NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - INSIDE SLANT
Chargers' forecast: Sunny, chance of success
As the San Diego Chargers prepare for their first training camp workout on July 24, they hope to sustain and improve the momentum they had at the end of last season, when they made a surprise playoff appearance.
Coach Mike McCoy made believers out of doubters by the end of last season and with some key additions on the roster that matches the usual local weather: plenty of sunshine.
While there are still blemishes on the roster, the Chargers think they are better with experience, better with personnel and better equipped to make a deeper run in the AFC playoffs.
"I like where we are right now," McCoy said after last month's minicamp.
What he likes is an offense that is entering Year Two of his quick-tempo approach that helped quarterback Philip Rivers produce the best season of his solid career, which does indeed give the Chargers a much better starting point than many teams.
Here is a closer look at some things that should be of interest in this training camp:
KEY POSITION BATTLE
--Cornerbacks: The Chargers had the AFC's worst pass defense last year, so they spent their first-round pick on Texas Christian cornerback Jason Verrett. Now they have to find out if he can play.
Shareece Wright likely remains one of the starting cornerbacks. But a battle is looming between Verrett and Richard Marshall, which should be among the spirited ones in camp. Marshall had 50 tackles last year and the same number of interceptions as Wright -- zero.
Verrett was the fourth cornerback selected in the draft after earning All-Big 12 honors last season. While his leaping and closing ability are impressive, what stands out as well is where he stands: 5-foot-9. The battle became more interesting when Brandon Flowers was signed in late June after being released by the Chiefs.
--CORNERBACK: It's no mystery why the Chargers spent their top pick on cornerback Jason Verrett, even if he does stand a mere 5-foot-9. The Chargers were last in the AFC defending the pass. Consider this: the Chargers' cornerbacks combined for three interceptions last year. Two of the players collecting them, Derek Cox and Johnny Patrick, are no longer with the club.
So it's up to Verrett -- who is still mending from shoulder surgery -- and returnees Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall, to shore up the soft belly of the Chargers' defense. Add Brandon Flowers to the group, and it might not be the weakest any longer.
PLAYER WITH MOST TO PROVE
--Steve Williams, CB: Much was expected from Williams last year when he was drafted in the fifth round out of California. Instead, it was his Cal teammate, wide receiver Keenan Allen, who starred.
Williams' rookie year was a washout as he suffered a pectoral injury in the second preseason game and was lost for the season. But at the beginning of OTAs he was wrestling with Allen for balls on various routes, and better yet, winning.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound Williams needs to show he still has his skills to get back in the mix. The Chargers have Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall back as starters, and drafted TCU's Jason Verrett in the first round while also signing Flowers.
BEST LONGSHOT ROOKIE
--Tevin Reese, WR, Baylor, Round 7/240th overall: Reese gives the Chargers something they desperately need -- and that is a big dose of speed. His speed, measured at 4.41 seconds over 40 yards, not only can get him open, but it helps stretch defenses so tight end Antonio Gates can work underneath.
Quarterback Philip Rivers praised Reese after workouts, but said he has some learning to do. With Malcom Floyd returning from a serious neck injury, Reese could serve as an insurance policy to play opposite Keenan Allen and he can also help as a punt returner.
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - NOTES, QUOTES
--Running back Ryan Mathews is coming off his best season. Too bad that doesn't include the post-season. The Chargers rode Mathews hard last year down the stretch, leaning on him during a four-game winning streak that propelled them into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
But Mathews had a balky ankle in the post-season that all but negated the team's top runner.
"It was hard not being able to finish the year out," Mathews said at the Chargers' minicamp. "Sixteen games is 16 games and that's what everyone wants to do, is play a whole season.
"But I really wasn't able to contribute in the games after the season, and those are the real games where it counts. And that is where my expectations are this year. I got to do more and do better so I can be there with my guys, so I can help them out as much as I can when we get there again."
Mathews, a former first-round pick, had a breakout season in rushing for a career-high 1,255 yards, the eighth-highest total in franchise history. In six games, Mathews went past the 100-yard mark, including a career-high 144 yards in the season-finale.
Mathews goes into this season with confidence, a healthy ankle and some company in the backfield after the Chargers signed free agent Donald Brown to complement Danny Woodhead and Mathews.
"It's great; it's another weapon to the offense and he is a great player," Mathews said. "You see all the great things he did up with the Colts."
But what about ball distribution?
"Everybody wants the ball; you're a running back, you want the ball," Mathews said. "But there is only one ball in the game and we all have to take turns.
"We're all competing against each other every day and we're all striving to make each other better. We have three different backs that do three different things with three different running styles."
--Strong safety Brandon Taylor was released. Taylor was the 73rd pick of the 2012 draft and played in four games with one start his rookie season. He was inactive for all the games last season.
--Coach Mike McCoy ended the three-day minicamp a day earlier. "I'm pleased where we are right now," McCoy said.
--The Chargers open training camp at Chargers Park on July 24. The team doesn't have any joint practices scheduled with other teams.
--Free-agent cornerback Brandon Flowers is on the Chargers' radar and has made a visit.
--Cornerback Jason Verrett, the team's top pick, said he'll be healed from his offseason shoulder surgery to compete for a role in training camp.
--The Chargers incorporated music throughout much of their minicamp practices. Much of it was hip-hop and rock tunes, which had some asking if the tunes were lifted from quarterback Philip Rivers' iPod. "I don't have an iPod," Rivers said. Is he an eight-track guy? "No," he said, "AM-FM."
--With right guard Jeromey Clary sidelined, Johnnie Troutman has been running with the first team.
--Wide receiver Malcom Floyd, back from a serious neck injury, has been going with the starters opposite of Keenan Allen. When the Chargers go into a three-wide formation, Eddie Royal is in the slot.
--Rookie wide receiver Tevin Reese has been sharing return duties with Keenan Allen and Royal.
--Following a good 2013 season, the Chargers carried over their quality work into the offseason. So coach Mike McCoy gave the team a hall pass Wednesday.
Thursday was supposed to be the final day of the squad's three-day minicamp, but when a yell went up at the end of Wednesday's practice, observers knew something was in the air.
"They are done," McCoy said.
Not just for Wednesday, but for Thursday, too.
McCoy said he is so upbeat about the players' progress, he pointed them toward the exits. The players are required to return to Chargers Park on July 23, one day before the start of training camp.
"I think the players have done an outstanding job this offseason and worked extremely hard, did a great job and done everything we asked of them," McCoy said. "This is a little bit of an appreciation for what they did; I think we are at a good point right now.'
The Chargers arrived at this place by having a good season. Despite being 5-7 with four weeks remaining, the Chargers ran the table and took advantage of the teams above them collapsing. They rode that hot streak into a road playoff win over the Cincinnati Bengals before their season, and McCoy's first year as a head coach, ended with a defeat against the Broncos in Denver.
McCoy doesn't sense any playoff hangover. Instead he is pleased overall -- although he laid into the team pretty good with a post-practice rant last week.
"I thought about it, and I think the way they practiced and worked from the very first day of the offseason program, and the last couple of days, I was happy where we are at right now," McCoy said.
McCoy kept news of the early dismissal a tight secret. He didn't decide to spring his charges loose until late Wednesday morning.
"I didn't tell anybody," he said. "There were two or three people here who knew what I was going to do, but the coaches had no idea and I made the decision about halfway through practice."
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Chargers' picks:
Round 1/25 -- Jason Verrett, CB, 5-9, 189, Texas Christian
--We get it -- he's short. But Verrett compensates for not reaching the 5-10 mark with fantastic leaping ability, fluid hips and a knack for competing when the ball is in the air. He might be more suited to play inside, but he'll get a chance there, and on the outside, during camp. The Chargers are desperate for help in the secondary and it appears Verrett can help right away.
Round 2/50 -- Jerry Attaochu, OLB, 6-3, 252, Georgia Tech
--The Chargers surrendered a fourth-round pick to move up seven slots to secure Attaochu. He exited Georgia Tech as its all-time leader with 31.5 sacks and will be asked to find the quarterback for the Chargers.
Round 3/89 -- Chris Watt, G, 6-3, 310, Notre Dame
--Looking for depth, the Chargers got it here with this three-year starter for the Fighting Irish. What's impressive is his size for that position and his ability to clear running lanes. Notre Dame ran for 200 yards in seven games last season, and Watt was among the reasons why.
Round 5/165 -- Ryan Carrethers, NT, 6-1, 337, Arkansas State
--Eager to get an anchor in the middle, the Chargers took a flier with Carrethers. He's an All Sun-Belt performer and delivers the girth and strength that the Chargers seek; he lifted 225 pounds 32 times at the combine. He has a wrestling background and is keen on obtaining the proper leverage.
Round 6/201 --Marion Grice, RB, 6-0, 208, Arizona State
--Not a back with elite speed, but one that is patient in waiting for his blocks and can hit the hole with quickness. Seems to be a good option on third downs as he has soft hands and is adequate in pass blocking. The end of his season last year was derailed by a leg injury, but according to the Chargers, he's good to go.
Round 7/240 -- Tevin Reese, WR, 5-10, 163, Baylor
--Like speed? Then you'll like Reese. He's not going to dazzle anyone with his solid hands or nifty routes, but what he can do is run, and run fast. Consider that of his 25 touchdown catches at Baylor, 22 of them went for at least 40 yards. A burner, something the Chargers lack.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--WR Danario Alexander (not tendered as UFA).
--ILB Bront Bird (not tendered as ERFA).
--RB Ronnie Brown (not tendered as UFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--CB Jason Verrett (1/25): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Jeremiah Attaochu (2/50): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--G Chris Watt (3/89): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--NT Ryan Carrethers (5/165); 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Marion Grice (6/201): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Tevin Reese (7/240): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Seyi Ajirotitu: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Donald Butler: Potential UFA; $51.8M/7 yrs, $11.15M SB/$12M OB 2017.
--CB Richard Marshall: UFA; $855,000/1 yr.
--G Rich Ohrnberger: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--G/T Chad Rinehart: Potential UFA; $6M/2 yrs.
--S Darrell Stuckey: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--ILB Reggie Walker: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Kellen Clemens: UFA Rams; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--ILB Kavell Conner: UFA Colts; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Brandon Flowers: FA Chiefs; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--CB Brandon Ghee: UFA Bengals; $1.65M/2 yrs.
--TE David Johnson: UFA Steelers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--CB Derek Cox (released).
--WR Lavelle Hawkins: UFA Buccaneers; terms unknown.
--FB Le'Ron McClain (released).
--CB Johnny Patrick (released).
--G/C Steve Schilling: Not tendered as ERFA/Seahawks; terms unknown.
--DT Cam Thomas: UFA Steelers; $4M/2 yrs, $1M SB.
--QB Charlie Whitehurst: UFA Titans; $4.25M/2 yrs, $1M SB/$2M guaranteed.