AFC West: Brandon Taylor

Chargers bounce back well

August, 25, 2013
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Random thoughts on the San Diego Chargers’ 24-7 win at Arizona on Saturday night:
  • The Chargers bounced back and played a strong game in the most important one of the preseason. San Diego was sloppy last week in Chicago. But Mike McCoy’s team showed nice improvement at Arizona.
  • Quarterback Philip Rivers’ numbers were not great. He was 10-of-18 passing for 71 yards and he was intercepted once. But the Chargers moved the ball well under Rivers’ guidance.
  • Running back Ryan Mathews continued his strong preseason as he had 57 yards on 14 carries. Mathews did fumble (the Chargers ended up scoring on the play) once. He needs to fix that part of his game.
  • San Diego’s offensive line appeared to be much improved from the Chicago game. Arizona had just one sack. That is a positive development. Rivers needs protection.
  • San Diego was strong defensively. Defensive end Dwight Freeney was very active. At 33, he has shown this preseason that he still has something left in the tank.
  • After being awful on special teams in the first two preseason games, San Diego was better Saturday. They blocked a punt and a field goal.
  • Second-year tight end Ladarius Green had a 57-yard catch. He continued to show he may be ready to be a contributor this season.
  • Second-year safety Brandon Taylor had five tackles and looked good. It was his first action since tearing his ACL late last season. The team has high hopes for him.

Evening AFC West notes

August, 21, 2013
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Oakland rookie running back Latavius Murray had minor ankle surgery Tuesday. His timetable to return is unclear.
  • San Diego gave quarterback Philip Rivers his first rest day of camp Wednesday. Safety Brandon Taylor and running back Danny Woodhead are on pace to play Saturday at Arizona for the first time this preseason.
  • Oakland defensive tackle Vance Walker will play against Chicago on Friday. Defensive tackle Pat Sims and offensive tackle Menelik Watson, who like Walker returned to work this week, won’t play in the game. Safety Tyvon Branch has been out this week with a ribs injury and he likely won’t play Friday.
  • Oakland coach Dennis Allen said Alex Barron is expected to start. Barron, for now, is Oakland’s left tackle with Jared Veldheer out for about three months with a triceps injury. Barron did not play well last week in New Orleans.
  • Free-agent offensive lineman Jason Spitz reportedly visited the Raiders this week. If signed, it’d be for depth purposes.

Evening AFC West notes

August, 5, 2013
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Oakland rookie cornerback D.J. Hayden suffered a minor hamstring injury. He was not going to play in Friday’s preseason opener against Dallas, anyway. He has yet to be cleared for contact because of his recovery from a life-threatening heart surgery last November. Oakland coach Dennis Allen has said Hayden, the No. 12 overall pick in the April draft, will play in the preseason.
  • San Diego safety Brandon Taylor took another step in his recovery from a torn ACL. He was practicing in team drills Monday. He was working in individual drills last week.
  • Oakland guards Mike Brisiel and Lucas Nix returned to practice. Nix was working some with the first team Monday. He is fighting 2012 third-round pick Tony Bergstrom for the starting job.
  • The Chargers signed linebacker Jerrell Harris. He was on three different practice squads last season, including in Oakland. He is an Alabama product. He’s a longshot to make the roster.
Wednesday was a day in the AFC West for longtime standouts to reunite with familiar numbers.

One went smoothly. The other, not so much.

Woodson
Earlier Wednesday, the San Diego Chargers announced new pass-rusher Dwight Freeney will wear No. 93. He wore that number in Indianapolis. Later Wednesday, new Oakland cornerback Tracy Porter tweeted this: “Well you Raiders fans…your guy has 24. It was TAKEN from me and given to him. #congrats …..too funny how this biz works.

Porter then tweeted this shortly later: Not mad at all...it's just the principle and the way it was handled.....said my piece, now back to football.

This all means Charles Woodson is getting No. 24 back. He wore it in Oakland from 1998-2005. He came back to the Raiders this spring after spending the past seven years in Green Bay. Porter signed earlier in the spring and took No. 24. Porter was vague with reporters after Woodson signed about whether he’d give up the number.

From what I gather, Porter reported to camp Wednesday and was told the number was given to Woodson. For now, Porter is going to be No. 31. At last check, the changes were not made on the Raiders’ roster page on their website.

Do I think this will create problems? No. Porter will get over it and everyone will move on. But for today, at least, there is some sizzle there. In retrospect, Porter probably should have sold the number to Woodson months ago. At least he would have gotten more than a surprise out of losing the digits.

In other AFC West notes:

In addition to placing pass-rusher Melvin Ingram on the physically unable to perform list, the Chargers placed safety Brandon Taylor on it. He tore his ACL late last season.

Tennessee signed former San Diego running back Jackie Battle. He had 311 yards on 95 carries last season. The new San Diego regime was not interested in bringing him back.
Our AFC West 2013 positional rankings series marches on with a deep, strong group of defensive backs:

1. Eric Weddle, San Diego: He is everything you want in a safety. He is a complete player.

2. Eric Berry, Kansas City: With extended health, the sky is the limit for this special player.

3. Champ Bailey, Denver: He is 35, but he still is a high-impact player.

4. Brandon Flowers, Kansas City: Coaches and scouts around the league rave about this player.

5. Sean Smith, Kansas City: Big, athletic player should thrive in Kansas City.

6. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Denver: Playing opposite Bailey should benefit this talent.

7. Tyvon Branch, Oakland: Having Charles Woodson on his side should take pressure off this solid player.

8. Dunta Robinson, Kansas City: Robinson’s versatility will help the Chiefs.

9. Derek Cox, San Diego: A solid player who was badly needed.

10. Charles Woodson, Oakland: He still has something left in the tank.

11. D.J. Hayden, Oakland: If his heart issues are behind him, he has a chance to make a big difference.

12. Chris Harris, Denver: A tremendous nickel cornerback.

13. Kendrick Lewis, Kansas City: A steady performer to assist Berry.

14. Rahim Moore, Denver: Everyone remembers the horrible playoff gaffe. But he has ability.

15. Mike Jenkins, Oakland: He should help Oakland’s secondary.

16. Quentin Jammer, Denver: The Broncos have a plan for him at safety.

17. Mike Adams, Denver: He always gives a high-effort.

18. Tony Carter, Denver: Backup cornerback has big-play ability.

19. Tracy Porter, Oakland: Raiders hoping for a bounce back season from former Bronco.

20. David Bruton, Denver: Special teams ace will get a chance to play more on defense.

21. Darrell Stuckey, San Diego: Ditto.

22. Shareece Wright, San Diego: Inexperienced player who get a chance to start.

23. Brandon Taylor, San Diego: He has ability, but is coming off a torn ACL

24. Phillip Adams, Oakland: He played well at times last season.

25. Marcus Gilchrist, San Diego: Versatile player will get a chance to play.

26. Brandian Ross, Oakland: He showed some nice flashes last year.

27. Joselio Hanson, Oakland: He is decent injury insurance.

28. Sanders Commings, Kansas City: Rookie showed flashes in the offseason.

29. Husain Abdullah, Kansas City: He took year off last year for personal reasons. He has starting experience.
NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

How does each AFC West team look in the secondary, and what still needs to be done?

Denver Broncos: The Broncos are set in the secondary. Denver added key pieces throughout the roster as it tries to make a Super Bowl run. It signed Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie -- who joins a strong group of cornerbacks -- and former San Diego standout Quentin Jammer, who will be moved from corner to safety and play sort of a roaming role. Denver believes Champ Bailey, who turns 35 on Saturday, can still play at a high level. Helping Bailey and Rodgers-Cromartie are the underrated Chris Harris and Tony Carter. The team also has third-round pick Kayvon Webster and 2012 fourth-round pick Omar Bolden. That’s a pretty deep group. Right now, the starting safeties are Rahim Moore and Mike Adams. But in addition to Jammer, Denver has David Bruton, who was getting first-team work in the offseason, and Quinton Carter. As with the cornerbacks, this is a deep group. Overall, the entire unit gives Denver great flexibility for different packages and in case of injury.

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs boast one of the best secondaries in the NFL. It starts with the cornerbacks, who form arguably the top unit in the league. The new Chiefs regime went to work in free agency, adding Dunta Robinson and Sean Smith, two of the better cornerbacks available. Combine Robinson and Smith with incumbent Brandon Flowers -- known around the scouting community as one of the NFL's better corners -- and it’s a powerful group. Expect all three to be on the field often. The Chiefs aren’t too shabby at safety, either. They have Eric Berry, one of the best in the game, who came on strong at the end of last season after missing virtually all of 2011 with a torn ACL. Kendrick Lewis is injury-prone but solid; any team where a player like Lewis is the weak link in the secondary is in pretty nice shape. The Chiefs also expect fifth-round pick Sanders Commings to play a big role, likely at safety.

Oakland Raiders: Last season, Oakland had perhaps the worst secondary situation in the NFL, especially at cornerback. That is no longer the case: The rebuilding Raiders are significantly better there in 2013. Oakland added Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter via free agency and D.J. Hayden with the No. 12 overall pick in the draft; they figure to be the Raiders' top three cornerbacks, with Hayden and Jenkins the starters. Hayden, though, must show he can stay healthy after a life-threatening heart surgery last November. He missed the past few weeks of the offseason program after undergoing a procedure to repair scar tissue in his stomach, a side effect of the heart surgery. The team expects him back for training camp in late July. Jenkins and Porter fell out of favor in recent seasons and are not upper-level cornerbacks -- but they are professionals and will help. The safeties have a chance to be strong. Tyvon Branch is a very solid player, and Oakland’s shining moment of the offseason was when it brought back Charles Woodson. Yes, he turns 37 in October, but he can still help this team. This unit may not be elite, but it will be competitive and not hamper Oakland’s defense.

San Diego Chargers: This is probably the thinnest group in the AFC West -- but it is top-heavy. Safety Eric Weddle is an elite player and a tremendous anchor for this unit. San Diego let 2012 starters Jammer and Antoine Cason walk via free agency without a fight -- but did a nice job in bringing aboard former Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox, a scout favorite. Young Shareece Wright has a chance to start at the other cornerback spot. Opposite Weddle could be 2012 third-round pick Brandon Taylor, if he recovers from a torn ACL, or Darrell Stuckey. Marcus Gilchrist could also be in the mix. This unit has a chance to be competitive as the season goes on and has some interesting youth. For now, though, there are probably more questions about it than any of the division's other secondaries.
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid is collecting quite the stash off offensive know-how.

Reid hired Pistol offensive innovator Chris Ault as a consultant Monday. The former Nevada coach is well respected in the coaching community. He was Colin Kaepernick’s college coach.

Now, he will work with Alex Smith. Kaepernick is the reason why Smith is no longer in San Francisco.

Don’t get this wrong -- Ault’s presence doesn’t necessarily mean the Chiefs will run the Pistol all the time. After all, Smith is not a great fit for that particular scheme.

It just means Reid, known as one of the best offensive-minded coaches in the NFL, wants to get his team up to speed on the Pistol offense. Several teams are using it with success. I think Ault is being brought in to get the defense up to speed on stopping the Pistol as much as he is to help out the offense.

Earlier in the offseason, Reid hired former Vikings head coach Brad Childress and gave him the title of Spread Game Analyst/Special Projects. Childress was Reid’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia.

These are smart moves from Reid. He is getting his team caught up in today’s NFL, including getting his teams prepared for everything on both sides of the ball. That’s good leadership.

In other AFC West notes:

As expected, the Chargers are moving Marcus Gilchrist from cornerback to strong safety. He was drafted as a cornerback but strong safety is considered his natural spot. He has a chance to start if Brandon Taylor is not ready to return from a torn ACL he suffered in Week 17. Shareece Wright has the inside track of starting opposite Derek Cox at cornerback.

The Chargers are planning to protect Manti Te’o as the polarizing rookie transitions to the NFL.
The San Diego Chargers continue to make cuts, as they have jettisoned safety Atari Bigby.

This move is not a big surprise. Bigby, who had 79 tackles last season, was not considered a top starter. The Chargers probably will be able to easily find a replacement. In-house candidates Darrell Stuckey and Brandon Taylor are possibilities. One potential replacement could be former Arizona safety Adrian Wilson, who was cut Friday. Former Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt is now on San Diego’s staff.

On Thursday, San Diego cut linebacker Takeo Spikes. The Chargers also will likely cut defensive tackle Antonio Garay and left tackle Jared Gaither.

As for free agency, don’t be surprised if the team shows interest in Colts cornerback Jerraud Powers. He was in Indianapolis with new San Diego general manager Tom Telesco. The team will let starting cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer test the market.
Standout Denver guard Chris Kuper and returner Trindon Holliday did not practice for the Broncos on Wednesday as the team prepares to play Kansas City this weekend with the possibility of a first-round bye at stake.

Kuper has missed the past three games with an ankle injury. Holliday suffered an ankle injury in Week 16. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Broncos try to get by this week with those two players on the bench in an attempt to get them completely healed for the playoffs.

In other AFC West news:
  • The Chargers made some more late-season roster moves. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (knee) and safety Brandon Taylor (knee) were put on injured reserve with one game to go. Franklin had a nice first season in San Diego. Taylor, a promising rookie, tore his ACL against the Jets. Cornerback Greg Gatson and safety Sean Cattouse were promoted from the practice squad to take their roster spots.
  • Defensive lineman Richard Seymour (hamstring), guard Mike Brisiel (concussion) and safety Tyvon Branch (foot) were among the Oakland players who didn’t practice Wednesday. Seymour has missed the past several games and there is no reason to believe he’ll play Sunday at San Diego unless he dramatically improves. Seymour is a free agent and he is not expected to return.
  • UPDATE: The Raiders indicated that Brisiel was limited in practice.
  • As expected, Brady Quinn will start against Denver. Ricky Stanzi was the third quarterback behind Quinn and Matt Cassel at practice Wednesday. Stanzi, a fifth-round pick in 2011, clearly has no support from the franchise or he’d get a chance to play Sunday. I’d say his chances of having a future in Kansas City are nil regardless of who is running the team in the future.
  • The Chiefs are being hit by the flu bug. Running back Jamaal Charles, linebacker Tamba Hali and tackle Donald Stephenson did not practice Wednesday because they are ill. Defensive end Tyson Jackson (toe) and tight end Tony Moeaki (head) also were among the Kansas City players who didn’t practice.
A melee in Cincinnati last Sunday cost five players a grand total of $131.250.

Four Oakland Raiders and one Cincinnati Bengal were fined $26,250 for participating in a wild fight late in the Bengals’ win. Oakland's Lamarr Houston, Tommy Kelly, Desmond Bryant and Matt Shaughnessy, and Cincinnati left tackle Andrew Whitworth were fined for their roles in the fight.

The fight started when Houston knocked down Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton after the whistle blew. Whitworth went after Houston, and the wild fight ensued. During the week, Withworth called several unnamed Raiders “cowards” for their role in the fight. He said it was between him and Houston.

In other AFC West news:

For Kansas City, safety Kendrick Lewis (shoulder) is doubtful, Ryan Lilja (knee), Branden Albert (back) and linebacker Tamba Hali (knee) are questionable to play against Carolina. Receiver Dexter McCluster (head) is probable.

As expected, San Diego linebacker Donald Butler (groin), receiver Eddie Royal (hamstring), and safety Darrell Stuckey (hamstring) are out Sunday. Because of the injuries, linebacker Jonas Mouton and safety Brandon Taylor are expected to make their NFL debuts Sunday against Cincinnati. Also, linebacker Jarret Johnson (back) is questionable.

For Oakland, running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson have high ankle sprains that kept them out of the past three games and are questionable to play Sunday against Cleveland. They will be game-time decisions. Meanwhile, No. 3 quarterback Terrelle Pryor is expected to be active, and he might play some Sunday. It will be interesting to see what kind of packages are prepared for Pryor.

If the Raiders, 3-8, keeping losing and Pryor looks good in a limited role, I could see him get a chance for more playing time later in the season.

For Denver, defensive end Robert Ayers is questionable to play against Tampa Bay. He has missed all week because he has been with his family after the death of his father.

Chargers safety Bigby on I.R.

November, 27, 2012
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UPDATE: The Chargers put Bigby on the injured reserve Tuesday. They re-signed linebacker Bront Bird. He just completed a four-game NFL suspension.

U-T San Diego reports Chargers starting safety Atari Bigby will miss 3-5 weeks with a groin injury he suffered Sunday. There are five weeks left in the season. Rookie Brandon Taylor is expected to play a lot during this time. This is a great opportunity for a player the Chargers hope becomes a starter soon.

Bigby was quality free-agent pickup this season. He has fit in on a solid defense and he is the second leading tackler on San Diego’s roster.

In other AFC West news:

The Eagles cut pass-rusher Jason Babin. He is a viable pass-rusher for a 4-3 defensive team. Oakland badly needs a pass-rusher. But, at 3-8, I’m not sure Oakland would find it important to claim him and take on his contract. Denver could use Babin off the bench to spark an already outstanding pass-rush and it could be interested as well.

The Chargers will likely have another local television blackout for Sunday’s game against Cincinnati. Last Sunday’s loss to Baltimore was blacked out as well. The Chargers need to sell about 12,000 tickets for a sellout.
I don’t think signing running back Jacob Hester will change the Denver Broncos' backfield, but it will provide options and depth.

Hester, 27, can help in short yardage situations, can get some inside yards and is a strong back-field blocker. At 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds Hester was a fullback for the San Diego Chargers, where he also excelled on special teams.

The Chargers drafted him in the third round in 2008 and he was a favorite of coaches and teammates for his work ethic. Hester was cut this summer.

Denver needed to add depth at running back because Willis McGahee McGahee tore the medical collateral ligament in his right knee. The injury will keep him out until the AFC title game if Denver makes it.

In other AFC West news:

Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen said Monday he hoping running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson (high ankle sprains) and defensive tackle Richard Seymour (knee/hamstring) could be back at practice this week as the team prepares to host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. All three players have missed three games.

U-T San Diego reports recent high draft picks, linebacker Jonas Mouton and safety Brandon Taylor, are expected to make their NFL debuts Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Chargers were banged up at the two positions after San Diego’s 16-13 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The paper reports the team is preparing to be without standout inside linebacker Donald Butler after he injured his groin Sunday.

Peyton Manning will not have to face Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Eric Wright Sunday since the Wright will be serving a four-game suspension for using a banned substance. But the Ravens are targeting the Week 15 game against Denver for a return for Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis from a torn triceps injury that was initially expected to end his season.

Denver defensive end Robert Ayers left the team temporarily to be with his family after the unexpected death of his father. He learned the news Saturday night at the team hotel in Kansas City. He played Sunday in the Broncos' win over the Chiefs.

Rookies snap up experience

October, 19, 2012
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The folks at ESPN Stats & Information have put together a great chart on rookie snap counts. Let’s look at some significant AFC West figures.

Total snaps by team

1. Denver Broncos: 513

2. Kansas City Chiefs: 499

3. San Diego Chargers: 326

4. Oakland Raiders: 298

What does it mean? The majority of Denver’s snaps come from second-round pick starting defensive end Derek Wolfe. Denver is getting some production from picks throughout the draft. Kansas City is getting good production from its top picks, nose tackle Dontari Poe and guard Jeff Allen, who has been a nice injury replacement. San Diego is getting solid work from top picks Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes. Expect third-string pick, safety Brandon Taylor, to potentially get some snaps in the coming weeks. Oakland, which had just five picks, is getting good snaps from linebacker Miles Burris. His playing time should only increase.

Top five individual pick snaps

1. Derek Wolfe, Denver, defensive end, second round 395

2. Jeff Allen, Kansas City, guard, second round, 269

3. Dontari Poe, Kansas City, defensive tackle, first round, 209

4. Miles Burris, Oakland, linebacker, fourth round,195

5. Kendall Reyes, San Diego, defensive lineman, second round, 174

What does it mean? What stands out is the production from picks spanning the second round on. All of these players were considered future projects, but they are all contributing now. Even though he was picked at No. 11, Poe was considered a project, so he too is also getting excellent early-career work.
The following are three things to watch for during the San Diego Chargers home game against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. The game will be telecast on ESPN. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.

1. Offensive line: This unit is vital to San Diego’s hopes. Injuries made a mess of the line last year, though it improved down the stretch. The 2011 season showed San Diego that it needed better depth on the line, and the team thinks that was accomplished during the offseason -- making this an important night for the entire unit.

2. Defense has to get off the field: A major point of emphasis during Chargers camp has been third-down defense. And for good reason: San Diego was the worst in the NFL on third down last season, allowing opposing offenses to score a first down on 49.2 percent of all third-down situations. That was the worst mark in the NFL in 16 years. We will see if the first two weeks of the John Pagano regime on defense have helped in this crucial area.

3. The rookies: The Chargers are thrilled about their rookie class, particularly first-round pick Melvin Ingram (pass-rusher), second-round pick Kendall Reyes (defensive end) and third-round pick Brandon Taylor (safety). The group has been terrific in camp; let’s see how the players react in a game environment. The team is counting on Ingram and Reyes to play a lot this season, so this will be a good first test.
SAN DIEGO -- With the outside perception of the San Diego Chargers taking a major tumble, the team, which for so long was built from the inside, changed philosophy in 2012 in a last attempt to keep that proverbial Super Bowl window from slamming shut and causing major upheaval in the organization.

After two playoff-less seasons and a reprieve from ownership, San Diego general manager A.J. Smith made an uncharacteristically heavy play in free agency. Taking advantage of one of the deepest classes in history, the Chargers nabbed more than a dozen free agents to infuse new life into a roster that was still talented but no longer arguably the stoutest in the NFL.

“I love what they have done around here,” said safety Eric Weddle, one of the Chargers' homegrown mainstays. “We hit the lowest of the lows the past two years by not making the playoffs. Getting new blood in here has helped.”

Among the veterans San Diego brought in were running backs Le'Ron McClain and Ronnie Brown, receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin.

“The thing about the new guys is they all love football,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. “They love it. We need guys like that here. … It gives us a new start. Those guys won’t worry about the past. They weren’t here for the slow starts or the six-game losing streak last year. It’s all a new start.”

If this cleansing of the roster doesn’t work, the next restructuring will likely occur up top with the firing of coach Norv Turner and possibly Smith. Yet, in a season of new beginnings, spirits are high.

“I think we can be special,” Weddle said. “There’s still a lot of talent here, with a bunch of new talent. … People may not be expecting much from us this year because we haven’t done anything, so that’s fair. But it’s kind of nice to be under the radar for once.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireThe Chargers aim to lean even more heavily on running back Ryan Mathews this season.
1. Ryan Mathews' workload: Outside of Rivers, there is likely not a more important player in this camp than Mathews. The Chargers all know if Mathews flourishes in his third NFL season, the team will have a strong chance to be successful. Mathews, the No. 12 overall pick in 2010, had a solid second season as he ran for 1,091 yards and averaged a terrific 4.9 yards per carry. This year, the Chargers want to see Mathews become consistent and stay healthy. He will likely be given the chance to to carry the ball 25 times a game, catch several balls out of the backfield and be a factor on third down and in short yardage. This camp is designed to get him prepared for a heavy workload. From what I saw and heard, it seems like Mathews might be up to the task.

“He’s working hard,” Rivers said. “Ryan knows what is expected of him.”

2. Sparking the defense: While the offense in San Diego needs some tweaks, the bigger fixes are necessary on defense, where former linebackers coach John Pagano is in charge of fixing a unit that fell apart last season. He replaces Greg Manusky, who was fired after one season on the job. The biggest issue -- it is a major point of emphasis in camp -- is getting off the field on third down. San Diego was last in the NFL in third-down defense in 2011. It gave up a first down on 49.2 percent of all third downs -- according to ESPN Stats & Information, the worst percentage in the NFL since the 1995 Cleveland Browns. The Chargers have added several pieces to the defense and it has a chance to be much more active -- particularly on passing downs, when No. 1 pick Melvin Ingram will be given a chance to make an instant impact as a pass-rusher.

3. Protect the quarterback: The San Diego offensive line was in shambles for much of last season, and it was a big reason why Rivers struggled for the first 10 games. Mainly due to poor health, San Diego used 13 offensive linemen last season -- literally taking players off the street at one point in November. With Jared Gaither, claimed off waivers from Kansas City, solidifying the left tackle spot, the unit improved dramatically late in the season. Gaither was re-signed and is being counted on to protect Rivers’ blind side. The steady Tyronne Green takes over for the departed Kris Dielman. Green has fared well when he's had to play. If this unit remains in good health, it should protect Rivers well. If not, trouble could persist. So far, the unit looks good in camp.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

The passing game looks to be top-notch. After a sloppy start to last season, Rivers finished 2011 strong. He has looked good in camp, and has an interesting group of receivers. Yes, standout Vincent Jackson is gone, but the Chargers have an ensemble group that includes Malcom Floyd, free-agent signees Meachem (New Orleans) and Royal (Denver) and second-year player Vincent Brown. Together, this group should offer Rivers plenty of help.

“We like what we have there,” Turner said. “We like all the pieces. We think we can get some things done in the passing game.”

If the Rivers-led passing attack is back at an elite level, the Chargers will be a threat to win every game. When Rivers is on, San Diego has a chance to score every time the offense hits the field.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Chargers must prove they are totally past their doldrums. The team feels good about itself, but it does every summer. We will not know if San Diego is out of its funk until it’s out.

Yes, the depth looks good, but will it be enough if injuries pile up for a fourth consecutive year? Yes, cutting down on turnovers is a point of emphasis in camp, but once the season starts, will the hard work pay off or will the killer interceptions and fumbles continue?

It has gotten to the point where we can’t trust this team until it shows it is has indeed rebounded.

OBSERVATION DECK

    [+] EnlargeEddie Royal
    AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziReceiver Eddie Royal, an offseason pickup, appears to have clicked with Chargers QB Philip Rivers.
  • Tight end Antonio Gates is turning heads on a daily basis. After dealing with foot-related injuries for four years, Gates is finally completely healthy. He’s slimmed down and he is making a lot of plays. If his health remains, the 32-year-old should make a huge impact.
  • Denver might have lost interest in Royal, but there is a place for him San Diego. Expect Royal to get a lot of work. He has impressed the coaching staff this summer and I expect him to be as favorite a target for Rivers during the season as he has been this summer.
  • The Chargers love what they see in Johnson. He is tough, smart and excellent against the run. They think he can bump the defense up a notch.
  • Linebacker Donald Butler looks good after a strong 2011 season, which was essentially his rookie season because he was injured in 2010. He is just another fascinating young defensive piece on this team.
  • Undrafted rookie quarterback Jarrett Lee looks like a keeper. He got extra work because of a knee injury to Charlie Whitehurst. I could see Lee making this roster. The Chargers were burned last year when they tried to sneak undrafted rookie quarterback Scott Tolzien onto the practice squad; he was claimed by San Francisco. If Lee continues to impress, I think the Chargers will find room for him on the 53-man roster. They need to develop a young quarterback at some point and Lee might be it.

  • The Nate Kaeding-Nick Novak battle at kicker will go down to the wire. If Kaeding stays healthy and kicks well in the preseason, he should win the job.
  • The Chargers love the skill level of Meachem. Perhaps he was lost in the shuffle of the dynamic offensive weaponry in New Orleans. He’ll get his shot in San Diego.
  • The Chargers are pumped about McClain, a free-agent pickup from Kansas City. He will play a lot and should be in the mix for some carries. They like the veteran stability he brings to the offense.
  • Center David Molk, a seventh-round pick, is getting some second-team reps. He may have a future.
  • The Chargers are very happy with pre-camp signings Franklin and running back/special-teamer Jackie Battle. Though they both signed late, I see them both being contributors.
  • Keep an eye on ex-Chief Demorrio Williams. The linebacker has been a camp stud, boasting terrific speed. The Chargers like him in coverage.
  • The Chargers will keep their eyes open for help at certain positions, including cornerback and offensive line, as the summer progresses.
  • Third-round pick Brandon Taylor, a safety, might not make an instant impact, but Taylor has impressed and will get some valuable time behind veteran pickup Atari Bigby, who himself has been outstanding this summer.

  • Brown has been getting looks as the third-down back and will be an occasional Wildcat threat.
  • Running back Curtis Brinkley flashed talent at times last season, but because of the logjam at running back, he is a long shot to make the team.

  • Rookie tight end Ladarius Green has nice receiving skills. I can see him making an impact behind Gates and Dante Rosario (a very nice backup). Green, a fourth-round pick, needs to learn to block at an NFL level, but he has terrific hands and natural size.
  • Undrafted rookie tackle Mike Harris has taken advantage of an early camp injury to Gaither, getting some reps with the first team. The UCLA product has a chance to make the team. Rivers has joked that Harris has gotten more first-team reps than any undrafted rookie tackle in the history of the NFL.

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