Stock Up, Stock Down for Every San Diego Chargers Positional Unit This Preseason
Just two games into the preseason, the San Diego Chargers have experienced unexpected highs and lows at every position.
In Week 1 against the Green Bay Packers, the running backs unit suffered a huge blow when they lost Ryan Mathews to a broken clavicle. On the plus side, San Diego's defense looked much improved against Green Bay's offense, holding Aaron Rodgers to just 2-for-8 passing, 16 yards and an interception.
Then, in Week 2, the Chargers suffered yet another huge blow with the loss of standout receiver Vincent Brown to a broken ankle, which he suffered while catching a TD pass against the Dallas Cowboys. Fortunately, the night was not a total loss as backup QB Charlie Whitehurst came in relief for a struggling Philip Rivers, tossing for 122 yards through the air and two TDs. Second-year CB Shareece Wright also had a big night with a game-changing interception in the fourth quarter along with a huge sack that forced a fumble.
Obviously a lot has happened in just two weeks, so let's take a look at how things have changed at every position in terms of stock up, stock down.
Quarterback: Stock Down
Yes, Charlie Whitehurst was very impressive in his preseason debut after recovering from a knee injury he suffered in OTAs, but the big picture here is just how bad Philip Rivers was against the Cowboys.
Costly turnovers killed the Chargers last season, and Rivers was often the culprit of giving the ball away in key moments. Rivers' performance last Saturday brought back ill-faded memories of the same QB that had a career-high in interceptions last season. In terms of efficiency, Rivers looked great, hitting 13 of his 15 attempts, but two bad throws gave Dallas plenty of opportunities to put the game away early.
Don't forget that in his last game against the Packers, one of Rivers' five passing attempts resulted in an interception as well.
Hopefully this is just a phase and maybe this is his way of shaking off the rust. Next week, the Chargers travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings. While I don't expect Rivers to see too much action, I'd still like to see him complete a drive without turning over the ball.
Running Backs: Stock Down
With Ryan Mathews out for the next couple of weeks, I expected to see the reserve running backs step it up this week in hopes of finding a potential replacement. Unfortunately, that was far from the case.
Instead, last Saturday's game left me feeling as though the Chargers may be doomed in the running game. I won't lie: free agency crossed my mind.
San Diego RBs racked up a whopping 53 yards against the Cowboys. Ronnie Brown was the team's leading rusher with 16 yards on six carries. Jackie Battle and Jacob Hester both managed to find the end zone, but they didn't have to run more than four yards to get there.
We knew that Mathews' absence was going to cause a noticeable decrease in San Diego's ground game, but last Saturday's showing didn't bring good vibes. These running backs will get plenty of work in these next couple games in the preseason, and I really hope we see more from veterans like Brown and Battle.
Mathews will be back, but he's going to need a supporting cast.
Wide Receivers: Stock Down
To put things in perspective, Vincent Brown is still San Diego's leading receiver despite leaving last Saturday's game with an injury. In two preseason games, the 23-year-old has six receptions for 112 yards and two TDs.
Even with the signings of Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, Brown was still going to be a factor on offense for the Chargers. He showed a lot of promise in his rookie season, and it's a shame he'll miss the next eight weeks with that broken ankle.
Up until now, we haven't really seen a whole lot from Meachem—one catch for seven yards. And, we're still waiting to see Royal make his preseason debut, but a groin injury has caused him to miss most of training camp.
I wouldn't say it's all downhill from here because of Brown's injury, but he'll be sorely missed. We'll just have to be patient and see if either Royal or Meachem can get things going.
Tight Ends: Stock Up
Antonio Gates hasn't looked good this preseason, he's looked real good. That foot doesn't seem to be bothering him much so far, and it's showed the last two games—three catches for 34 yards and a touchdown.
Earlier, during training camp, NBC Sports contributor Evan Silva published an article justifying the new and improved Gates.
No complaints here.
Gates looks primed for a better season with his increased mobility, and that's all that really matters. A healthy Gates will take pressure off of Rivers.
Offensive Line: Stock Down
Panic may be on the rise as veteran left tackle Jared Gaither continues to deal with a troubling back injury. The six-year pro was a bright spot on the offensive line last season and he was expected to play an important role in protecting Philip Rivers' blind side.
Standing in for Gaither at the moment is rookie tackle Mike Harris. In last Saturday's preseason game against Dallas, Harris allowed Rivers to be sacked on San Diego's second play on offense. Even the best allow an occasional sack every now and then, but it was a moment that caused concern in regards to Gaither's return.
On the left side alone of this offensive line, the Chargers are starting a new left guard and facing an injury to a key veteran. Things are looking down right now, but according to the North County Times Gaither says he'll be ready to go by the start of the regular season.
Defensive Line: Stock Up
The stat totals for the defensive line thus far haven't been mind-boggling, but rookie Kendall Reyes has looked very impressive the last two weeks, outshining the competition on the D-line.
In two preseason contests, the second-round pick has seven tackles. As expected, his versatility suits him well in San Diego's 3-4 scheme.
While Dallas' QBs did manage to throw for 285 yards in last Saturday's matchup, San Diego's defense still held the Cowboys' offense to just 3-for-13 on third down. Defensive coordinator John Pagano has done a fine job making the necessary adjustments with this group.
Linebackers: Stock Up
If I had to give an award for the positional unit with the highest stock so far this preseason, I would definitely have to give it to the linebackers.
What more can you say about this group?
Donald Butler has looked phenomenal in his second year. The 23-year-old has eight tackles and one interception to his name, and his partner in crime up the middle—Takeo Spikes—is playing another year of youthful defense at the age of 35.
First-round draft choice Melvin Ingram has also been getting in on the action, proving his worth as the No. 18 overall selection with five tackles and a sack already.
The list goes on and on. Reserves have been getting their fair share of work putting pressure on the quarterback, and turnovers have come in bunches. I really like what I'm seeing from this unit, and I can't wait to see them take on the rest of the league.
Secondary: Stock Up
What a surprise San Diego's secondary has been in it's two preseason games.
If you hadn't heard by now, reserve CB Shareece Wright developed into quite the hero in last Saturday's game. Aside from his game-changing interception in the fourth quarter, Wright also finished the night with four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. Antoine Cason got his hands on a pick as well this preseason.
As for the battle at strong safety between Atari Bigby and Brandon Taylor, it appears both men desperately want the job. Bigby and Taylor have both been disrupting passes and laying the hits on defense.
I really can't see any problems with this group so far and I think they'll continue to improve as the preseason continues.
Special Teams: Stock Down
Not a whole lot to talk about here.
Nate Kaeding has only been kicking extra points in the preseason, so we haven't really gotten a chance to see if he's fully healed from his ACL injury. Nick Novak has missed the one field goal he's taken, and Mike Scifres...is doing a good job punting.
The return specialists haven't been dazzling either. Micheal Spurlock, Roscoe Parrish and De'Andre Presley have had average numbers in punt and kick returns.