SD State of the Union: Post-Preseason Assessment
By Conor Denton
With the preseason now behind San Diego, it’s time to take a look at where the team stands going into Week 1 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
This unit was probably the most consistent of them all in a positive way. Punter Drew Kaser got off to a rough start in his first game against the Titans, yet really settled into his new role as the preseason progressed. By Week 4, he was dropping punts inside the 20 constantly, part of which was due to a large amount of hang time in his punts. If he can keep up this sort of play during the regular season, then the defense’s job will be made incredibly easier.
Josh Lambo was perfect during the preseason, not missing a single kick or extra point to the best of my knowledge. I’d hope that Mike McCoy would let Lambo test his limits during the season and attempt kicks farther than 52 yards or so, but if Lambo can continue to nail kicks less than that with ease, I can’t complain much.
Finally, both the kick and punt return coverages were stellar this preseason. I can only recall one kick return that was brought past the 35-yard line. Dexter McCoil, Joshua Perry and Derek Watt were all over the field, making solo tackles on a consistent basis.
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#Bosawatch has finally ended. He has yet to practice in pads due to tightness in his leg, and Sunday is looking more and more like a no-go with reports surfacing that he didn’t practice again on Wednesday.
The Chargers recently added ex-Lion Caraun Reid to the 53-man roster to help shore up some much needed depth along the defensive line. Speaking of the defensive line, the combination of Joey Bosa, Brandon Mebane and Corey Liguet should become the most formidable trench trio San Diego has had in years. Darius Philon and Reid will add quality depth to the defensive end position, and Damion Square will look to contribute himself in Week 5, his first week of eligibility after his four game suspension ends.
The linebacking corps contain strong starters, yet lack quality depth. The projected starters going into Week 1 include Melvin Ingram and Kyle Emmanuel on the outside, with Denzel Perryman and Manti Te’o occupying the inside. The starters are solid, with two potential difference-makers in Ingram and Perryman ready to wreak havoc. However, the depth afterwards is as thin as a sheet of paper.
Jerry Attaochu and Tourek Williams are the backup outside linebackers. Attaochu is the only proven NFL player amongst all backup linebackers. Williams doesn’t create much pressure off the edge and is mediocre against the run. His ceiling always seemed to be a special teams player, yet the coaching staff still believes in him enough to trust him if anyone else on the depth chart gets injured.
The same could be said for the backups at inside linebacker. If either Perryman or Te’o get hurt, which is a real possibility given Te’o’s injury history, then they are depending on two rookies in Jatavis Brown or Perry to fill the role. Both of these players possess intriguing potential, but we are looking at a trial by fire scenario if anyone goes down.
The secondary is solid. As a team, San Diego’s cornerback group is the strongest positional group on the team. The trio of Jason Verrett, Casey Hayward and Brandon Flowers will keep opposing wide receivers in check. Newly acquired Pierre Desir is a slight upgrade over Steve Williams in my opinion as well. Jahleel Addae and Dwight Lowery are a shaky pairing at safety, but I predict that Dexter McCoil will take over one of those spots by season’s end.
Philip Rivers will do his thing at QB. I also expect Melvin Gordon to have one hell of a bounce-back season. Optimistically speaking, I’d like to see over 1,200 yards and at least eight total touchdowns. Hopefully, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t make Gordon a 20-20 back, subbing him out every time they are in the red zone.
Both Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin will carry the wide receiver production. Tyrell Williams will have an opportunity to prove himself worthy of consistent targets. Hunter Henry and the ageless Antonio Gates will form a dynamic duo at the TE position. If Whiz can utilize the 12 personnel (two-TE set), San Diego could boast a top-five offense in the league this year.
The offensive line should be much improved this year, but as always, it will depend on health. The starting five of King Dunlap, Orlando Franklin, Matt Slauson, D.J. Fluker and Joe Barksdale should be able to give Rivers enough time to operate. However, Spencer Pulley looked like the only adequate backup throughout the preseason, so depth is a definite issue.
Overall, the No. 1 positive heading into Week 1 is the minimal injuries that San Diego sustained during camp and the preseason. The Stevie Johnson injury looks less impactful with the current emergence of Tyrell Williams. Sean Lissemore was never anything more than a rotational defensive lineman and Jeff Cumberland was going to get limited snaps at TE3 anyways. The loss of Branden Oliver is tough to see, though. With the current roster, San Diego should be competing for a playoff spot this year. They will know where their team stands soon, as they play a playoff-caliber team in the Kansas City Chiefs on the road on Sunday.