year's.
Te'o should be cleared for the start of the regular season—he was seen walking in the locker room without a protective boot, according to ESPN’s Eric D. Williams.
Although that's a relief, Te'o could have used the extra reps in the 49ers game, as his tackling still needs improvement. On one play against Seattle, running back Robert Turbin gave Te'o a stiff arm and escaped on what should have been a tackle for loss. That won't fly in the regular season.
Te'o can get better as a linebacker, as his status as a second-round pick suggests he should. But improvement for a young player necessitates him staying on the field and getting valuable playing time.
Teo's health is an issue the Chargers must monitor going forward.
San Diego's Rookie Class
Although it's far too early to assume that the 2014 Chargers draft class is a wash, none of the players selected are doing anything thus far in his rookie that hints at future greatness.
The Chargers' first three picks haven't been bad, but they haven't stood out, either.
Cornerback Jason Verrett hasn't played enough snaps for anyone to make a proper analysis. Linebacker Jerry Attaochu is showing well versus the run, although he still needs to develop pass-rushing moves before facing starting NFL offensive linemen. Guard Chris Watt is quietly impressing, allowing just one hurry in 81 snaps, per Pro Football Focus.
Those rookies are not the problem—it's the Chargers' last three picks who are a major concern. None of them look like the late-round gems who consistently put the Green Bays and Seattles in the championship discussion on an annual basis.
Two of those three rookie Chargers don’t even look worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster.
Fifth-round nose tackle Ryan Carrethers is very raw, and that's justifiable, given that he played his college ball at Arkansas State. But the depth on the Chargers defensive line has all but vanished due to injury—Carrethers will push for extended playing time if starter Sean Lissemore is out longer than expected. Unless Carrethers turns around his play in the final preseason game, more snaps for the rookie could be a cause for concern.
Sixth-round running back Marion Grice and seventh-round wide receiver Tevin Reese are startlingly quiet after prolific college careers. Kevin Acee and Michael Gehlken of The San Diego Union-Tribune predict that Grice will land on the practice squad, and Reese will be off the team entirely after final cuts.
Asking the Chargers to draft the next Richard Sherman might be a stretch. What isn't a stretch is expecting the team to hit on a few late-round picks who will contribute as key role players. That hope looks highly unlikely for the 2014 class.
Troutman started nine games last season, and is expected to start at right guard with Jeromey Clary out at least six weeks.
Troutman has experience, so what's the worst that could happen?
Although 6'4", 330-pounder has the requisite size to be a mauler in the running game, Troutman right guard struggling landing his blocks this preseason. Kyle Posey of SB Nation pointed out Troutman's weak performance versus the 49ers, citing two missed blocks and a play in which he didn't get to the second level in time.
“Is Troutman just keeping the seat warm for third-round pick Chris Watt? Not a great start for him,” Posey said. “I wonder how long they roll with him because San Diego will be facing some very good interior lineman early on in the season.”
Troutman is holding up in pass protection, but that won't be enough if he wants to be known as something other than the offensive line's weak link.
The Chargers could give the reins to Watt; they just have to keep in mind that Larry Warford's rookie impact was the exception rather than the rule. Until then, the run-heavy Chargers offense has a weakness on the right side of its line.