The 2016 Chargers will open training camp on Saturday, July 30.
It’s about a month away, but as fans, what would you like to watch for during camp?
Here is a list of options I’ve put together:
1. Who wins the No. 4 receiver position?
It goes to show you how much depth there is at the position. We know Keenan Allen is the No. 1 receiver, and Travis Benjamin and Stevie Johnson (possibly) are locked in at No. 2 and No. 3. So who takes the next spot? Out of Dontrelle Inman, Javontee Herndon and Tyrell Williams, Inman had the most playing time last year, finishing with 35 catches for 486 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games (seven starts). Williams is the one who intrigues me the most. At 6-foot-4, he’s the tallest of the receivers, but he has little experience after only catching two passes a season ago (one of those catches went for an 80-yard touchdown). I’m interested to see if he can move up the depth chart in his sophomore year. Hey, he could wind up passing Johnson, who’s making $3.5 million per year, and Inman if he shines.
2. Establishing the running game
If you haven’t read it already, check out my piece on how a successful running game will help the Chargers rebound. That said, I want to see Melvin Gordon, who had microfracture surgery in the winter, gain confidence and play like he did at Wisconsin. This goes hand-in-hand with the offensive line. They upgraded the center position with the additions of Matt Slauson/Max Tuerk. Now, let’s see if Orlando Franklin can play like he did in Denver, and if D.J. Fluker dominates in his second year at guard (especially after slimming down). It’ll also be interesting to see the impact sixth-round fullback Derek Watt–Gordon’s teammate in college–has on Gordon.
3. Cornerback competition
We know that Jason Verrett is the Achilles of this group. And Casey Hayward was signed on to man the slot (and play on the outside when needed). But what about Brandon Flowers, Craig Mager and Steve Williams? Of the three, I want to see if Flowers, 30, can hang with the young receivers. We’re all hoping for a bounce-back year from him, and training camp is the first step to see if he’s still got “it.” I’d also like to see Mager take a step forward. He was raw as can be coming out of college, but he was a former third-round pick. He’ll bring toughness to the team, but is he capable of ever being a starter?
4. The rookies
Most of us agree that 2016 was general manager Tom Telesco’s finest draft. Let’s see how these rookies adapt to NFL play. Defensive end Joey Bosa and tight end Hunter Henry (if you count two-tight end sets) are expected to start right away. I want to see how Bosa handles the team’s big linemen, and if he can maintain that high motor at the next level. Also, will Joshua Perry be battling for a starting position? If Manti Te’o gets hurt or pulls a Donald Butler and forgets how to play, Perry, depending on how he performs, could potentially take over. With an upgraded front seven, I do like the idea of Te’o breaking out. As for hybrid Jatavis Brown, I’m curious to whether he’ll see more snaps at linebacker or safety. He’ll be the “player to watch” for me.
5. Safety competition
Speaking of safeties, who will be the Week 1 starters? Dwight Lowery is penciled in at free safety, but will the strong safety job automatically be given to Jahleel Addae? I love Addae’s work ethic and passion, but his inconsistent play is hard to look past. You know Dexter McCoil, Adrian Phillips and Adrian McDonald are eyeing that spot.
6. The forgotten ones
This sounds like a low-budget horror movie. Kyle Emanuel, Darius Philon and Ryan Carrethers are the main cast members. Each of these three players flashed potential last season. Unfortunately, they were all hurt, too. They’re likely not going to find a spot in the starting rotation with Bosa, Corey Liuget, Brandon Mebane, Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu holding down each respective role, but I hope defensive coordinator John Pagano gets them on the field more often than not (especially Philon and Emmanuel). Philon has great speed for a big man, and the more pass rushers up front the better. Also, there will likely be a battle for the reserve outside linebacker role between Emanuel and Tourek Williams (another forgotten man). Williams was off to a hot start in camp last year but missed the entire season due to a broken foot.
7. Which UDFA will stand out?
The Chargers have had success with finding undrafted free agents in the past. Gates and former Charger Malcom Floyd are two to name. There are four players I want to look at this year: fullback/running back Chris Swain, tackle Tyler Johnstone, receiver Dominique Williams and safety McDonald, who was mentioned above. All accomplished a lot during their college careers. Swain recently received permission from the Navy to play for the Chargers, so look for him to battle Watt for the fullback position. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnstone had the 10th-best run-block success rate among tackles in the draft. Williams ranks second all-time in both receiving yardage (2,889) and touchdowns (30) at Washington State. McDonald finished his career at Houston with 299 total tackles and 17 interceptions. It’ll be interesting to see if they outperform some veterans.
8. Who gets cut first?
Trevor Robinson, thank you for your time.
What else do you guys want to see during training camp?