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"Five Things to Watch" Part II: Training Camp
The Chargers have reported for training camp and are in the midst of their first official day of the 2014 season. Last week we kicked off our series with Five Things to Watch Part I, and here is Part II and the final five things to watch for throughout training camp.
The Chargers have a crowded backfield, and everyone is wondering how the workload will be divvied up between the strong crop of running backs. Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and new addition Donald Brown are all fresh off career years. Mathews was voted the Chargers Offensive Player of the Year in 2013 when he set career highs in carries (285) and yards (1,255). Meanwhile, the newly extended Woodhead recorded new career highs of 76 catches (second on the team), 605 yards and six touchdowns, ranking first among all NFL running backs in touchdown catches and second in receptions and receiving yards. Finally, Brown averaged a career-high 5.3 yards per carry last year in Indianapolis while scoring a career-high six rushing touchdowns.
But how exactly will the team’s new three-headed monster rotation work?
Both Head Coach Mike McCoy and General Manager Tom Telesco have reiterated that Mathews is the starter and will tote the most carries, but it will be interesting to see how Woodhead and Brown are rotated in. Add in another versatile back in sixth-round pick Marion Grice, as well as talented youngsters Kerwynn Williams and Branden Oliver, and the Bolts boast one of the strongest running back stables in the NFL.
Keenan Allen, Eddie Royal and Danny Woodhead performed admirably as returners last year. Still, Telesco noted before the offseason how he wanted to bring in a number of options to complement them in 2014, or even possibly take over.
The general manager did just that by adding two return weapons in the draft in sixth-round pick Marion Grice and seventh-round selection Tevin Reese. Kerwynn Williams, who spent most of 2013 on the practice squad, will also get a crack at it as well as a number of undrafted free agents including Brelan Chancellor and Chris Davis.
There are always a number of fascinating competitions during training camp, and the battle to be the team’s returner should be a fierce one.
San Diego lamented the inability to create turnovers over the first half of the 2013 season. However, they turned a corner down the stretch, and as a result the Bolts soared into the playoffs. Look no further than the Wild Card win over the Cincinnati Bengals when the Chargers forced four turnovers, which was a deciding factor in netting the victory.
On a recent episode of Chargers Insider, Defensive Coordinator John Pagano reiterated the need for his defense to be aggressive and apply pressure, which will then lead to more interceptions and fumbles.
“I’d love to see us really start taking the ball away more,” he said. “Even in this offseason we’re getting our hands on footballs more and really ripping it. It’s been an emphasis of ours. The more turnovers you create, the more opportunities our offense is going to get. The thing that helps us the most is the faster you get on defense, it gives us the opportunities to take the ball away. So we’re excited about that this offseason.”
Fittingly, most OTA practices began with a turnover circuit, focusing on the fundamentals that lead to change of possessions. Look for the Bolts to continue to hone in on creating turnovers as a major focus of training camp.
Much like with the running backs, the Chargers appear stacked at outside linebacker. That inherently leads to a good problem to have, which is finding a way to get them all on the field.
Rounding out the rotation is future Hall of Famer Dwight Freeney, grizzled vet Jarret Johnson, the ultra-athletic Melvin Ingram, second-round pick Jerry Attaochu, a pair of pass-rush specialists in Thomas Keiser and Tourek Williams as well as Cordarro Law, Colton Underwood and Adrian Hamilton.
Overall, the Chargers have a strong mix of youth and experience as well as pass rushers and edge setters. Defensive Coordinator John Pagano and Linebackers Coach Joe Barry are known for their creative minds, so it will be interesting to see how the pair utilize all the weapons they possess at the position.
The Bolts are loaded at the tight end position as well. Leading the charge of course is Antonio Gates, who is a safe bet to enter the Hall of Fame. However, the player getting the most national recognition has been Ladarius Green, who is a trendy pick to be a breakout player. It must be noted still that the ever humble Green downplays the praise heaped on him, repeatedly saying he has a long way to go to get to where he needs to be.
But the Chargers were at their best last year when both Gates and Green were on the field together. Keep an eye on how Head Coach Mike McCoy and Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich deploy the tandem.
Also, there are other capable tight ends on the roster besides Gates and Green. John Phillips is a surefire blocker who is working his way back from injury, while Telesco struck a deal with David Johnson early in free agency adding the burly versatile former Steeler to the rotation. Johnson has lined up pretty much everywhere on offense during the offseason. The team also has intriguing youngsters including Jake Byrne, Ryan Otten and Michael Flacco in camp as well.