San Diego Chargers: Preseason Week One Preview


With the second week of OTAs in the books and most training already underway, the San Diego Chargers are in the midst of preparing for their 2015 road to the Super Bowl.

The first stop on their journey starts with the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 of the 2015 NFL preseason.

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With over 90 men on the current roster, the Chargers will soon whittle that number down to 53 by the time the season starts. In order to accurately evaluate their current prospects and players, coach Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco will give those 90 guys reps during their weeks of training camp and with each and every preseason game.

The first of those preseason games will be on Thursday, August 13th at Qualcomm Stadium versus the reigning NFC East champion Cowboys.

Most of the Chargers and Cowboys starters will play one, maybe two quarters during the game (if that). But, for the most part, the reserves, rookies and undrafted free agents will be showcasing their abilities on that Thursday night in San Diego.

Here are some storylines we could be seeing in the Bolts first exhibition contest of the 2015 season:

May 27, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory (94) during OTAs at Dallas Cowboys Headquarters. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Big-Time Rookie Performances:

Along with the Chargers rookies, we will be seeing the Dallas Cowboys rookies (thoughts courtesy of Jeffrey Kahn of perform during week one of the preseason.

The Cowboys made some moves with the additions of defensive end Randy Gregory, tackle La’el Collins and cornerback Byron Jones.

Gregory was known for his unbelievable pass-rushing abilities and freakish athleticism (among other things; see failed drug test) while in college. Gregory’s first preseason game could be a good indication for better things to come in 2015. Also, by facing such a talent as Gregory, McCoy and the Bolts could see how strong the SD offensive line is this season.

Byron Jones gives the Cowboys an added presence in the secondary. This will be good for the developing Chargers receivers who are looking to make their marks against an above-average Dallas pass defense.

For the Chargers, the much-hyped Melvin Gordon will finally take the stage against real NFL talent. Hopefully he will be able to make some plays and show Chargers coaches and coordinators why he was a good selection at 17th overall. He’ll probably be splitting carries with Danny Woodhead and Branden Oliver during the first series of the game.

I have a lot of hope for Gordon in 2015 considering his ability to dominate the college football landscape in 2015. He is currently healthy and should be very vigilant.

In terms of the other San Diego rookies, I am most looking forward to what cornerback Craig Mager brings to the table in the secondary. Mager was a 2014 All-Sun Belt Conference Second-Team who tallied two sacks and 63 tackles, including 46 solo tackles and 6.0 tackles for losses of 23 yards as a senior, led the Sun Belt Conference with 13 passes defended and 10 pass breakups, tied for ninth among SBC leaders with three interceptions and averaged 12.3 yards on 10 punt returns.

When looking at his overall play though, Mager is a very physically gifted athlete, weighing in at 201 pounds and standing tall at 5’11”. The Texas State DB has had some issues with penalties and over-aggressive play, but I think he could give San Diego some key turnovers which they were lack-luster at last season.

At this point in the offseason, everything we know about the preseason is up in the air at this point. Mike McCoy and the coaching staff may decide to sit some of the rookies for 8/9 of the game or start them for 8/9 of the game.

All we know at this point is that there should be some great showing from the first-year players from the Cowboys and the Chargers.

Sep 15, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; St. Louis Rams wide receiver Austin Pettis (18) scores a touchdown in front of Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert McClain (27) during the fourth quarter at Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Rams 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Reserves Getting Second-Team Reps:

For guys such as WR Austin Pettis (pictured above) as well as TE Ladarius Green, QB Kellen Clemens, RB Donald Brown, FS Darrell Stuckey and SS Jimmy Wilson (recently acquired from the Dolphins), week one of the preseason could mean more exposure, reps and a potential spot on the 53-man roster come week one.

Most of the rookies and undrafted free agents will have a much harder time getting preseason reps compared to the reserves considering that the reserves have had much more experience than the rookies have had.

I am very positive about the depth of this San Diego Charger ball club, especially on offense. The Chargers defensive depth (the defensive tackle position in particular) will definitely be tested against the often potent Cowboys offense. Without DeMarco Murray, the Chargers will not have to worry about getting carved up in the run game (as they were last season). What they will have to worry about is their ability to get pressure on Tony Romo considering the lack of pass-rushing defensive linemen.

Both the offensive and defensive lines have seen numerous additions and subtractions. Their depth performance (in the form of second-team reserves) will be a major indication of what could be to come in 2015.

Sep 14, 2013; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Central Michigan wide receiver Titus Davis (84) makes a catch in the air on UNLV Rebels defensive back Fred Wilson (24) during an NCAA football game at Sam Boyd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Undrafted Free Agents Can Get Their Time to Shine:

For the Bolts undrafted free agents, I am looking most forward to watching former Iowa safety Johnny Lowdermilk as well as Central Michigan’s Titus Davis. Lowdermilk, could potentially be the safety of the future if the Chargers don’t re-sign starting free safety Eric Weddle. JL will bring a different form of athleticism, but the same level of intensity to the playing field as Weddle has done week in and week out for San Diego.

Titus Davis, an early favorite in mini-camp, could potentially get his chance during the first preseason game to catch some passes for huge yardage. The Chargers, in my opinion, are already pretty stacked in terms of their receivers, but could always use a sure-fire rookie wide out in case Malcom Floyd or Stevie Johnson are forced to exit early due to injury.

For the Cowboys, tackle La’el Collins stands out as their most significant undrafted free agent. Collins was slated to be one of the league’s top selections in the draft, until he was dropped instantaneously from the first round of many teams big boards after news of his connection with the apparent murder of his ex-girlfriend. Collins was one of the best offensive linemen for LSU and makes the already scary Dallas Cowboys offensive line that much better.

While actual drafted rookies and returning reserve players will get most of the game’s reps, undrafted free agents have been known for their ability to surprise even the most of staunch of critics. Some of the NFL’s best players were originally undrafted free agents. Hopefully the Chargers have some of the lucky ones already in their hands (I’m looking at you T Cameron Clemmons).

Sep 8, 2014; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Diego Chargers offensive guard Chris Watt (65) against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Chargers 18-17. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Starting Players Fine Tuning: 

This preseason exhibition game is as much of a time for the rookies and reserves to play well as it is a time for the starters to retool their abilities.

After a 9-7 regular season in 2014, the entire 2014 San Diego Chargers starting roster has been working tirelessly to improve itself over the long spring and summer months. It is definitely impressive to see the amount of work and the positive attitude multiple players have been exhibiting. For instance, new addition Orlando Franklin was positive on why he chose San Diego as his next home saying that “this is the place to be.”

Sure training camp drills and live-contact 7-7 and 11-11 scrimmages may give us a relative glimpse into the actual performances of the Chargers potential starters, but nothing can quite replicate actual NFL game situations like that of the NFL preseason.

Week one against Dallas will be the first game that most of the Chargers would have played in over 8 months. If Philip Rivers isn’t connecting with his receivers or if the offensive line wasn’t as good as we thought it was, then this game will illustrate those facts through the game’s outcome. Once the Chargers can play another team, they can accurately assess their players in game-time situations (particularly rookies who haven’t yet been exposed to NFL-quality offenses, defenses or special teams outside their home teams).

May 26, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) hands the ball off to running back Danny Woodhead (39) during organized team activities at Charger Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

New Running Games for Dallas and San Diego:

With the addition of rookie Melvin Gordon and the departure of DeMarco Murray to the Philadelphia Eagles/arrival of Darren McFadden, both the Chargers and the Cowboys have created very respectable running games.

Ever since the Cowboys let Murray sign with the Eagles, I personally have been curious as to whether they can find rushing success again. The offensive line of the Cowboys tells me yes, but everything about Darren McFadden tells me no. Only time will tell to see who emerges as the big man in the Dallas backfield.

If McFadden has improved, this could also prove to be a good test for the San Diego  defensive line which needed to improve its play after poor performances against the run in 2014.

In terms of the Bolts, Melvin Gordon will have all of the collective eyes on him. Dallas had the eighth-best rushing defense last season in terms of yardage (103.125 yards per game), but was ranked second-worst in terms of rushing touchdowns allowed next to Atlanta (18).

Perhaps this could be a time for Gordon and Danny Woodhead to combine for some major goal-line production.

Jan 4, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo (9) at the line of scrimmage with center Travis Frederick (72) against the Detroit Lions in the NFC Wild Card Playoff Game at AT&T Stadium. Dallas beat Detroit 24-20. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line Challenge:

In 2014 the major talk of the town was the Dallas Cowboys absolutely stacked offensive line which ranked among tops in the league in most statistical categories. According to Pro Football Focus, “years of building through the draft paid off in spectacular fashion. It was already a pretty good line, but the selection of Zack Martin pushed them over the edge. Strong in pass protection and opening up running lanes that would get me to 1,000 yards, the Cowboys were a true joy to watch.”

After such an amazing season offensively for Dallas, the Chargers defensive line is really going to be tested against the offensive line of the Cowboys. New draft picks Denzel Perryman and Kyle Emmanuel should look to try and neutralize the Cowboy’s big uglies down the field. But, in terms of the play in the trenches, I will be looking for rookie defensive lineman Darius Philon and what he will bring to the game.

If Philon can play well against the O-line that Dallas puts out there, it can be safe to say he has a roster spot come September. If not, I would not blame Philon because the Cowboys are so stacked up front.

Another position that Chargers fans should watch out for should be the defensive tackle position against Dallas with Ryan Carrethers and Sean Lissemore. Both defensive tackles virtually under-performed last season and need to bounce back to keep their starting jobs. This preseason game against Dallas could mean the start of something big from the tackle tandem, or the demise of San Diego’s defensive line.

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