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NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - INSIDE SLANT
Some seven months since Kevin Haslam put his fingers in the dirt at left tackle in the 2012 season-finale, the San Diego Chargers' long, strange trip to find his replacement is over.
King Dunlap, the throne is yours.
One of the most spirited debates of the Chargers' offseason is all but over, with Dunlap beating out Max Starks for the spot to protect quarterback Philip Rivers' blind side.
First the Chargers had to decide to cut the expensive ties with Jared Gaither. Then they had to decide the answer to replace Gaither was on the roster, with guys just like Haslam.
Rebuffed in the draft for a left tackle, the Chargers hoped their answer would be found in the free-agent market, as they signed the veteran Dunlap, then Starks.
Many thought Starks, a later signee, would win the battle for left tackle. With his Super Bowl credentials through his days with the Steelers, Starks was considered the favorite.
But Dunlap started the offseason workouts running with the first team and really never left. He rotated with Starks on occasion in practice, and did so to a degree in the first two preseason games.
But it was clear in Saturday's 24-7 win over the Cardinals that the job is Dunlap's. Starks came in later, but when Dunlap was out briefly with a foot ailment, it was Mike Harris, not Starks to replace him.
Harris was among the carousel of players to play left tackle last year when the grand plan to plop Gaither there for the season blew up in the Chargers' faces. Gaither was either hurt or unmotivated; what was clear was the Chargers needed to supply an answer at the line's most critical spot.
Dunlap will take over and now the Chargers pray for a do-over in what has been shoddy protection for two years. Last year Rivers was sacked an AFC-high 49 times.
That Dunlap is the guy isn't a guarantee there won't still be leaks. He lost his job at times last year in Philadelphia, and some Eagles watchers are amazed he has re-invented himself with the Chargers.
But the Chargers have been pleased with his work, and for now, Dunlap works for them.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - NOTES, QUOTES
--The boot is off and linebacker Manti Te'o hopes to make his debut when the Chargers open their season on Sept. 9 against the Houston Texans on "Monday Night Football."
Te'o, who sprained his foot during his first preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks on Aug. 8, did not participate in Tuesday's practice He had been in a walking boot since hurting his foot. On Tuesday, the boot came off.
"It's a step in the right direction and we're just taking it one step at a time," coach Mike McCoy said on Tuesday. "He's happy to have the boot off and be able to walk around. We've been able to move forward and start messing around with what sort of shoe he will be using moving forward."
Despite not practicing on Tuesday, there remains a chance Te'o still could suit up for the Chargers' opener. McCoy said he won't rule anything out when it comes to Te'o.
"It's going to be up to how his body recovers before the game on Monday night. ... He knows his body better than anyone so we will just take it one day at a time."
Te'o has missed three weeks of practice. The Chargers' second-round pick out of Notre Dame was impressive in the first few weeks of training camp.
Te'o recently told U-T San Diego he doubts the time off is eroding his game because watching practice has helped him prepare for when he finally does get back on the field.
He also said he knows how to play through the "nicks and bruises." Then he added: "This (injury) is different, and I understand it."
--Safety Brandon Taylor had a game-high five tackles in his first preseason game, while playing in Arizona. Taylor tore up his knee last December in his first NFL start and has slowly been rounding into shape. Taylor was a third-round pick last year.
--Quarterback Philip Rivers is upbeat over the team's revamped offensive line. "It's been a good mix," he said. "Certainly there have been some guys moved around there. They've come together very well. I think they communicate great. They understand the terminology and it's getting more formal and comfortable. Each day we're out there on the field, you hear them talking and communicating. It's going to be a heck of a group."
--With the Chargers playing in Arizona on Saturday, it makes one wonder what might have been for coach Mike McCoy. Before talking with the Chargers about their head-coaching vacancy, he interviewed with the Chargers. "After the interview process, I knew it was the best decision for me to make," McCoy said of picking the Chargers. "Not only for myself, but for my family and the organization."
--Rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen has been getting some reps with the starters as the injury bug has bit his group pretty hard. "With the ones, it's definitely a big difference from college," Allen said. "After the ones, it goes right back to college. As long as I'm in there with the ones, I think I get a good adjustment to it. I get to pick up the calls and see the game speed very well."
--Wide receiver Malcom Floyd isn't back to practicing, but he is running with more frequency on the side, showing the progress he is making with his sprained knee. Floyd didn't play against the Cardinals and won't go on Thursday versus the 49ers. But he could return for the season opener on Sept. 9.
--It will be interesting to see if wide receiver Robert Meachem survives the first cut. Meachem was a disappointment last year and he has tumbled far down the depth chart. But the former Saint has two things going for them: a rash of injuries at wide out and a $5 million guarantee pay day.
--Running back Ronnie Brown is another veteran worth watching. With the emergence of Fozzy Whittaker and the addition of Danny Woodhead, his spot could be in trouble. Whittaker has a been a pleasant surprise this summer and the younger Woodhead has a similar skill set as Brown. Against the Cardinals, Brown had but two carries for 9 yards.
---The team is going to conduct its Wednesday walk-through on the deck of the USS Ronald Reagan, which is docked at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado, just across the bay from San Diego.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The players work all year long and all training camp long to win football games. That's what we're all paid to do." -- Coach Mike McCoy on the preseason triumph over the Cardinals, his first win as an NFL head coach.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers signed veteran cornerback Richard Marshall, a seven-year pro last with the Dolphins.
The Chargers have gotten thin on the back end, with rookie Steve Williams going on IR with a triceps injury and Johnny Cox, who has played the nickel, wrestling with concussion issues.
The 5-foot-11, 198-pound Marshall has 451 tackles, 18 interceptions and seven sacks. He played with the Cardinals in 2011, and was with Miami last year before a back injury derailed his season.
Marshall could be used as the nickel back, an experience option in a secondary which is long on youth. Marcus Gilchrist is a first-year starter at strong safety and the same is true of cornerback Shareece Wright.
If Patrick's injury lingers, Marshall could see plenty of action quickly.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK John Phillips vs. Ladarius Green at tight end. Antonio Gates is one tight end - a no-brainer.
But it's been interesting to watch the competition between Phillips and Green.
Phillips has more NFL sunups and sundowns, coming over as a veteran free agent from the Cowboys.
But Green, in his second year, came into camp looking as if he had grown more into his body and playing with a confidence he seldom showed last year.
Phillips has done well in his first San Diego summer. But few Chargers have been on the coaches' lips as much as Green.
Phillips is still listed ahead of Green on the depth chart, but that might be more because he is a better blocker.
Green had a stellar camp and showed well in the preseason games. Phillips could be used more and more as just a blocker, with Green being asked to supply the critical catches at his position - the ones not made by Gates, of course.
BIGGEST QUESTION TO BE ANSWERED: It's becoming clearer that the odds of rookie Manti Te'o being ready for the season opener are growing with each missed practice.
If Te'o can't go, what happens at his inside linebacker's spot.
So far Bront Bird has filled in and down a decent job. But can he hold up on a long-term basis?
And if not Bird, might Phillip Dillard fill in - if he survives the cuts.
And what about D.J. Smith, who started six games last year in Green Bay before suffering a serious knee injury. He's back practicing and playing in the games, but can his mended knee hold up?
The Chargers are set at the other inside spot with Donald Butler, an emerging star. But he someones to start opposite him, and right now, Bird is the word.
--OLB Melvin Ingram will miss at least the first six weeks of the season after being placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list to open the season. Ingram is recovering from knee surgery following an offseason injury. He is eligible to begin practicing after Week 6, and the team will have a 21-day window from the day he begins practicing to either add him to the active roster or have him remain on reserve-PUP through the end of the season.
--CB Steve Williams (pectoral) and DT Byron Jerideau (shoulder) were placed on injured reserve. Williams is a fifth-round selection this year and Jerideau is a rookie free agent.
--DE Corey Liuget (shoulder) hasn't worked since getting hurt Aug. 15 in Chicago. The Chargers will be careful easing him back into practice; it's doubtful he goes Thursday.
--WR Malcom Floyd (knee) is running more on the sidelines but isn't expected to play again until the season opener, at the earliest.
--CB Johnny Patrick (concussion) was hurt against the Cardinals and this is troubling that this is his second concussion in three games. He is day-to-day but this could be long-term.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--C/G Rex Hadnot (not tendered as UFA).
--G Reggie Wells (not tendered as UFA).
--LB Demorrio Williams (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED (all picks signed)
--T D.J. Fluker (1/11): $11,402,498 guaranteed/4 yrs, $6,672,728 SB.
--LB Manti Te'o (2/38): $5,172,428/4 yrs, $2,141,768 SB/$3,186,878 guaranteed.
--WR Keenan Allen (3/76): $2,813,800/4 yrs, $613,800 SB.
--CB Steve Williams (5/145): $2,352, 800/4 yrs, $192,800.
--LB Tourek Williams (6/179): $2,270,060/4 yrs, $110,060 SB.
--QB Brad Sorensen (7/221); $2,219,400/4 yrs, $59,400 SB.
--WR Seyi Ajirotutu: Not tendered as RFA by Chargers; terms unknown.
--WR Danario Alexander: RFA tendered at $1.323M with no compensation); $1.323M/1 yr.
--RB Ronnie Brown: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Richard Goodman: ERFA; $630,000/1 yr.
--K Nick Novak: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--LS Mike Windt: Potential RFA; 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Derek Cox: UFA Jaguars; $20M/4 yrs, $5.25M SB.
--T King Dunlap: UFA Eagles; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Nathan Enderle: FA Titans; terms unknown.
--LB Dwight Freeney: UFA Colts; $8.75M/2 yrs, $3.25M SB/$4/75M guaranteed.
--FB Chris Gronkowski: Not tendered as RFA by Broncos; terms unknown
--LB Thomas Keiser: FA Panthers; terms unknown.
--LB Richard Marshall: FA Dolphins; terms unknown.
--CB William Middleton: Not tendered as UFA by Jaguars; terms unknown.
--G Rich Ohrnberger: UFA Cardinals; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Johnny Patrick (waivers Saints).
--TE John Phillips: UFA Cowboys; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--T/G Chad Rinehart: UFA Bills; terms unknown.
--T Max Starks: UFA Steelers; terms unknown.
--RB Danny Woodhead: UFA Patriots; $3.5M/2 yrs, $1M SB.
--DE Jarius Wynn: UFA Titans; terms unknown.
--LB Antwan Barnes: UFA Jets; $4M/3 yrs, $900,000 SB.
--RB Jackie Battle: Not tendered as UFA/Titans; terms unknown.
--S Atari Bigby (released).
--RB Curtis Brinkley: Not tendered as RFA/Bears; terms unknown.
--CB Chris Carr: Not tendered as UFA/Saints; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Antoine Cason: UFA Cardinals; $1.5M/1 yr, $600,000 SB/$1M guaranteed.
--T Brandyn Dombrowski (released).
--NT Aubrayo Franklin: UFA Colts; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--T Jared Gaither (released; post-June 1 designation).
--NT Antonio Garay (released).
--G Tyronne Green: UFA Patriots; terms unknown.
--LB Gary Guyton: Not tendered as UFA/Titans; terms unknown.
--CB Quentin Jammer: UFA Broncos; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Corey Lynch: Not tendered as UFA/Titans; terms unknown.
--DE Vaughn Martin: UFA Dolphins; $4M/2 yrs, $750,000 guaranteed..
--TE Randy McMichael (released).
--LB Shaun Phillips: UFA Broncos; $1M/1 yr.
--TE Dante Rosario: UFA Cowboys; terms unknown.
--LB Takeo Spikes (released).
--WR/KR Micheal Spurlock: Not tendered as UFA/Lions; terms unknown.
--G Louis Vasquez: UFA Broncos; $23.5M/4 yrs, $5M SB/$13M guaranteed.