Opening Day of Training Camp: San Diego Chargers

 

Football is Back

It was only one practice, but it was great to see the San Diego Chargers back on the field. Everybody feels good and fresh right now, a feeling that will change after week 1. The marathon that is the NFL season began today for the Bolts, and there was a certain feeling in the air on the defensive side. Actually, the vibe from a trio of players coming off injuries kept the practice at a high level.

Two names that Chargers fans should be happy to hear, cornerback Brandon Flowers and outside linebacker Dwight Freeney. These veterans come from other playoff teams, a trend you will notice as you hear about more of the new names. Freeney may have joined the team last offseason, but a torn quadriceps sidelined the Pro Bowl sack-master for the year. Flowers on the other hand, well he feels slighted by division rival, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Pro Bowl corner was happy to stay in the AFC West to face his former team twice. He did what he could to play through a knee injury last season, returning to the field in a slot role. The Chargers picked him up after he was surprisingly released, for financial reasons.

That definitely played in the decision. Just the way I play the game, I always felt like it would be fun. I never got that chance to play against an old team. Once I was on a team for my whole life, I was on that team for good. So just going back to play against some of the fellas and some of the coaches, it will definitely be fun. But I respect everybody in that program. They run a great program in Kansas City, and they have great fans in Kansas City. But just for personal reasons I think it will be fun to line up across those guys. It’s a business. And in this business you have to roll with the punches. Once the release happened, my phone and my agent’s phone was a hotline. A lot of teams were calling, and a lot of teams were trying to bring me in because they’re not used to getting a six-year starter this late that can maybe fall into their lap.

 

Defense Still Wins Championships

Flowers and Freeney kept the motor running throughout practice, both were very active and it just set a tone for the defense. They actually looked ahead of the offense, an offense that ranked top-5 last season. Freeney brought non-stop pressue, would have had a couple sacks, and had his hands on a few passes that came his way. Flowers made sure Rivers knew when he was on the field, disrupting the QB-WR rhythm. Defensive end Kendall Reyes was making nice reads before the snap, resulting in several tackles at the line of scrimmage for John Pagano’s unit. The defensive coordinator got his front-7 to play good football during the playoff push and win at Cincinnati in the Wildcard Round. A big part of that was defensive end Corey Liuget, who was wrecking havoc in the trenches. For a stretch of six plays or so, the defense didn’t allow a yard. Manti Te’o and Cordarro Law chimed in with a sack each.

Former Colts player, Lawrence Guy, was very active at defensive end as well as he kept going to strip the ball at the end of plays. Another pickup from Indianapolis, linebacker Kavell Connor, this guy was all over the field when the second units went head-to-head. Defensive end Colton Underwood made some stops at the line too. Donald Butler had a nice-diving deflection in the middle of the field. Linebacker Tourek Williams did his thing, whether it was stuffing the run or covering a tight end, he looks improved with a better feel for the game.

Cornerbacks

In the one-on-one drills, the cornerbacks held their own against the receivers throughout. Flowers shadowed everybody, he only allowed a couple receptions and both were tough catches by Keenan Allen and Malcolm Floyd. Flowers refused to let Vincent Brown lose, or any of the other targets on the roster, good news as he started opposite of rookie Jason Verrett in the 11-on-11 scrimmage. Verrett was pretty solid, sure he gave up some catches but made the receivers work hard. That kid didn’t take a play off, and Rivers didn’t necessarily have his way with the rookie to be honest. Jahleel Addae had some deflections, one came on a screen that he sniffed out. Steve Williams struggled to stick the wideouts. Richard Marshall struggled to keep up, got juked a little bit, he did show fight by coming back and defending a couple passes.

Oh, remember that crazy finish between Auburn and Alabama? Where the Crimson Tide elected to go for a 57-yard field goal, and an Auburn player caught the short kick in the endzone. The play resulted in a 109-yard return to win the game in entertaining fashion. That player was Chris Davis, the undrafted rookie made a couple nice pass deflections. The day was far from perfect, the thing is that he was usually in the right position to make a play. Former Bengals corner Brandon Ghee could provide some depth to the secondary, he got his hands on a few passes. Believe it or not, Shareece Wright held his own against these mammoth receivers. He stood his ground with inside position, forcing them towards the sidelines. He even had nice coverage on Keenan Allen deep, and Malcolm Floyd deep with Marcus Gilchrist. Eric Weddle mostly played deep safety, nothing too crazy as he was minimally used in the box.

Today’s Star of the Defense

Even after all those good efforts today, the standout of the day was safety Marcus Gilchrist. The first play of 11-on-11 scrimmage, Gilchrist came off the edge on a blitz and if they were allowed to hit the offense, it would have been a sack/fumble on Rivers. He shot off the snap like a cannon, the guy was just all over the place today with deflections and what would be, tackles. I really think he shined today, in 1-on-1 drills, 7-on-7 scrimmage, and 11-on-11 scrimmage. He looked like a man on a mission.

Offense

The first day of camp wasn’t too shabby despite my raving about the defensive intensity. The offensive line will have to shake some things off and hit the playbook harder, but the strength came from the ground game. The huge right tackle, D.J. Fluker, he was good although the experienced Freeney showed him a couple things. Aside from that, the defense simply brought pressure and it may have caught the linemen off-guard.

They did create gaps, holding their own on the line for the running backs. Ryan Mathews was solid, nothing to negative or positive to report from day 1. Danny Woodhead wooed the crowed with his bursts, and he got open with ease in the passing game. Formers Colts running back, another one of GM Tom Telesco’s guys, he is a definite upgrade over the aging Ronnie Brown. Donald Brown had similar moments as Woodhead, as he saved Rivers from a sack on two plays I recall vividly (one on Donald Butler up the middle, and one on the blindside on). Brown has good vision. Undrafted rookie Branden Oliver bounced a run outside for a first down.

Rivers was throwing lasers 15 yards and under. He probably checked down too many times, there were open receivers but the defensive pressure made the Pro Bowler dump it off instead. He didn’t do too much moving, he stepped up in the pocket a few tiimes, but for the most part he stood pat and favored sideline comebacks or hit Antonio Gates down the middle. By the way, Gates acted like a professional today, he didn’t show burst but word is that he lost a family member yesterday. Condolences to his family.

Backup quarterback Kellen Clemens looked just that, he found success going deep to rookie receiver, Tevin Reese, more on him later. Clemens checked down a bit to Woodhead, which is someone Chargers fans want to see have the ball in his hands anyways. Brad Sorensen looks like a third string quarterback, not much zip on the ball but he connected with some of the younger receivers on intermediate routes.

Star of the Offense

As for his teammates, Keenan Allen just doesn’t look like a young player. He is by far the most popular player amongst the fans at camp, the kid looks like a star. Allen ran polished routes and caught everything, the other receivers follow his lead in drills. He is the go-to guy and looks smooth, I just didn’t like watching him field punts. I get it, he’s a playmaker and young, I just don’t want to see him risk injury on special teams when you have guys like Woodhead and Eddie Royal that can do it. By the way, Mike Scifres was booming punts like the three-time Pro Bowler is known to do.

Receivers & Tight Ends

Speaking of Royal, only day 1, he was fast but not like we’re used to seeing. Vincent Brown made some tough grabs down, over the middle and along the sidelines. He’s got some of his speed back too, but struggled a bit to gain separation from the cornerbacks. Malcolm Floyd looked fantastic today. He made tough catch after tough catch, both intermediate and deep. He went up against Flowers and Verrett and made the play for Rivers. In drills, he looked even faster than previous seasons, glad to see him bounce back from that scary neck injury against the Eagles in week 2.

David Johnson came over from the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has the versatility to be used as a primary fullback and backup tight end. He enjoyed putting his head down and taking on a linebacker, also adding a catch down the middle for a first down. Ladarius Green got to work on his blocking, he caught a few passes that went for his usual reception resulting in first downs. Expect to see more two-tight end sets this season.

Let me tell you, there were some young receivers that turned heads at camp. One of them has a chance to make the cut, outside chance at two of them making that much noise. Their names are: Tevin Reese, Micah Hatfield, and Dontrelle Inman. Reese was a 7th round pick out of Baylor, he is fast. Reese caught some deep balls in scrimmage and shook some defenders after the catch, perhaps the smaller speed target replaces Royal in the future. Hatfield is an undrafted rookie with smooth hips, he looks comfortable out there standing 6’1. Inman signed on from the CFL, talk about a big taregt that Rivers likes to throw to. They didn’t get to play together as Inman is trying to make the cut. At 6’3 he was sent across the middle often.

Chargers Fans

This may only be one day of practice to us, but everyday is important for the Bolts if they want to get back to the playoffs. For the starters, it’s a matter of getting back into the flow and conditioning, and that offensive rhythm. The defense could finally come together with veteran additions, health, and improvements in the secondary.

If you get a chance to make it to a practice, you will certainly be glued to the show that these receivers and cornerbacks put on. You will get hyped from the stars like Rivers, Gates, and Allen, but don’t be surprised if you’re asking about the young receivers.

Hope you enjoyed the report from opening day on the Bolts, the practice schedule is below and takes place at Chargers Park (4020 Murphy Canyon Road, San Diego):

July 25 Friday 2:50 pm – 5 pm

July 26 Saturday 9:20 am – 11:30 am

July 27 Sunday 2:50 pm – 5 pm

July 31 Thursday 9:20 am – 11:30 am

August 2 Saturday Fan Fest 11 am – 1 pm

August 4 Monday 2:50 pm – 5 pm

August 9 Saturday 9:20 am – 11:30 am

August 11 Monday 2:50 pm – 5 pm

August 12 Tuesday 9:20 am – 11:30 am