With the 2012 San Diego Chargers roster looking a bit different compared to 2011 word has it that there’s some intense competition for not only back-up/reserve positions, but for starting positions as well. Already, the possibility of a rookie starting has been mentioned and for returning players there is competition for snaps that has not been there the past few years. This article will give you an up close look at six training camp battles that might not be decided until pre-season games are said and done. There is sure to be more competition for playing time moving into the season as players progress and I might be missing one or two but we’ll focus on these for now. The winners listed are only my humble opinion based on analysis by myself and others with solid information.
TIGHT END #4: Kory Sperry vs. Dante Rosario
Sperry, the incumbent, is familiar with the Chargers playbook and coaching, has decent blocking and pass catching skills, and has come up big on third down more than once with a clutch grab. Unfortunately for Sperry, the Chargers aquired free agent Dante Rosario to shore up the TE ranks and push Kory for the final spot. Rosario might sound familiar to you because he caught a game wimming TD pass in a last second loss to the Carolina Panthers in 2008 by out jumping Eric Weddle with the clock ticking away the final seconds. Rosario has had a couple down years but was one of the players Philip Rivers mentioned when he was asked if any new players had stood out to him, and this was during voluntary workouts months ago. The deciding factor will be how much Sperry has improved during the offseason versus the chances of Rosario getting back to his explosive form of 2008 and 2009.
Winner – Rosario: He’s the more explosive receiver of the two and we know Norv and Philip like to push the ball down field, his run blocking will improve with the coaching staff at Chargers Park and he will surprise more than a few of us.
Running Back #3: Curtis Brinkley vs. Ronnie Brown
This is another position loaded with talent for the Bolts and the winner of this training camp battle will be the player capable of handling more than taking hand-offs out of the backfield. Ryan Mathews is primed for a huge season, especially with the addition of FB/RB Le’Ron McClain who also will get his share of carries in short yardage situations. The addition of Jackie Battle, who the Chargers offered a contract during the beginning of the free agent period but only recently signed makes this group deep and tough to decide on. Here’s the thing, Battle is solid if not awesome on special teams (a la Mike Tolbert) which Brown is not. Battle is also a power runner, big enough to crush linebackers to their knees up the middle which Brinkley is a bit undersized for. So assumming Battle takes the third spot, you have newly signed Brown (who’s on the wrong side of thirty) and “fan favorite” (you remember him leaping over defenders versus KC) Curtis Brinkley. To me this is a no-brainer. Brinkley is younger with much less tread on the tires and still has a burst that running backs depend on (see LT). Brown has clearly lost a step, vocalized his dissent about being a backup last year, and unless you think the “Wildcat” offense is the way to go; nothing more than a veteren presence in the locker room at best. Some will say that Brinkley is unproven, but I think he has shown he can handle the role when called upon. Those opportunities have been few and far between but Brinkley has always made the most of these chances.
Winner - Brinkley: Unless Brown has some kind of miracle preseason don’t be shocked if he’s looking for another team sooner than week 1 or just riding the bench behind Brinkley.
Strong Safety #1: Atari Bigby vs. Brandon Taylor
This competition is one of the more interesting in that it will have a huge effect on how the season plays out for the Chargers. The SS position is going to have to be on point, especially with cornerbacks who are in constant need of help deep and a run defense that needs improvement. Bigby had one good season for the Packers after spending the previous couple seasons on their practice squad, he had big numbers that season (2007) posting 5 INT’s and 66 TCKL’s. Then, injururies somewhat derailed Bigby’s career. He only started 6 games in 2008, tried to bounce back in ’09 before going down in week 11, then started only 4 games in 2010. His return to health and desire to be a starter again no doubt had a part in A.J. Smith signing the vet, and once again Bigby finds himself with a chance to shine even after a season with Seattle spent mainly on special teams.. His competition; rookie third round draft pick Brandon Taylor out of LSU. The SEC has always boasted some pretty solid defenses, and last years LSU Tigers were no exception. Taylor, who wore #18 at LSU, which is considered the most honored number on the team (also worn by Jacob Hester) was a permanent team captain and was considered a high character guy and team leader. The Chargers obviously thought highly enough of Taylor to move up 5 draft spots to grab him. A.J. Smith was quoted as saying ” He’s extremely competitive, he’s football smart, he’s aggressive. He’s not a cautious guy, I just like his overall game”(via CBSsports). Knowing that Taylor is shiny in the eyes of management may work in his favor.
Winner – Both. Bigby will start the season as the #1 by beating out Taylor because of his experience but not by much, unfortunately he continues his past record of injuries and Taylor takes over mid-season. Once Taylor hits the field as the starter he will become the hard hitter that perfectly compliments the speedy, ballhawking Weddle.
Right Guard #1: Tyronne Green vs. Rex Hadnot
With the injury and subsequent retirement of Kris Dielman the Chargers offensive line coaches have a major decision to make before week one. They must take into account Green’s subbing in admirably when Dielman went down, and apparently Green has made some big strides physically during the offseason working with lineman specialist LeCharles Bentley. So should Green just be handed the position even though there’s ten year veteran Rex Hadnot ready and waiting in the wings? The answer: Absolutely. Hadnot is simply a backup caliber lineman who can play center and both guard positions at an average level. His versatility will keep him on the roster but it will be in a backup role, spelling Green here and there while also subbing for Vasquez at right guard when needed. If Green has really got himself into the shape he’s claiming expect his run blocking to improve as he learns to use his long arms for leverage against opposing D-lineman.
Winner – Green: The only way Hadnot cracks the starting lineup is if there’s a significant injury that causes Green or Vasquez to miss time.
There are a few other less dramatic competitions of note, namely the battle for spots at WR and DL. With Floyd, Meachem, Brown, Royal, and Goodman (because he returns kickoffs well) basically locked in for the top five receiver positions veterans Michael Spurlock and Roscoe Parrish will try and squeeze their way on to the roster as the 6th WR. I personally like Parrish to win out but let’s see how they look in the preseason before jumping the gun. The defensive line will also feature a rookie trying to make his way in second round draft pick Kendall Reyes. He will have his work cut out for him because of the versatility the two veterans standing in his way. jacque Cesaire and newly acquired Aubrayo Frankilin can both play both end positions with Franklin being able to slid into the nose tackle spot as well. Reyes’ youth will be tested against the two dinosaurs but I expect him to see the field right away with his time steadily increasing as the season wears on. His nose for getting into the backfield and his speed will help him overcome the learning curve of rookie NFL players and the fact that he’s not being asked to do to much right away will allow his game to develop in a more timely fashion.
Needless to say that the next six weeks will have a pretty dramatic effect on the 2012 Chargers roster, and I’m excited to see how it plays out.