Miles Traveled to date: 5,956
Flying from Flagstaff to San Diego may have been the conventional choice of travel, but for some reason we made a 500-mile drive back to Phoenix and then along the Mexican border, stopping in El Centro for the evening, before arriving in San Diego well in time for the 9:00AM walkthroughs. If conditions in Flagstaff were “almost ideal” the weather in San Diego was genuinely perfect: low 70’s with a cloudless sky and a very light breeze.
This was just the first day of camp and after the earlier walkthroughs, practice took place at 4:00PM, running through for a couple of hours.
1) Replacing Dielman
When the Chargers lost Kris Dielman following his seizure on the team plane last year, they lost more than their best player on the offensive line, they also lost their “enforcer” and guy who would ensure everyone on the line was playing at their best. Now they have to try and replace both those attributes but, almost certainly, with two players. Nick Hardwick has all the work ethic of Dielman but will need to be the internal force ensuring a player like Jared Gaither doesn’t let his immense talent go to waste now he’s been paid. As for the actual left guard part of the equation? Well, currently Tyronne Green is the incumbent, but I’ve always liked Rex Hadnot better than his stats might have you believe and I’m going to nail my colors to the mast and say he’ll be the starter come Week 1. The fact that Norv Turner actually took time to mention Hadnot during his presser makes me feel a whole lot better about this prognostication.
2) Royal & McClain Make a Difference
While the headlines in San Diego during free agency were probably reserved for Robert Meachem and Jarret Johnson, the guys who may have the biggest influence on how the Chargers play this year might be Eddie Royal and Le’Ron McClain.
The Chargers run 11 personnel (3 WRs, the league staple) on only 29% of plays compared to the NFL average of 35%. In addition, while they run 21 personnel (2 backs) very close to the league average of 15%, you always get the impression this isn’t by choice; they’d rather have a big fullback in front of Ryan Matthews much more frequently.
This is why Eddie Royal and Le’Ron McClain are so important. In a throwing league with a big time QB like Philip Rivers, they want the 3-wide look more often and, at least for the moment, they see Royal as the slot receiver (although Roscoe Parrish got all the snaps there in the afternoon practice for reasons I couldn’t discern) and McClain as the man to lead Matthews into the line. Watch for them to scale back on the two-tight end sets they employed so frequently in 2011.
3) Jarret Johnson’s Role
Full disclosure here: Jarret Johnson has always been one of my favorites. I’m not sure there’s a better player against the run from the outside linebacker position in the NFL. When with the Ravens, trying to run frequently to his side was bordering on stupidity and it’s unlikely, given his previous consistency, much will change in that regard. Unfortunately, something that also may not change is his inability to get pressure regularly. As a pass rusher he’s never really threatened tackles and his 5.6 PFF Pass Rushing Productivity rating would rank him 37th among 3-4 OLBs. The good news for the Chargers is they also have the No. 2 player in the whole NFL in that regard in Antwan Barnes. Barnes is a guy that genuinely intrigues me as I do often ask myself if the Chargers actually know what they have, given the way they limit his snaps.
In addition, the way Antonio Gates destroyed him in coverage during the 4:00PM scrimmage was indicative of what might happen against the new breed of TE so prevalent these days.
If they can limit his snaps away from clear passing situations and utilize Barnes to his full potential, they may just have the ultimate combination.
● Anyone thinking the kicker battle is an open-and-shut case better think again. While most believe Nate Kaeding is a shoe-in, Nick Novak has a real chance to be the choice.
● All of Charlie Whitehurst, Jared Gaither, and Ryan Matthews left the field with varying degrees on injury. In the scrimmage, the Chargers were down to Rivers and free agent rookie Jarrett Lee
● Why is Takeo Spikes the ultimate pro? Long after play was over he was still out on the field coaching a younger player on his coverage technique. The player? DeAndre Presley a free agent rookie from Appalachian State.
● Shaun Phillips won’t have to flip-flop between positions anymore as he has previously. Jarret Johnson will permanently man the strong-side with him staying on the weak.
July 27 – Saints (Metairie)
July 28 – Broncos (Englewood)
July 29 – Seahawks (Renton)
July 30 – 49ers (Santa Clara)
July 31 – Raiders (Napa)
August 1 – Dolphins (Davie)
August 2 – ?????
If you’ve got questions for Neil to take along to any of his upcoming camp visits, follow him on Twitter (@PFF_Neil) and let him know.