7 things to watch for: Chargers vs. Cardinals

CARSON, CA - OCTOBER 22: Mike Williams
CARSON, CA - OCTOBER 22: Mike Williams /

The Los Angeles Chargers travel to Arizona to take on the Cardinals in Week 1 of the preseason. Here are seven things to watch for.

Chargers football is back!

The Bolts play the Cardinals in their first preseason game Saturday. We’ll likely see the starters for one series, with the second-, third- and fourth-stringers getting the rest of the snaps.

Preseason isn’t that exciting, but the Chargers have more talent and depth this year than years past, so we’ll see more position battles and, hopefully, a higher level of play.

That said, what should we keep an eye on? Let’s go over seven things to watch for.

1) Battle for QB2

Backup QB is the best position in sports. That’s a fact, well according to Alex Moran it is.

Kellen Clemens, Philip Rivers’ previous backup, is no longer on the team. Geno Smith, Cardale Jones and undrafted rookie Nic Shimonek are. Jones, a 2016 fourth-rounder who was acquired via trade last year, was the front-runner to win the job, but the Chargers brought in Smith, who has 31 career starts compared to Jones’ zero, to have him compete.

They are both listed as co-backups on the unofficial depth chart, so it’ll be interesting to see who plays first. Hopefully, the backup QB play will be better than last year. I mean, I don’t think it can get any worse.

2) A brand new Mike Williams

Wide receiver Mike Williams was the Chargers’ 2017 first-round pick (No. 7 overall). He didn’t play like a first-round pick after being slowed by injuries. Williams, however, has his confidence back and has looked great during training camp. He’s currently listed third on the depth chart behind Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams. He’s not going to get a ton of reps in the first preseason game, but I’m excited to see how he performs in a live game.

Also, wide receiver is the deepest position group on the roster. Dylan Cantrell, who stood out early on, will miss this game due to injury, but watch out for Artavis Scott and Geremy Davis. Scott is another player who has reportedly shined during camp. Not only do I want to see what he does on offense, but I’m interested in seeing if he can make an impact as a kick returner. He’s currently behind Desmond King on the depth chart for that role.

3) Is the kicking game fixed?

The Chargers couldn’t make field goals last season. It cost them the playoffs. The Chargers signed Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo, and L.A. desperately needs one of those two to step up. Sturgis, who is coming off injury, has a better track record, but it’s been Aguayo who has been making more field goals during camp battles. Can Aguayo, who the Buccaneers spent a second-round pick on just two years ago, revive his career? Let’s see how Aguayo and Sturgis do in a live game before we say anything else.

4) How about that run defense?

Like the kicking game, the run defense killed Chargers last year. They drafted four defenders with their first four picks in 2018, and these four–Derwin James, Uchenna Nwosu, Justin Jones and Kyzir White–should help fix the issue, but we’ll see. Jones will sit out due to injury, but the others should see a decent amount of snaps (maybe).

As for those three rookies, they are all competing for a starting role on defense. As of now, they are all listed as backups on the roster. We’re going to get our first look at where James lines up; he will likely play multiple positions. Nwosu will compete with Kyle Emanuel at SAM linebacker and White will compete with Jatavis Brown at WILL linebacker. Going to be a fun battle.

As for the defensive line, Isaac Rochell is going to start in place of Joey Bosa, who is dealing with a minor ankle injury. He’s been reportedly having a strong camp. Let’s see how the second-year pro holds up.

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5) Who will step up in Hunter Henry’s absence?

Former Broncos tight end Virgil Green is the next man up. Sean Culkin and Braedon Bowman, both of whom are entering their second seasons as pros, are behind him. Two undrafted rookies in Ben Johnson and Cole Hunt follow. Aside from Green, nobody has a single career catch to their name. And Green wasn’t brought in to be a pass catcher.

Let’s hope one of these guys can make some plays in the passing game. If not, the Chargers are going to need to address this position.

6) Casey Hayward, Desmond King and who?

Cornerback Jason Verrett is out for the year after suffering a torn Achilles. Trevor Williams sprained his ankle during camp and will sit out this week. That leaves Hayward and King as the only proven corners on a team that was stacked at the cornerback position prior to this nasty injury bug. Michael Davis, last year’s undrafted free agent, and Tony Brown and Brandon Facyson, this year’s undrafted free agents, will get tested. Am I nervous? Maybe a little. But defensive coordinator Gus Bradley has been known to get the best out of his corners. See Williams, Trevor.

7) No more injuries

The Chargers already lost Henry and Verrett to season-ending injuries. A bunch of other players around the league suffered serious injuries on Thursday, too. The Chargers need to escape this game without any injuries to their star players.