The Los Angeles Chargers host the Seattle Seahawks in Week 1 of the preseason. Here are a few things to watch for.
The preseason isn’t necessarily exciting, but it gives us a chance to watch several low-key players fight for a roster spot. Some of those players may end up becoming gems and for the Chargers, it happens quite often (see Williams, Tyrell).
With that said, let’s take a look at what to watch for Sunday:
1. How will the offensive line hold up?
As we all know, the offensive line play has killed the Chargers in recent years.
This is a new group of linemen. From last year’s starters, only right tackle Joseph Barksdale veteran guard/center Matt Slauson returns. According to the team’s first unofficial depth chart, 2017 free-agent acquisition Russell Okung will start at left tackle, Slauson will play left guard after being the starting center in 2016, former undrafted free agents Spencer Pulley and Kenny Wiggins will start at center and right guard, respectively, and Barksdale will hold down the right side of the line.
The starters will only play one or two series, per head coach Anthony Lynn, but it’s fair to say that at least one of these players is not locked in as a starter. The Chargers drafted Dan Feeney with their third-round pick, and it’ll be interesting to see how the rookie plays against a highly-touted Seahawks’ defensive line (regardless if it’s first- or third-string defense). The Chargers also drafted center/guard Max Tuerk in the third round of the 2016 draft. Tuerk redshirted his rookie year and has had a quiet camp thus far, but perhaps he stands out in a live game. 2016 seventh-rounder Donavon Clark will also look to come back from a torn ACL suffered in last year’s preseason.
2. Who will step up in the running game?
As of now, Branden Oliver will back up starting RB Melvin Gordon, who had a breakout season in 2016. Oliver is returning from a torn Achilles, but ESPN.com’s Eric Williams says the former undrafted free agent out of Buffalo has looked very good in training camp.
Behind Oliver is Andre Williams, an ex-Giant who was claimed off waivers last year, Kenjon Barner, a speedy free-agent pickup, Kenneth Farrow, a 2016 undrafted free agent and Austin Ekeler, a 2017 undrafted free agent. Of all the positions on offense, the backup RB job is the only one in question (well, excluding the offensive line as a whole). With Lynn, who was a former running backs coach with the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, running things, the ground game will be a point of emphasis going forward. We’ll see in these preseason games if Oliver (who might not see a ton of snaps Sunday) and Co. can make a splash (with the help of an improved offensive line?). If not, general manager Tom Telesco will likely try and steal a RB from another team during waivers.
3. How will the defense adjust to Gus Bradley’s 4-3 scheme?
The Chargers played in a 3-4 scheme for years. They did, however, incorporate variations of the 4-3 formation under former defensive coordinator John Pagano. Bradley has a defense full of potential, but hes goes from coaching in a underwhelming AFC South, to going up against better offenses in the AFC West.
This will be a good first test, as facing quarterback Russell Wilson will be no easy task. The Chargers have a talented front seven, and I’m excited to see if they can get to the quarterback early and often. Corey Liuget and Jerry Attaochu are two players I’d like to see turn it up a notch, but they might not get a ton of playing time. If that’s the case, let’s see if two other defensive linemen, Chris McCain and Isaac Rochell, can make an impact. Both are reportedly having a good camp. As for the linebackers, I’m interested to see how undrafted rookie free agent James Onwualu, who’s penciled in as the backup OTTO linebacker, plays on both defense and special teams. With Darrell Stuckey gone, the Chargers need a new special teams ace. That said, will 2016 fourth-rounder Joshua Perry, who’s buried on the depth chart, find his place on the team?
4. Will the secondary carry over its success in training camp to the preseason?
As much as I’ve been hearing good things about the wide receiver corps, the secondary has been playing extremely well. We know what we’re getting with Casey Hayward and Jason Verrett, who was recently activated off the physically unable to perform list, so don’t expect them to play more than one series (if that). Let’s see if the hype surrounding players like Michael Davis, Trovon Reed and Trevor Williams (all undrafted free agents) is real or not.
Not only that, but the free safety battle between Tre Boston and Dwight Lowery might be the most important one on the team. The Chargers also drafted safety Rayshawn Jenkins and versatile defensive back Desmond King in the fourth and fifth round, respectively. As of now, both are low on the depth chart, so it’ll be interesting to see if they come out strong. Former CFL standout Dexter McCoil, who played 16 games (two starts) for the Bolts last year, has the size Bradley likes in his safeties. He’s a player I can see making some plays for this defense.
5. The Chargers are playing in a new city.
Like it or not, it’s officially the Los Angeles Chargers. They’ll be playing at the StubHub Center, a stadium that holds a maximum of 30,000 people. The atmosphere is going to be completely different, but being up close to watch your favorite team may not really be a bad thing. The question is, will there be a ton of Chargers fans in attendance? I guess we’ll find out.