Chargers vs 49ers: Postgame Grades, Notes and Quotes for San Diego
Brad Sorensen was attempting to get the Chargers within field-goal position in the final minute of the game, and immediately after converting a 4th-and-12, he was intercepted by Marcus Cromartie, who coincidentally was a member of San Diego's practice squad with Sorensen in 2013. Sorensen tried to hit Tyrell Williams in 49ers territory, but Cromartie read it and stepped in front of the pass to make a great play.
With preseason action now complete, the Chargers coaching staff can begin shaping the regular season roster. All teams must get down to 53 players by Saturday 4 p.m. ET.
But before we get into that, let's reflect back on Thursday's performance.
Position Grades for Chargers
With Kellen Clemens under center, the Chargers offense really struggled to get into a rhythm, and it showed in the first-half numbers. San Diego managed only three first downs and 80 yards on offense, but things started clicking when Brad Sorensen entered the game at the start of the second half.
Obviously things didn't end well for Sorensen, but if you put that aside, there was plenty to like about his performance. He may not end up on the active roster with the Chargers, but other teams will take notice of his work in the preseason and see the potential that's there.
At running back, Donald Brown was the best of the worst positional unit. The Bolts had just 42 yards rushing on 22 attempts, but Brown hauled in all five passes thrown in his vicinity for a total of 34 yards.
Wide receivers Tyrell Williams and Javontee Herndon really stepped it up in the final preseason game, but it was Williams who stole the show with his 63-yard TD catch. If the Chargers opt to keep more than four receivers, Herndon and Williams should be the first names considered, as both seem to have a lot of upside.
With Ladarius Green taking the night off, John Phillips and Kyle Miller were asked to fill in, and they were surprisingly resourceful in the passing game. Phillips caught five passes for 25 yards, perhaps showing off what he might be asked to do more of during Antonio Gates' suspension, and Miller hauled in four passes for 16 yards.
The offensive line was neither perfect nor terrible. Clemens and Sorensen had time to get out passes, with the exception of two sacks on Sorensen, and running the ball was hardly effective against the 49ers front seven, but that's to be expected with fourth and fifth-string running backs toting the rock.
The defensive line didn't plug up many running lanes, as the 49ers picked up 144 yards rushing, but a select few players stood out in their performances—Mitch Unrein for his efforts in breaking up run plays and Ricardo Mathews for getting pressure on the quarterback.
Rookies Nick Dzubnar and Chi Chi Ariguzo paced the linebackers with seven tackles apiece, and Cordarro Law added six. Miami product Denzel Perryman has not exactly flashed in the preseason like most would have predicted, but he looked a bit more comfortable on Thursday.
In the secondary, Richard Crawford had the quintessential up-and-down performance. He started the game by giving up a 70-yard TD to Bruce Ellington, then came back with a pick-six and a sack before giving up another touchdown catch to Busta Anderson.
The poor grade on special teams was directed strictly toward the kick coverage unit. San Francisco had 157 yards in punt returns. Special teams coordinator Kevin Spencer will have to re-watch the film from all four preseason games and figure out how to stop the bleeding on kick returns because it's been an ongoing problem in the summer.
And the Kicker Is...
The Chargers never sent out the field-goal unit on Thursday, so neither Nick Novak nor rookie Josh Lambo was give the chance to help themselves in the competition against one another. The coaching staff will have to go off their previous accomplishments in the preseason and make a decision from there.
Michael Gehlken of the San Diego Union-Tribune offered up his pick during the game. He can't see the team going with Lambo over Novak, and it's easy to agree. Early on, I was impressed with Lambo's leg strength and still am, but it comes down to experience. Who are you going to trust when the game is on the line? That has to be Novak.
Search for Sarting Strong Safety Likely over
Jahleel Addae, who has played well during the preseason, was on the sidelines for San Diego's game, but he was given the day off along with the rest of the starters. Meanwhile, Addae's main competitor for the position battle at strong safety, Jimmy Wilson, did in fact play, implying that Addae didn't need any more reps because he's the starter.
For my money, Addae is the best bet to start. He has a better understanding of John Pagano's defense than Wilson does because he's been there longer, and he has seemed like the better player during the preseason.
Nick Dzubnar or Chi Chi Ariguzo
San Diego is four-deep at inside linebacker with Donald Butler, Manti Te'o, second-round pick Denzel Perryman and Kavell Conner, but there's the slight chance of a fifth staying on after the second wave of cuts. College free agents Nick Dzubnar and Chi Chi Ariguzo were the top two tacklers for San Diego in the preseason, and both will be considered for a spot on the back end of the roster given how well they played in their own capacity.
Dzubnar would be my pick because he's shown himself to be a jack-of-all trades when it comes to playing defense and covering kicks on special teams. He could be like former Charger Andrew Gachkar, who worked his way up from special teamer to rotational defender.
HC Mike McCoy on Javontee Herndon
Second-year receiver Javontee Herndon has given the coaching staff a number of different looks from which to evaluate. He returned kicks, caught passes and had the Chargers' longest run of the preseason at 42 yards.
Against the 49ers, Herndon saw his greatest output as a pass-catcher, hauling in four receptions for 40 yards, and Coach McCoy commented on the effort shown by the 24-year-old. "He's made a number of big plays, whether it's been practice or in games," McCoy told reporters. "He deserves everything because he's worked so hard, and I think he's done a good job for us."
McCoy on Nick Dzubnar
Undrafted linebacker Nick Dzubnar has been among the standout defensive players for San Diego with each passing week, and McCoy was quick to praise him when speaking with reporters. "He's a young player that's come in, and he's really made the most of the opportunities that he's been given."
Dzubnar added seven tackles against the 49ers, bringing his preseason total to 25, which leads the team and is tied for third across the league. He and fifth-round pick Kyle Emanuel have been fun to watch.
McCoy on Tyrell Williams
Tyrell Williams, the only rookie receiver on the Chargers roster, suffered through a couple of early drops against the 49ers, but he redeemed himself later on by scoring a touchdown and making a difficult catch on 4th-and-long toward the end of the game. Williams finished with four receptions for 81 yards, and McCoy had some things to say about the Western Oregon product.
"When he makes plays like that in the game, there's going to be some things he's going to learn from as a young football player." McCoy told reporters after the game. "But that's what's so great about playing in the fourth game like this, you' cant take those reps away and there's nothing like experience."