AFC West: San Diego Chargers

Examining the San Diego Chargers' roster:


Clemens cemented his role as the team's top backup with another solid performance against Seattle. Brad Sorensen is a developmental prospect worth keeping around, but I still believe you need his roster spot for more depth along the offensive or defensive line.


I particularly like Grice's ability to play special teams. Don't count out Kerwynn Williams.


Javontee Herndon continues to push for a roster spot, but likely remains a practice squad candidate, along with Tevin Reese and Torrence Allen.


Phillips has shown versatility, but Jake Byrne also has emerged a guy who could compete for a roster spot -- a good blocker who can make a catch in the red zone.


I'm interested to see if Jeromey Clary will come off the physically unable to perform list and get some work in this week. Clary has to show that he's close to playing for the team to have confidence to put him on the active roster for the regular season.


Lawrence Guy remains out with a shoulder injury. With Lissemore, Scafe and Liuget all nursing injuries as well, undrafted rookie free agent Tenny Palepoi remains a viable option of making the 53-man roster. I would also like to see more of undrafted rookie free agent Chas Alecxih.


Williams is a hard one to figure out, but I have him on for now. If Thomas Keiser does not make it on San Diego's roster, he will wind up on another team because of his pass-rush skills. Cordarro Law remains a practice squad candidate.


Davis has more upside than Steve Williams in my opinion. Also keep an eye out for Brandon Ghee.


Stuckey is a great special teams player, but he has not made a lot of plays while running with the second-unit defense. I'll be watching Alden Darby and Adrian Phillips more closely.


Interesting to see Scifres work on kickoffs against Seattle.
SAN DIEGO -- An undrafted rookie free agent out of Arkansas, receiver Javontee Herndon has raised some eyebrows among the San Diego Chargers coaching staff with his performance nearly three weeks into training camp.

Just ask Chargers receivers coach Fred Graves.

“I like what he’s doing,” Graves said. “The game’s not too big for him. Some guys come from college and the game is too big for them. And I’m not complaining about college offenses, but a lot of college offense are spread offenses and they don’t teach the guys the fundamentals.

“This kid, he understands what’s going on. And the biggest thing about him is, he’ll make a mistake and immediately correct it. So you’ll never see that same mistake.”

Herndon cut his teeth under two coaches at Arkansas familiar with pro-style offenses in Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema, so the learning curve has not been as steep for the Jacksonville, Florida, native. A former quarterback in high school, Herndon also quickly picks up play concepts and route adjustments.

At 6-foot and 198 pounds, Herndon runs polished routes and has strong hands, which allows him to pull down more than his share of contested catches. He’s a physical blocker in the run game and can also serve as a return man with reliable hands. Working with the third unit, Herndon created a good rapport with backup quarterback Brad Sorensen.

“We’ve developed some chemistry together,” Sorensen said. “We’ve run with each other most days. He’s big, strong and makes plays. He’s a guy you can trust as a quarterback. You don’t always have to put it in a perfect spot, and he can go up and make plays for you. So he’s got a bright future.”

Added Herndon: “It’s always good to connect with quarterbacks. I try to talk with Philip (Rivers) and all of them as much as I can because if they are familiar with you, they’ll look for you. So me and Brad talk a lot. I talk to Philip every chance I get, just asking him what I need to do (on certain routes).”

Herndon finished with 31 receptions for 437 yards and four touchdowns in his final season at Arkansas -- solid but not spectacular numbers. He ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at his pro day and posted a 34-inch vertical jump, so he’s a good athlete.

Still, Herndon was surprised that his name was not called on draft day. He said he received some interest from the Chargers as a possible Day 3 draft pick and ultimately decided San Diego provided the best opportunity to make an NFL roster.

“You’ve got to make your mark somewhere,” he said. “I just want to put my name out there, let them know what I can do and hopefully build on that during the preseason.”

Chargers Camp Report: Day 17

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
SAN DIEGO -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of San Diego Chargers training camp:

After an hour-long practice, Chargers head coach Mike McCoy was noncommittal on what players will take the field on Friday against the Seahawks, or how much the starters will play. Specifically, McCoy would not divulge if cornerbacks Brandon Flowers or Jason Verrett would be on the field for the first time this preseason. “We’ve got a plan,” McCoy said. “We’re going to talk about it as a staff tonight and tomorrow about exactly how we’re playing players, and how much players are going to play. Some guys we’re going to hold out. So, we’ll go from there.” Flowers fully participated in practice this week after missing the team’s exhibition opener against the Cowboys with a leg injury. He appears on target to play. Verrett still is wearing a red jersey during practice as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery in March to repair a torn labrum. Flowers said he’s healthy, but the decision of whether or not he takes the field against Seattle will be up to the coaching staff.

• Defensive lineman Corey Liuget returned to the field after missing practice the past two days with an ankle injury. Liuget’s availability for Friday’s game is uncertain. Fellow defensive linemen Lawrence Guy (shoulder) and Damik Scafe (unknown) did not practice, along with receiver Vincent Brown (calf) and edge rusher Dwight Freeney (rest). Those four likely will not play against Seattle. Offensive lineman Jeromey Clary still is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

• McCoy talked about the importance of Verrett getting some reps in a preseason game before playing in the team’s regular-season opener at Arizona on Sept. 8. Verrett continues to wear a red jersey in practice, which limits how much contact he can participate in as his surgically repaired shoulder heals. At some point McCoy has to let Verrett see what he can do in a live game, but that likely won’t happen this week in Seattle. “You’d love to see him play in a full-speed environment to where he has to make the adjustment on the run,” McCoy said. However, McCoy said he doesn’t know how many live reps it will take to get Verrett up to speed for the regular season. “I can’t put a number on that honestly,” McCoy said. “He’s getting a ton of reps out here in practice. But there’s nothing like real reps in a game.”

• Up next: The Chargers travel to Seattle on Thursday and face the Seahawks on Friday, 10 p.m. ET at CenturyLink Field.
Examining the San Diego Chargers' roster:


Brad Sorensen had a solid outing in San Diego's first preseason game, but I still think the Chargers keep two quarterbacks on the active roster so they can add more depth at other positions.


Oliver is playing his way onto the 53-man roster, but Kerwynn Williams and Marion Grice remain in the conversation.


Javontee Herndon, Tevin Reese and Torrence Allen are practice squad candidates at this point. Brown is still solidly on the roster, but needs to get healthy.


Nothing changes here, with Johnson also serving as San Diego's fullback.


Troutman had a good week of practice and a solid performance in the exhibition game. Troutman could have played himself off of the bubble.


Scafe replaces Lawrence Guy, who could be out for an extended period with a shoulder injury. Undrafted rookie free agent Tenny Palepoi also played his way into the conversation of making the 53-man roster with a solid performance in the exhibition game.


No changes here, although Thomas Keiser showed that he can still be an impact player as an edge rusher.


Undrafted rookie free agent Chris Davis could get more of a look here if others continue to struggle.


The Chargers could use more quality depth here.


Novak appears to have built more leg strength during the offseason.
SAN DIEGO -- Looking a little sheepish, running back Branden Oliver walked up to legendary San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson after practice on Monday.

With Tomlinson at practice working for the NFL Network, Oliver made sure to take advantage of the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the greatest running backs to ever play in the league.

“We just really talked about defenses,” Oliver said. “I wanted to know more about how he analyzed defenses. He told me he just watched a lot of film to see how those guys moved around, so he can know what’s about to happen before the play even begins.

“That meant a whole lot. He’s a Hall of Famer. Just to stoop down and give me some knowledge and wisdom, I thank God for that.”

Oliver put Tomlinson’s pointers to good use against the Cowboys, finishing with a game-high 64 yards on seven carries, including a 16-yard touchdown.

“I have to give all the glory to the guys that were blocking for me, honestly,” said Oliver of his touchdown run. “I didn’t have to do much, except stay vertical. The cornerback came at the last second, so it was like 2 yards before I hit the end zone, and I kept running my feet and I got in the end zone.”

Oliver had been one of the more impressive players for the Chargers during the first two weeks of training camp. And Oliver showed that he should be in the conversation for a spot on the final 53-man roster by the way he played on Thursday against the Cowboys.

“He’s a good running back,” Chargers tight end David Johnson said. “Everybody knows, the whole O-line knows that he’ll get loose when we’re out there. We just had everyone working together, and we were sewing everybody up. As a team, we blocked good on a lot of those runs, and all he had to do was run.”

An undrafted rookie free agent out of University at Buffalo, Oliver turned down a chance to sign with Indianapolis in order to join the Chargers soon after the draft. Oliver has been impressive in practice, showing elusiveness, power and the ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

But after Thursday’s performance, Oliver understands he still has a lot more work to do.

“I just have to keep taking it one day at a time and just keep God first,” Oliver said. “I know I am in the right place. I have to keep getting better each and every day. This is just only one game, and you can’t get complacent.

“So it’s more to come, and I’ve got a group of great veterans in the running back room that I’m going to keep learning from, and (running backs) coach Ollie Wilson. So it’s not the end of it.”

W2W4: San Diego Chargers

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
The San Diego Chargers (0-0) and the Dallas Cowboys (0-0) open the preseason Thursday night at
Qualcomm Stadium. The game starts at 10 p.m. ET.

Here are three things to keep an eye on during the game.

1. Rookie watch: First-round pick Jason Verrett likely will not play, as the Chargers take a cautious approach to his return from shoulder surgery in March. Third-round selection Chris Watt’s availability also is uncertain after sustaining what appeared to be a head or neck injury in Tuesday’s practice. Watt did not practice on Wednesday. But other rookies to watch for include edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, nose tackle Ryan Carrethers, running back Marion Grice and receiver Tevin Reese. Specifically, I’m interested to see how Attaochu rushes the passer against the Cowboys’ talented offensive line, and if the 165-pound Reese can make a couple big plays in the passing game and as a returner.

2. Can the defense make plays? One point of emphasis on defense during training camp has been creating turnovers. And defensive coordinator John Pagano’s group has done a good job of that during practice. Now, the Chargers need to take the next step and consistently get the ball out during games. A player to focus on is inside linebacker Manti Te'o. Coming off offseason foot surgery, the Notre Dame product has looked faster and more instinctive in practice. He needs to carry that effort over to the game. Lastly, the Chargers have to do a better job of getting after the quarterback. They face Brandon Weeden, not Tony Romo, on Thursday. In 20 starts, Weeden has thrown 26 interceptions and has been sacked 55 times. San Diego’s defense will have some opportunities to make plays against the Oklahoma State product.

3. Look crisp, stay healthy: We’ll likely see most of the starters for a series or two at the most. So it’s important for guys like Philip Rivers, Nick Hardwick, Malcom Floyd and Eric Weddle to make the most of their limited opportunities. San Diego’s starters want to get a few reps, look sharp and then get off the field so younger players can get a chance to show what they can do. Floyd will be playing for the first time since suffering a neck injury early last season, so the contest is a chance to take a couple hits and clear another mental hurdle that he’s healthy. Dwight Freeney, who’s returning from a torn quad injury, did not practice on Wednesday and likely will not play on Thursday. The most important thing for the Chargers is to make sure their core players leave the game without injury and on pace to start the regular season healthy.
SAN DIEGO -- Everything at Chargers Park is a little more efficient in the second season of coach Mike McCoy’s tenure with the San Diego Chargers.

Players have a better understanding of expectations, from the daily practice schedule to the type of precision and high-intensity effort expected in drill work from the demanding McCoy.

Players also know something else: The style and culture he created works. Last season, McCoy told veteran players that if they bought into his philosophy they could be consistent winners in Year 1 of his program. McCoy led the Chargers to a surprising playoff run.

With a couple of newcomers on both sides of the ball added to an already talented roster -- led by one of the best quarterbacks in football in Philip Rivers -- the Chargers believe they can compete with the Denver Broncos for an AFC West crown.

Of course, San Diego has to get through a month of preseason work with its core players healthy while building on the continuity and chemistry established during the backstretch of last season, when the Chargers won four straight to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

“We’ve just got to keep moving and keep grinding,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We’re striving to be great.”


1. For the most part, the Chargers have not suffered any significant injuries through the first two weeks of camp. The team’s projected starting right guard, Jeromey Clary, is on the active physically unable to perform list recovering from offseason shoulder and hip surgeries. Clary hopes to return for the team’s regular-season opener at Arizona, but he could begin the season on the reserve PUP list and miss the first six weeks. On the flip side, edge rusher Dwight Freeney has looked explosive and healthy returning from a torn quad that cut short his 2013 season, and he should provide a boost to a team that struggled getting after the quarterback last season.

[+] EnlargeDwight Freeney
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Chargers hope Dwight Freeney can help boost the team's sack total in 2014.
2. Defensively, the Chargers appear much faster than last season, particularly in the secondary. The return of a healthy Manti Te'o (foot) and Melvin Ingram (knee) helped improve the overall speed and athleticism at the second level of the defense, along with the addition of outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, a second-round pick. In the secondary, the Chargers are more athletic with the addition of first-round selection Jason Verrett, the signing of veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers and the return of last year’s fifth-round pick Steve Williams, who missed all of his rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle.

3. Rivers has more playmakers at his disposal, making San Diego’s offense even more potent in 2014. The unexpected return of Malcom Floyd from a serious neck injury gives the Chargers a receiver who can stretch the field vertically opposite Keenan Allen. Floyd has flashed sure hands and playmaking ability in training camp. The addition of Donald Brown should provide a boost to the run game, easing the workload of Ryan Mathews. Also, tight end Ladarius Green appears to have taken another step in his development after showing the ability to create big plays last season.


1. While San Diego has not suffered any significant injuries, two of the team’s top three corners (Verrett and Flowers) are not expected to play Thursday against Dallas. Verrett has been wearing a red jersey in practice, a sign that he is not fully recovered from March surgery to repair a torn labrum. And Flowers is resting an undisclosed injury, although he played last season for Kansas City with a balky knee most of the year. If those injuries continue to linger, it will affect what the Chargers can do defensively during the regular season.

2. Along with defensive back, the Chargers also have some concerns with depth and experience along the offensive line. Rookie Chris Watt is the projected starting right guard with Clary out. Although the third-round selection out of Notre Dame has looked solid in training camp, Watt still has not played a meaningful snap in a regular-season game. The Chargers also have question marks behind left tackle King Dunlap and right tackle D.J. Fluker. Mike Harris was solid when called upon last season, starting in two games at left tackle. However, he finished the 2013 season on injured reserve with an ankle injury and has yet to test the issue in a game.

[+] Enlarge Ryan Mathews
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRyan Mathews rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards last season.
3. The Chargers' projected starter at nose tackle is Sean Lissemore, a versatile performer who played 208 snaps last season. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, Lissemore is not a typical run-stuffing nose tackle in a 3-4 defensive front. Lissemore’s backup is Kwame Geathers, who played all of 27 snaps as a rookie last season. Both are expected to anchor a San Diego defense that gave up an average of 4.6 rushing yards per attempt last season, 27th in the NFL. Run-first teams Seattle and Buffalo are among the Chargers' September opponents, so the middle of the defense will be tested early.


  • A point of emphasis for the Chargers during training camp has been creating more turnovers. San Diego finished with just 17 turnovers in 2013, third worst in the NFL. However, the Chargers forced six turnovers during the postseason, second only to the Seattle Seahawks. Weddle has two interceptions for touchdowns during training camp, and middle linebacker Donald Butler returned an interception for a score during a controlled scrimmage at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers are focused not only on creating more turnovers but also taking them back for touchdowns.
  • At an average of 6-6 and 322 pounds, San Diego has one of the beefiest offensive lines in the NFL. So it’s no wonder the Chargers were so effective clearing rushing lanes for Mathews last season. Mathews finished with a career-high 1,255 rushing yards last season. The goal for the offensive line is to create a similar mindset so the team can run against anyone in 2014. “Last year we started off coming out every day and being consistent and working together,” guard Chad Rinehart said. “We need to get back to that point. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like we’re there right now. But each day we’ve shown a little bit of improvement going into the season.”
  • Don’t expect much change from a scheme standpoint in San Diego’s offense with Frank Reich taking over as offensive coordinator. Reich worked as the team’s quarterbacks coach under Ken Whisenhunt, who left to become the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. Reich and Rivers have a good relationship. Reich will lean on the veteran quarterback even more to run the no-huddle offense and call plays at the line of scrimmage. But the team’s core philosophy of running the ball and leaning on the short passing game remains the same.
  • While Green will be featured more in the offense, veteran Antonio Gates will remain the most targeted tight end on San Diego’s roster. Gates has been the most targeted receiver for the Chargers two of the last three seasons. While NFL observers believe he has lost a step, the 34-year-old Gates can still beat one-on-one coverage in the middle of the field, particularly in the red zone.
  • One player to watch for during preseason play is undrafted rookie free-agent cornerback Chris Davis. The star of the Iron Bowl for Auburn last season with his return of a missed field goal for the winning score against Alabama, Davis has made handful of interceptions and pass breakups during camp. At 5-10 and 201 pounds, Davis is built more like a running back, but he has shown an ability to play physically and keep up with speedy receivers on vertical routes.
SAN DIEGO -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of San Diego Chargers training camp:

If you’re looking for clarity on what players will sit out and what approach the Chargers will take in the team’s exhibition opener against Dallas, you needn’t read any further.
  • Chargers head coach Mike McCoy was not in a sharing mood, regarding which players he will rest or sit due to injuries on Thursday. “There’s certain things we want to get accomplished out of every group,” McCoy said. “And once we see that, we’ll make the change accordingly. It could change one series to another.”

    McCoy would not provide an update on injured players, pointing to the league requirement that teams do not have to provide an injury report on players until the first week of the regular season.

    McCoy traditionally avoided comment specifically on injured players last season because he does not want to provide any information he does not have to for his team’s opponent.

    Of course, we’re talking about a preseason opener in which neither team schemes for an opponent, and the starters likely will only play a handful of snaps.

    “As you know, we don’t have to comment on injuries at this time of the year,” McCoy said. “So, you know me -- I don’t say a whole lot about injuries. We’re looking forward to do the best we can tomorrow night. And when we have to report injuries, we will.”
  • With McCoy not talking, we’ll have to go with what reporters observed during San Diego’s 90-minute practice.

    After nine straight practices in full pads, the players wore just helmets and jerseys on Wednesday. Rookie offensive lineman Chris Watt, who appeared to suffer a head or neck injury on Tuesday, did not practice, making his availability uncertain for Thursday. Johnnie Troutman replaced Watt at right guard with the starters.

    Center Rich Ohrnberger also did not practice for a second straight day. Others who did not practice include outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, cornerback Brandon Flowers and Marcus Cromartie and receiver Vincent Brown. I would be surprised if any of those guys played on Thursday.

    Cornerback Jason Verrett wore a red jersey again in practice, and is unlikely to play on Thursday. Defensive lineman Corey Liuget (foot) had a helmet but did not work with the starters during team drills. Damik Scafe took his place. Offensive lineman Jeromey Clary remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
  • Up next: The Chargers face the Dallas Cowboys at Qualcomm Stadium in the exhibition opener for both teams at 10 p.m. ET
SAN DIEGO – Taking a cautious approach to football is not in Jason Verrett’s nature. The TCU product developed into a first-round selection for the San Diego Chargers because of the aggressive way he plays the cornerback position in college, making plays all over the field.

But Chargers coach Mike McCoy asked his standout rookie cornerback to wear a red jersey in practice, a signal that a torn labrum in his shoulder has not fully healed after having surgery to repair the issue in March.

[+] EnlargeJason Verrett
AP Photo/Gregory BullFirst-round pick Jason Verrett might not be a go for the preseason opener against Dallas.
“I’m a competitor,” Verrett said. “I feel like they’re putting the red jersey on me for a reason, but that’s not going to stop me from trying to make plays.”

In essence, McCoy is protecting Verrett from himself, asking the TCU product to dial back the tenacity while still getting reps out on the field in order to learn the defense.

“You have to get the reps,” McCoy said. “You’ve got to play the game. And you’ve got to understand what to do. It’s easy to do on a piece of paper. That easy, when you’re sitting in a chair in a nice, cool room and looking at pictures and watching film -- it’s easy to talk through that stuff.

“But then when it’s happening at game speed and you’re flying around, and Philip [Rivers] is changing plays and the formations have changed … You’ve got to do that on the run. You’ve got to that on the fly. And you don’t have a lot of time to react”

McCoy would not say if Verrett would play on Thursday in San Diego’s exhibition opener against Dallas, but it seems unlikely the Chargers would want to trot him out if he’s not fully healthy. For the Chargers, the goal remains getting Verrett to the regular-season opener at Arizona on Sept. 8 fully healthy.

When Verrett has been allowed to participate in full-contact drills he has been as good as advertised. Verrett has shown quickness, fluidity in transitioning in and out of breaks and the ability to anticipate routes during 7-on-7 drills.

And he also has looked impressive during 1-on-1 drills, showing the ability to be physical in press coverage, along with displaying the catchup speed needed to reel in speedy receivers on vertical routes.

“Right now I don’t know where it stands as far as if I’m going to play,” Verrett said, when asked if he would play against Dallas on Thursday. “So my main focus is taking care of my body for the next few days. If I’m not healthy enough for it, then I’ll just get a lot of mental reps out there.”
Examining the San Diego Chargers' roster:

Quarterbacks (2)

After a rough start, Brad Sorensen played better in San Diego's controlled scrimmage on Saturday. However, Clemens has the experience you need in a backup quarterback. We pick up roster spot here by trying to get Sorensen through waivers and onto the practice squad.

Running backs (4)

Kerwynn Williams and Branden Oliver remain in the hunt for the final spot, if the Chargers keep four running backs. Fullback Zach Boren has looked solid as a run blocker.

Receivers (6)

Seyi Ajirotutu will be hard to keep off the roster because of his ability to play special teams, but Herndon has consistently created explosive plays on the perimeter. Tevin Reese and Torrence Allen remain in the mix.

Tight ends (4)

I still think it makes sense to keep four tight ends because of how much San Diego will use two tight end sets during the regular season.

Offensive linemen (9)

I'm interested to see if Jeromey Clary, still on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, can make it to the field in the next couple weeks.

Defensive linemen (6)

Damik Scafe remains on the conversation as a player that could make the final roster because of his versatility.

Linebackers (10)
Thomas Keiser has been more consistent rushing the passer this week. Cordarro Law also has shown glimpses of being able to effectively rush the passer. This position is muddled right now, but should become more clear with exhibition games.

Cornerbacks (5)

Undrafted rookie free agent Chris Davis continues to make plays every practice. Crezdon Butler also had a good week, and remains in the mix.

Safeties (4)

The improved play of Addae and Gilchrist gives San Diego much-needed depth at the safety position.

Specialists (3)

No changes here. All three remain solidly on the roster.
Bill Leavy’s NFL officiating crew attended the San Diego Chargers' practice this week, speaking to players, coaches and the media about the new rule changes for the upcoming season.

You can see the same video the players watched on the rule changes by clicking here.

[+] EnlargeMike McCoy
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziChargers coach Mike McCoy was happy to welcome Bill Leavy's officiating crew to practice this past week to get a sense for the new rule changes.
Leavy’s officiating crew worked a couple practices and Saturday’s scrimmage this week in San Diego, so Chargers head coach Mike McCoy had some opportunities to see the new rules in action before Thursday’s exhibition opener against Dallas.

“It’s great to have them here because that’s the way the game is going to be called,” McCoy said. “We don’t stop periods in practice for sacks and certain things because we can see that.

“We teach our players to run by the quarterback in practice so we don’t hit his arm. But they’re trained to blow the whistle the way it’s going to be in a game, so it’s good for the players to see that.”

The following are a couple of the most significant rule changes and how they will affect the Chargers and other teams this season:

Look for more defensive holding calls: Leavy said he felt the most impactful rule change will be the calling of illegal contact and defensive holding.

According to the new rules, defenders cannot initiate contact with receivers after 5 yards downfield when the quarterback is in the pocket with the ball.

Leavy told us that NFL brass does not want jersey pulls and tugs from defensive players on offensive players. So if referees see jersey pulls, they are supposed to call it. Leavy said referees used to factor in whether or not the jersey pull impeded the receiver. But now officials cannot factor that into whether or not they will throw a flag.

As a result, expect to see a lot more defensive holding and illegal contact calls during preseason play. Defensive holding is a 5-yard penalty and automatic first down. Illegal contact also is a 5-yard penalty and automatic first down.

Officials also have been told to watch receivers pushing off at the top of the route to gain advantage. That call will result in offensive pass interference, a 10-yard penalty.

Mike Pereira, former vice president of officiating for the NFL and now a rules analyst for Fox Sports, said via Twitter that the last time the league had this rule as a point of emphasis in 2004, the number of illegal contact fouls went from 79 to 191.

The new rules should affect aggressive defenses like Seattle and Kansas City that play a lot of press coverage. But it also can have an impact on veteran cornerbacks like Brandon Flowers and Richard Marshall, who both use physicality to redirect receivers during the route.

Watch out for hands to the face: A rule clarification states that in close line play, illegal use of the hands to the face will be called if direct and forcible contact is made to the head, neck or face of an opponent, regardless of whether it pins the head back or is prolonged.

Hands to the face by a defensive player will be a 5-yard penalty with an automatic first down. Hands to the face by an offensive player will be a 10-yard penalty and repeat the down.

“The hand to the face does not have to be prolonged, and it does not have to pin the head back,” Leavy said. “If we see force and it moves the head, even they take it off it, they want that to be a foul.”

The new rule could affect taller linemen who have a higher strike zone target when they go to initiate a block, although I talked to 6-foot-6, 335-pound Chargers defensive tackle Kwame Geathers about the new rule and he said he’s never had a problem with it in the past.

No more dunking the football: Basically, the new rule prohibits players from using objects on the field as a prop in part of their end-zone celebrations. So players cannot dunk or shoot the football over the crossbar.

They also cannot pretend to putt the football with a pylon or use the ball as a prop in any other manner. Players can still spike the football and dance individually after a score, but no choreographed dancing between more than one player, and more than one player cannot jump into the stands, like the Lambeau Leap.

Recovery of a loose ball in the field of play: Recovery of a loose ball is reviewable anywhere on the field of play and includes fumbles, backward passes and kicks. In the past, the play was only reviewable in the end zone or on the sideline.

Basically, this is the NaVorro Bowman rule. The San Francisco middle linebacker recovered a fumble by Jermaine Kearse during the NFC Championship game last season but had the ball taken from him on the ground by Marshawn Lynch after he injured his knee in a pile-up.
SAN DIEGO -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of San Diego Chargers training camp:
  • About 18,000 people attended the Chargers’ annual FanFest at Qualcomm Stadium, nearly double the amount of folks who attended the event last season. Even an unusual summer drizzle did not deter fans from showing up and cheering on favorite players such as Eric Weddle, Philip Rivers, Donald Butler and Malcom Floyd. San Diego coach Mike McCoy was pleased with the turnout. “The fans did a great job that last month of the season, playing at home and finishing the season the way we did,” McCoy said. “So there’s reason to be excited. Now we have to go out there and execute as a football team, give them a reason to come out here on Sundays and be a loud crowd. That’s what we need.” Floyd also noted that the festive crowd signals something else – high expectations for the 2014 season after the Chargers reached the playoffs last year. “We’ve got a lot of older veterans who love that chip on their shoulder,” Floyd said. “I want to get there (the Super Bowl) for Philip and (Antonio) Gates. They definitely need one before we leave. So why not go all out.”
  • Speaking of Floyd, he was one of the stars of San Diego’s controlled scrimmage, scoring a touchdown on a skinny post and making a couple other nice grabs while working with the first-team offense. Floyd hadn’t played on the grass turf of Qualcomm Stadium since finishing with a one reception for 47 yards in a season-opening loss to Houston on Sept. 9, 2013. Floyd suffered a season-ending neck injury a week later at Philadelphia. Floyd said playing at Qualcomm is just another step in the process of ultimately returning to the field in a regular-season game. “Even though it’s been 11 straight years, it was good to be out here,” Floyd said. “It was good to be out here on this grass. It’s so fast, and it felt so good. “I’ve been practicing since April, but this is just another step. I feel good. I pretty much feel better than ever. But this is just another step to get to where we need to go.”
  • Most of the veterans who sat out on Friday for a rest day returned to the field on Saturday, except for center Nick Hardwick. Cornerback Brandon Flowers also sat out a third straight day. Defensive lineman Corey Liuget watched practice for a second straight day with a walking boot on his right foot. Receiver Vincent Brown and cornerback Marcus Cromartie remain out as well. Guard Jeromey Clary remains on the physically unable to perform list. Jason Verrett wore a red jersey for a second straight day, but fully participated in the scrimmage.
  • Defensively, the Chargers continued to create turnovers, including an interception returned for a score by Butler, and an interception by Reggie Walker. “Without a doubt that’s the key,” McCoy said. “We want to fly around on defense and get to the ball, and create some turnovers.” Offensively, Keenan Allen played well during the two-minute drill, making a couple sure-handed catches. Young receivers Dontrelle Inman and Javontee Herndon also made their presences felt. Inman scored a touchdown on a slant route, and Herndon hauled in a nice grab on a deep ball. Rookie running back Marion Grice showed some elusiveness running between the tackles.
  • Up next: The Chargers have Sunday off, but return to the practice field on Monday at 5:50 p.m. ET. The practice is open to the public.
SAN DIEGO -- An undrafted rookie free agent last year out of Georgia, Kwame Geathers spent the 2013 season on the San Diego Chargers' active roster but rarely played.

[+] EnlargeKwame Geathers
Lenny Ignelzi/AP PhotoDefensive lineman Kwame Geathers says he's worked hard in the offseason to prepare for his second season with the Chargers.
In 16 games, Geathers played a total of 27 snaps, finishing with a combined four tackles. Although he did not play a lot, Geathers said he learned through practice and watching others at his position of nose tackle on the field.

Now, it's time to put those observations to good use. Geathers has been working as San Diego's No. 2 nose tackle in training camp behind Sean Lissemore, and ahead of this year's fifth-round draft selection Ryan Carrethers.

"It's the second year in, so I feel more comfortable out there," Geathers said. "I've been able to learn a lot watching guys like Lissemore and Cam (Thomas) who left. And just going out in practice every day and giving the offense a look. I worked on the little things like pad level, footwork and hand placement. And those are the biggest things I need to continue to work on every day."

Chargers head coach Mike McCoy, who likes Geathers' size at 6-6 and 335 pounds, says the key for the tall tackle is playing at a lower pad level and not getting too high coming out of his stance.

"When you see him play, when he stands up it's tough for him to play," McCoy said. "But when he keeps his pad level down, he's tough to block. So that's something that Don's (Defensive line coach Don Johnson) on him every day. John Pagano obviously is on him to keep his low pad level, and do what he does best."

Family lineage also played a large role in Geathers' development. His father, Robert Geathers Sr., played at South Carolina State and was selected in the third round of the 1981 draft by the Buffalo Bills. His uncle, James "Jumpy" Geathers, played 13 years in the NFL with New Orleans, Washington, Atlanta and Denver.

Geathers' older brother Robert Geathers currently plays for the Cincinnati Bengals as a defensive end.

"It helps a little bit, being able to go home and know you're going to get some football out of it, too," Geathers said. "They're going to talk about it and tell you what you need to do. And just hearing it over and over, hopefully it will stick with you."

Geathers said he understands that he has to make the most of the reps he's getting during training camp, and make it happen once the preseason starts in order to win a roster spot and consistent playing time.

"It's very important," he said. "When you get your opportunity, you have to take advantage of it. You can't look back because there's always the next man up. So you have to go fight for it every day."
SAN DIEGO -- Middle linebacker Manti Te'o hauled in an interception in the flat during team drills Wednesday and was inches from making a similar play Thursday.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Tony Avelar/AP PhotoManti Te'o's play improved in the second half of his rookie season, and he's working on carrying over that comfort level.
Known for taking the ball away from the offense during his time at Notre Dame, Te'o is getting back to that mindset during the San Diego Chargers' first week of training camp.

Teammate Eric Weddle said those two plays are prime examples of impact plays that Te'o did not have the experience to make in his rookie season, and the reason more is expected from him in 2014.

"Those two plays he would have never done last year, just because he didn't know any better, for one,” Weddle said. "Two, he's letting his instincts take over and his feel of the game. He understands what his role is, and it's awesome to watch.”

Te'o said the learning experience and reps gained his rookie season helped him play faster during training camp. He also said he's fully healthy after offseason surgery to fix a fractured foot that slowed him down his rookie season.

And finally, Te'o worked on sculpting his body and leaning down his 6-1 frame to 235 from 240 pounds, the weight he played at during a standout final season at Notre Dame. Te'o said during his rookie season he hovered around 245 pounds.

"It goes back to my senior year in college,” Te'o said. "When I was leaner, I was able to make sure that reaction time when my mind told my body to move was less. And so my body being in good shape, I'm able to react and move when I want to. So when my eyes see something and I want to break on it, I'm able to do that.”

Weddle has noticed the difference.

"He's light years ahead of last year,” the veteran safety said. "Obviously, it's hard to come in as a rookie and play the way you expect to play. You're thinking so much and you're trying to adjust. It's a different animal. The NFL is no joke.

"You live and learn, and you learn from the good times and the bad times. But with Manti it's never about his work ethic. It's never about him being coachable. It's just about him feeling comfortable.”

Te'o missed most of exhibition play and the first three regular-season games of his rookie season with what was initially reported as a sprained foot. Te'o returned against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 and was immediately placed in the starting lineup.

He showed rust in the first four games, but his overall play improved the second half of the season. Te'o was fifth on the team last year with 61 combined tackles but finished without a sack, interception or forced fumble in his rookie season.

Te'o led Notre Dame with 113 tackles and seven interceptions his final college season, finishing runner-up to Johnny Manziel in voting for the 2012 Heisman Trophy.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy believes that Te'o can become that type of playmaker again with consistent work at the NFL level.

"He did a nice job last year, but there were times when he played a little slow -- and he'd tell you that from watching the film after the season was over,” McCoy said. "Now he understands the scheme a lot better than he did last year, because he's played. He's definitely playing faster this year, which is what you would expect.”

Te'o says that comfort and experience should lead to a better production in his second season.

"It's all about knowing where I got to be and why I got to be there,” Te'o said. "Knowing how the offense is trying to attack us as a defense, and knowing the different places I got to be at. It's definitely good.”
SAN DIEGO -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of San Diego Chargers training camp:

" Antonio Gates showed he can still make it happen in the middle of the field. The 33-year-old tight end twice beat the first-team defense for big gains during team drills, using soft hands to make an impressive catch against safety Jahleel Addae on a crossing route.

Later during practice, Gates beat Jarret Johnson and Eric Weddle down the sideline for a touchdown. Gates, who did not work at all during the offseason, has looked in shape and explosive through the first week of training camp.

" On the injury front, receiver Vincent Brown missed his fifth straight practice because of a calf injury, and he wore a walking boot on his right foot during practice.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy did not provide an update on the injury, other than saying that Brown would be back in uniform when he’s healthy.

“He has the same diagnosis that he has when he first injured it,” McCoy said. “And he’ll be out there when he’s ready to go.”

Cornerbacks Marcus Cromartie and Brandon Flowers also did not practice. Offensive lineman Jeromey Clary remains on the active, physically unable to perform list.

McCoy said Flowers just had a rest day on Thursday.

Defensive lineman Corey Liuget tweaked his right ankle during one-on-one pass-rush drills, but had it retaped by a trainer and returned to the field. Center Nick Hardwick suffered what appeared to be an elbow injury and did not finish practice.

“I made the decision after he got dinged there to hold him out the rest of the practice,” McCoy said about his starting center. “He wanted to go back in, but we held him out.”

Also, for a second straight day, rookie cornerback Jason Verrett was limited to individual drills. Verrett ran sprints at the end of practice.

" Undrafted rookie free agent cornerback Greg Ducre made a nice interception on an out route intended for receiver Torrence Allen thrown by Brad Sorensen. The former University of Washington player also had a nice pass breakup during team drills later in practice.

Another rookie who continues to make his mark is second-round selection Jeremiah Attaochu, who had back-to-back sacks working with the second unit during team drills.

" Up next: The Chargers practice at 5:50 p.m. ET on Friday in a practice at Chargers Park that is closed to the public. The Chargers hold their annual FanFest on Saturday at Qualcomm Stadium. Doors open at 12:45 p.m. ET.