Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chargers still have long way to go

Although the San Diego Chargers improved their 2012 regular-season record to 3-1 and 2-0 in the AFC West with a 37-20 road victory over the Kansas City Chiefs this past Sunday, the Lightning Bolts still have much to improve on if they want to become a serious contender.
The Chargers basically went back to San Diego triumphant because the Chiefs handed them the win by making boneheaded mistakes throughout the division battle. If Kansas City’s offense hadn’t turned over the ball six times, chances are Norv Turner’s squad would have lost another heartbreaker at Arrowhead Stadium. When a team gives you the ball six times, winning by 17 points isn’t much of an accomplishment, especially if the outcome of the game is still in doubt in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Even with the return of left tackle Jared Gaither, San Diego’s franchise quarterback, Philip Rivers, took far too many hits from the Chiefs’ defense. Rivers was sacked three times Sunday, and he’s now been sacked nine times for the season. Nine sacks over four games equate to a little over two sacks suffered a contest. That’s not good.
Additionally, the ground attack didn’t exactly dominate, as the running backs gained 104 yards on 31 carries for a 3.35 average. Clearly, the Chargers’ offensive line needs to do a much better job of pushing the defenders back and opening holes for Ryan Mathews, Jackie Battle, and company. Us Chargers fans have been waiting on that happening for years, though, so it’s not recommended to hold your breath for any considerable improvement in that area.
Cornerback Antoine Cason, the team’s 2008 first-round pick, once again failed to impress. Although he recorded an interception, he was also burned by Dwayne Bowe for a long touchdown. San Diego signed Chris Carr to add depth to the cornerback position, but someone, anyone, needs to step up and make an impact as a cover man in this defense.
With another road game this coming Sunday, against the New Orleans Saints, the Chargers still have a lot to prove as a team. While the Saints are going into this game with an 0-4 record, Drew Brees can still throw with the best of them, and he must be licking his chops in anticipation of facing the Chargers’ defense.
Let’s hope San Diego is up for the challenge and improves to 4-1.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bolts put in their place

Philip Rivers
Reality set in for the 2012 San Diego Chargers this past Sunday. After winning the first two games of the regular season over below-average teams (Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans), the Chargers were pounded, 27-3, at home by the Atlanta Falcons, a club which many perceive as one of the elites in the NFL. What reality has set in, one may ask? Simply put: Despite its 2-0 record heading into last Sunday’s game, San Diego clearly isn’t one of the best teams in the NFL right now. If anything, one could make the argument the Chargers are a mediocre squad not much better than the 1-2 Raiders.
Although San Diego’s offense showed its ineptitude to protect the football, what was most alarming was the blockers’ failure to protect quarterback Philip Rivers, who was under relentless pressure throughout the contest. According to U-T San Diego’s Michael Gelhken, left tackle Jared Gaither, who this past offseason signed a lucrative contract to protect Rivers’ blind side for this year and beyond, is once again practicing for the first time since late July. Gaither had been out of action completely for the last two months due to some mysterious back issues. The hope is he’ll return this coming Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs and perform to the outstanding level that he exhibited during the final five games of last season. In other words, let’s hope he actually earns his paycheck.

Meanwhile, Chargers fans have to be concerned about the cornerback position—and the secondary in general. Yes, there’s probably not a defense in the NFL that could stop the outstanding trio the Falcons possess in tight end Tony Gonzalez and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones, but allowing the three to haul in 19 receptions for 213 yards and two touchdowns is just downright unacceptable. Then again, it’s not easy for the secondary when the defensive front allows a top-10 quarterback such as Matt Ryan to stand in the pocket without fear of getting smashed. The Chargers' first-round pick from this past April, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, needs to step it up and spend more time in the opposing teams' backfields.

The best news about last Sunday’s debacle was that the defeat was against an out-of-conference opponent. Still, for those of us who have the ultimate expectation for the Chargers, the loss was quite depressing. Hopefully the Lightning Bolts will restore their fans’ confidence by blowing the Chiefs out at Arrowhead Stadium this coming Sunday.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The theme is depth

Dante Rosario hauls in one of his three touchdown receptions Sunday
During the 2012 offseason San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith expressed his desire to bring in better backup players for the upcoming year. Loyal Chargers fans, many of whom had grown tired of Smith’s foolish transactions over the previous two seasons, rolled their eyes and laughed at what they perceived to be yet another example of the GM's incompetence. The fans wanted more marquee players, not inconsequential backups.
Well, with several “backup players”, two in particular, coming through with impressive performances in a 38-10 blowout triumph over the Tennessee Titans this past Sunday, the statement Smith made is beginning to make a lot of sense. With the comfortable victory in the home opener, which featured a tribute to the late, great Junior Seau, San Diego improved its record to 2-0.
All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates was sidelined with injured ribs, and his absence usually leaves the Chargers’ offense in a moribund state. No worries this time around, however, as backup tight end Dante Rosario, who saw very little action the week before, exploded with three huge touchdown receptions and finished the day as San Diego’s second-leading pass-catcher. But Rosario wasn’t alone in filling Gates’ immense void; fellow veteran backup Randy McMichael contributed with three catches for 31 yards, and rookie Ladarius Green hauled in his first career catch, which covered 31 yards.
The running game, which was a disaster during the 22-14 win over the Oakland Raiders in Week 1, received a jolt from veteran free agent pickup Jackie Battle. The fourth-string ball-carrier heading into the game, Battle came up huge in helping the Chargers pull away in the second half. He gained 69 yards and scored two touchdowns on 14 second-half carries.
“Obviously, we talk about our depth,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers told U-T San Diego’s Kevin Acee. “Unfortunately for the guys injured, we're having to challenge that depth early and find out about it. But it held up. Those guys, I've said all offseason about we've got more guys that love to play football.”

A huge challenge is forthcoming this Sunday, what with the undefeated Atlanta Falcons next on the schedule. The Falcons’ defense intercepted Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning three times in the first eight minutes of last night’s game and held on for a 27-21 win. Atlanta has a very good defense and explosive players on offense, so Rivers and the Chargers' offense will have to continue to protect the ball if San Diego hopes to stay in the game.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Causes for concern

Greg Gatson
The San Diego Chargers got off to a good start by beating the hated division rival Oakland Raiders in the season opener this past Monday night. Still, San Diego possesses one extremely glaring weakness and a potential disaster on the horizon that could make the team playoff-less for the third straight season.
The 2006 season, during which LaDainian Tomlinson had an MVP campaign, seems so long ago when one thinks about how poor the Chargers’ run-blocking unit has been over the last handful of years. If the first game of the 2012 season is any sign of what’s to come, then San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers will have to carry the offense on his back once again. Collectively, the Chargers’ running backs ran for an embarrassing 22 yards on 17 carries. Curtis Brinkley was the leading rusher, finishing the night with 12 yards on 10 carries. That output is just downright unacceptable.

Although the defense stepped up and showed a ton of promise, the cornerback position, which was very thin on the depth chart to begin with, took a major hit, as Quentin Jammer broke one of his hands and Shareece Wright sprained an ankle. Jammer is expected to play this Sunday in the home opener against Tennessee. How effective he’ll be is a huge question mark. Wright, on the other hand, could be out this Sunday and perhaps the ensuing weeks. That means the Chargers will likely pull undrafted rookie Greg Gatson up from the practice squad. Gatson is listed at 5-11, 165 pounds. Yikes. If Wright isn’t able to make a quick recovery, things could get real inauspicious for San Diego’s secondary.
As joyful as Monday night’s victory was, Chargers fans should not relax. The run-blocking has to improve, and the cornerbacks need to hold up. Let’s hope for a win against the Titans.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

For better or worse, 53-man roster is set

Jacob Hester Jacob Hester #22 of the San Diego Chargers scores a touchdown against  the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium on November 22, 2010 in San Diego, California.  Chargers defeated the Broncos, 35-14.Although there weren’t any Earth-shattering decisions, the San Diego Chargers made a couple surprising cuts to get to the 53-man roster limit last Friday. Perhaps the most unexpected cut was the release of fullback/special teams stud Jacob Hester, whom the Chargers traded a 2009 second-round selection to move up and get in the third round of the 2008 NFL draft. (Nice work on that one, A.J. Smith).
Nevertheless, for better or worse, San Diego is all set for the 2012 regular season. Here’s the 53-man roster.


1.      Philip Rivers

2.      Charlie Whitehurst

Running back

1.      Ryan Mathews

2.      Ronnie Brown

3.      Jackie Battle

4.      Curtis Brinkley


1.      Le’Ron McClain

Wide receiver

1.      Robert Meachem

2.      Malcom Floyd

3.      Eddie Royal

4.      Vincent Brown

5.      Richard Goodman

6.      Michael Spurlock

Tight end

1.      Antonio Gates

2.      Randy McMichael

3.      Dante Rosario

4.      Ladarius Green

Left tackle

1.      Jared Gaither

2.      Michael Harris

Left guard

1.      Tyronne Green

2.      Rex Hadnot


1.      Nick Hardwick

2.      David Molk

Right guard

1.      Louis Vasquez

Right tackle

1.      Jeromey Clary

Offensive concerns: With Gaither out with a mysterious back injury, the line may be the worst in the NFL. Harris is an undrafted rookie protecting Rivers’ blind side, and at the other end Clary is simply not a starter in the NFL. Therefore, the immense talent at the skill positions will probably be wasted for yet another season. Expect to see a lot of one- and two-yard gains on first down followed by Rivers running for his life on second and third downs.
With Vincent Brown out with an ankle injury that will prevent him from playing for half the season, there’s also uncertainty at the wide receiver position. Due to an injured hamstring, Royal missed a lot of time this preseason, so he didn’t get much work with Rivers. Meanwhile Meachem, expected to take hold of the #1 receiver role, hasn’t seemed to get in sync with Rivers. It’s also pretty much a given that Floyd will suffer an injury that will keep him out of action for a handful of games.

Right defensive end

1.      Corey Liuget

Nose tackle

1.      Antonio Garay

2.      Aubrayo Franklin

3.      Cam Thomas

Left defensive end

1.      Vaughn Martin

2.      Kendall Reyes

Strong outside linebacker

1.      Jarret Johnson

2.      Melvin Ingram

Inside linebacker

1.      Takeo Spikes

2.      Donald Butler

3.      Demorrio Williams

4.      Jonas Mouton

5.      Andrew Gachkar

Weak outside linebacker

1.      Shaun Phillips

2.      Antwan Barnes

3.      Larry English


1.      Quentin Jammer

2.      Antoine Cason

3.      Shareece Wright

4.      Marcus Gilchrist

Free safety

1.      Eric Weddle

2.      Darrell Stuckey

Strong safety

1.      Atari Bigby

2.      Brandon Taylor
Defensive concerns: There are just four cornerbacks on the 53-man roster, and none of them is a top-25 player at his position at this point. The Chargers are going up against some premier passing offenses (Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans, Pittsburgh—to name a handful), so let’s hope Jammer and Cason hold it down, and Gilchrist and Wright make a lot of progress as sophomores.

Strong safety doesn’t look too bad, but let’s hope Taylor is the man to take over the position for many years to come. That spot needs a fixture, as it hasn’t had one since Rodney Harrison left following the 2002 season. Bigby is nothing more than stopgap.


1.      Nate Kaeding


1.      Mike Scifres

Long snapper

1.      Mike Windt

Special teams concerns: I hate tobe  mean, but unless he proves otherwise with clutch kicks in the postseason, Kaeding will go down as one of the biggest choke artists the NFL has ever seen. Thus far in his career Kaeding has been nothing more than a respectful Mike Vanderjagt.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

College tight ends to watch in 2012

Notre Dame's Tyler Effert
Given how the San Diego Chargers already possess one of the greatest tight ends in NFL history backed up by solid veterans and a promising rookie, one may believe general manager A.J. Smith will not target the position for next April’s draft. The great Antonio Gates may not have many years left, however, and rookie Ladarius Green still needs to prove himself. Not to mention the fact that the New England Patriots’ offense dominated the NFL last year by using athletic studs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in two-tight end sets.
So, with all that in mind, Smith may want to check out the following prospects this fall:

1.      Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert: Considered the top tight end in the nation right now, this 6-6, 251-pound junior can do it all as a pass-catcher and route-runner. He had 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns last year.

2.      Arkansas’ Chris Gragg: The 6-3, 236-pound senior is being counted on to catch a lot of passes in the Razorbacks’ offense this season. He caught 41 passes for 518 yards and two touchdowns in 2011.

3.      San Jose State’s Ryan Otten: This 6-6, 245-pound senior made first-team All-WAC last season after catching 52 passes for 739 yards and a team-leading five touchdowns.

4.      Western Kentucky’s Jack Doyle: A 6-6, 255-pound senior, he had 52 catches for 614 yards and made second-team All-Sun Belt in 2011.

5.      Stanford’s Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo: Both are seniors possessing immense talents. The 6-6, 252-pound Ertz caught 27 passes for 343 yards and four touchdowns last season. With Coby Fleener now in the NFL, Ertz should get more playing time this fall. Toilolo, meanwhile, is a 6-8, 265-pound nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators. He was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention last year after finishing with 25 receptions for 343 yards and six touchdowns. He has also proven to be a dominant blocker in the run game.

6.      Colorado State’s Crockett Gilmore: A 6-6, 245-pound junior, he had 45 catches for 468 yards and four touchdowns in 2011. His efforts led to him making the All-Mountain West second team.

7.      UCLA tight end/wide receiver Joseph Fauria: He’s a 6-7, 258-pound senior who caught 39 passes for 481 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. His size makes him quite an intriguing prospect as a hybrid.

8.      Auburn’s Philip Lutzenkirchen: This 6-5, 255-pound senior caught 24 passes for 238 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He was also voted second-team All-SEC by the coaches and the Associated Press.

The tight end position isn’t one many seem to get excited about at the college level, but a few of these prospects are intriguing, and more will probably emerge.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

College wide receivers to watch in 2012

Jalil Brown and Keenan Allen - Colorado v California
California's Keenan Allen

After making several additions to the wide receiver position this past offseason, and what with 2011 third-round pick Vincent Brown seeming to have a nice future, one may believe San Diego Chargers general manager A.J. Smith shouldn’t invest a high draft selection on a pass-catcher next April. Yet, with the departure of Vincent Jackson, the Chargers may be on the lookout for that surefire #1 target who could strike fear into opposing defenses. As of right now, nobody could know for sure if free-agent addition Robert Meachem fits that bill, so Smith should definitely keep his eyes on the following prospects this fall:

1.      California's Keenan Allen: One of the most dynamic talents in the nation, this 6-3, 210-pound junior had 98 receptions for 1,343 yards and six touchdowns last season. A repeat or improved performance this year could possibly lead to him becoming a top-five pick next April.

2.      USC's Robert Woods: Arguably the most gifted wide receiver in the nation, this 6-1, 190-pound junior had 111 receptions for 1,292 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2011. He and Keenan Allen will probably compete to be the first wide receiver selected in next April’s draft.

3.      Baylor's Terrance Williams: A 6-2, 206-pound senior, he had 59 receptions for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. Now that Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin is playing with the Washington Redskins in the NFL, Williams needs to show he can handle his own and make big plays without a legend tossing him the ball.

4.      Washington State's Marquess Wilson: A 6-4, 185-pound junior, he was named first-team All-Pac-12 last season after catching 82 passes for 1,388 yards and 12 touchdowns. His numbers should be even better in 2012, now that Mike Leach has taken over as Washington State’s head coach. Given Wilson’s height, he could probably benefit from putting on 15-20 pounds.

5.     Tennessee Tech's Da’Rick Rogers: A talented playmaker who possesses the complete package at 6-3, 208 pounds, this junior caught 67 passes for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns last year. Formerly a member of the University of Tennessee, he was dismissed from the Vols after failing a couple drug tests.

6.      Miami of Ohio's Nick Harwell: A 6-1, 193-pound junior, he caught 97 passes for 1,425 yards and nine touchdowns in 2011. That outstanding production led to him earning first-team All-MAC honors.

7.      Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins: Although he’s considered an inferior playmaker in comparison to teammate Sammy Watkins—who won’t be eligible for the 2013 draft—the 6-1, 200-pound Hopkins, a junior, is still quite a talented pass-catcher. In 2011 he caught 72 passes for 978 yards and five touchdowns. That followed up his freshman season in 2010, during which he amassed 51 receptions for 626 yards and four touchdowns.

8.      West Virginia wide receiver Stedman Bailey: About to be a third-year starter, this 5-10, 193-pound junior caught 72 passes for 1,279 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. He’s considered one of the best deep threats in all of college football right now.

9.      Oklahoma wide receiver Kenny Stills: This 6-1, 190-pound junior made 61 catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns last season. His efforts led to the coaches voting him All-Big 12 second team.

10.  Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton: This 6-3, 209-pound senior is expected to be Tyler Wilson’s top target this fall. In 2011, Hamilton caught 34 passes for 542 yards and four touchdowns.

11.  TCU wide receiver Josh Boyce: A junior, this 6-0, 203-pound receiver is considered a burner. In 2011 he caught 61 passes for 998 yards and nine touchdowns.

12.  West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin: A prototypical slot receiver, this 5-9, 174-pound senior had 101 receptions for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

13.  Duke wide receiver Connor Vernon: A 6-1, 200-pound senior, he had 70 receptions for 956 yards and six touchdowns in 2011.

14.  Wyoming wide receiver Chris McNeill: This 6-1, 180-pound senior had 42 catches for 504 yards and four touchdowns in nine games last year. An arm injury cut his season short, but he was still named to the All-Mountain West second team.

15.  Louisiana (Lafayette) wide receiver Javone Lawson: A 6-1, 183-pound senior, he made first-team All-Sun Belt in 2011 after catching 63 passes for 1,092 yards and eight touchdowns.

16.  Troy wide receiver Eric Thomas: This 6-1, 209-pound junior had 67 receptions for 875 yards and nine touchdowns last year. His efforts led to him making the All-Sun Belt second team.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers may have more options to throw to this season, but there’s no denying he’ll miss having a clear #1 target such as Jackson. If Meachem doesn’t prove to be anywhere close to what Jackson was during his time with the Lightning Bolts, Smith may want to jump at the opportunity to select one of the aforementioned phenomenal college wide receivers next April.