The Aug. 9 preseason win over the Dallas Cowboys demonstrated one element that every team in the NFL desires: depth at multiple positions. While the Dallas first team looked impressive early in the first quarter, the true measure of a well-built team revealed itself as San Diego’s back-ups, particularly in the second quarter, consistently outplayed Dallas’ counterparts for a 31-17 victory. Lets take a look at who shined and how performances during the first preseason game may impact the final roster.
Back-Up Running Back
Rookie hybrid running back Jacob Hester (two touchdowns, 49 yards) had an impressive showing in his first NFL action, but it doesn’t appear to be an all-or-nothing competition with four-year veteran Darren Sproles for the back-up position to LaDanian Tomlinson. Both backs appear to be in line for situational action during the regular season as Hester demonstrated tough, powerful, inside running while Sproles continued to demonstrate speed and elusiveness from the backfield.
Kick-Off / Punt Returner
The Chargers led the NFL with punt and kick-off returns last year (four and seven, respectively), but Tampa Bay pick-up Mark Jones raises eyebrows during the Dallas preseason game by averaging 19 yards on three punt returns. In recent years, Dallas’ Achilles’ heal has been secondary and special teams coverage, but regardless, Jones looked dynamic and may carve out a roster spot with continued preseason productivity.
Andrew Pinnock, penciled in to be the fullback replacement to the departed stalwart Lorenzo Neil, may face stiff competition from rookie Mike Tolbert out of Coastal Carolina. Pinnock is still suffering from a lingering knee injury, and the 5-foot-9, 243-pound Tolbert was impressive in his first NFL action, opening holes and scoring a short-yardage touchdown.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” File
I was disappointed that San Diego didn’t pick up safety John Lynch when he left Tampa Bay a few years ago, and was hopeful that – despite limited roster spot availability – the Chargers would make room for the past Pro Bowler and probable Hall of Famer. This, given the general manager’s propensity for drafting *football players* above all else. You can’t tell me a guy like Lynch couldn’t provide an intangible benefit to the defense and the team.
New England signed Lynch this week to a one-year deal worth $1.5 million. While its questionable about how much Lynch will help the Pats secondary this year, my greatest fear is that he will make a decisive play some time in late January against the Chargers. A.J. Smith – your justification may be sound, but to let a guy like Lynch get away to sign with the greatest obstacle to your team reaching the Super Bowl may be a regret down the road.
Preseason Game #2 vs. St. Louis
The key for San Diego is to get through this game – and the preseason – without any significant injuries. Antonio Gates, Nick Hardwick, Shawne Merriman and Vincent Jackson will not play in this game, and it is questionable whether Philip Rivers will play much either.