AFC West: D.J. Fluker

SAN DIEGO -- Sunny skies greeted the San Diego Chargers as the entire team took the field for the first time in preparation for the 2014 season.

Coach Mike McCoy also had to deal with a couple veteran no-shows in the first organized team activity. The practices are voluntary, so McCoy said he had no problem with running back Ryan Mathews, offensive guard Jeromey Clary, outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, inside linebacker Jonas Mouton and tight end Antonio Gates being no-shows on the first day of practice.

Rookie running back Marion Grice and cornerback Greg Ducre also were not in attendance.

McCoy said the absences were expected, and he had no issues with any of the players not being there.

Mathews
“Not at all,” McCoy said. “We know why they are not here. And we’re going to get better with the guys we have here right now. It’s voluntary, and we know why people are not here.”

Mathews, 26, is in the final year of his rookie contract. The Chargers signed running back Donald Brown to a three-year, $10.4 million contract this offseason, and the University of Connecticut product will actually make more in total compensation in 2014 ($4 million) than Mathews ($2 million) for the upcoming season.

But Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said before the draft that Mathews had no concerns with the signing.

“Ryan is a starting back, so his role will essentially be the same,” Telesco said. “Ryan’s a smart guy. He knows why guys are here, and he knows what his role is. It wasn’t an issue at all.”

Clary is due to make $4.55 million in total compensation for the upcoming season. And with San Diego drafting Notre Dame product Chris Watt in the third round, there’s some thought Clary could be asked to take a pay cut.

Clary
But as of right now, Clary is set to make his current salary. San Diego’s first-unit offensive line included King Dunlap at left tackle, Chad Rinehart at left guard, Nick Hardwick at center, Johnnie Troutman at right guard and D.J. Fluker at right tackle.

Floyd’s back: Malcom Floyd, 32, said he’s been cleared for full contact after suffering a serious neck injury in Week 2 of the 2013 regular season against Philadelphia. The veteran receiver worked with the first unit opposite Keenan Allen, and even took a good blow when middle linebacker Donald Butler got caught in the air while going after the ball. Butler braced his impact by grabbing Floyd, and both players fell to the ground.

“I think I’m ready for regular contact now after today,” Floyd said, smiling. “But it felt good. This is something I’ve been looking forward to. There’s no more looking back.”

Hardwick was not pleased with the play, giving Butler an earful afterwards. Butler apologized to Floyd after the play.

Te’o out: Second-year pro Manti Te’o was one of a couple players who did not practice due to injury. Te’o still is rehabbing from foot surgery during the offseason. Tight end John Phillips (knee) and offensive lineman Michael Harris (ankle) also did not practice.

McCoy did not seem too concerned with Te’o being limited on Tuesday.

“We’re just taking it one day at a time with him, like everybody else who has some kind of injury,” McCoy said.

Some tidbits: Players who stood out during team drills includes tight end Ryan Otten, running back Branden Oliver and cornerback Brandon Ghee. … Shareece Wright and Richard Marshall were the starting corners with the first unit. … Javontee Herndon did a nice job catching punts on the side field during practice.

Chargers rookies make an impact

January, 28, 2014
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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego Chargers first-round draft choice D.J. Fluker, an offensive tackle, was drafted to play right away. Third-round selection Keenan Allen, a receiver, was considered more of a developmental prospect. But both made a significant impact as rookies in 2013.

Fluker and Allen finished in the top 20 in snaps played among last year’s rookie draft class, according to research compiled by ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando.

Fluker finished No. 8 on the list with 999 snaps played, and Allen (898) was No. 19. Other San Diego draft picks that played meaningful snaps include middle linebacker Manti Te'o (504, second round) and outside linebacker Tourek Williams (204, sixth round). Undrafted safety Jahleel Addae played 354 snaps.

San Diego had a total of 2,605 snaps played by rookies in 2013, No. 10 in the NFL. New England tops the list with 3,595 snaps played by drafted rookies, followed by Chicago (3,186), Jacksonville (3,125), Buffalo (3,014), New Orleans (2,851), Tampa Bay (2,877), St. Louis (2,803), Dallas (2,791), Green Bay (2,719) and San Diego (2,605).

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Chargers get well-deserved break

December, 13, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- Mike McCoy said that after playing two games in five days -- including an impressive win at Denver on Thursday -- the San Diego coach will give players the rest of the weekend off so they can return to practice Monday rejuvenated.

The Chargers did not practice Friday, but players reported to the facility for treatment of minor aches and pains.

“It’s somewhat like a mini-bye to a certain extent,” McCoy said. “So it will be good for everybody to kind of take a deep breath and get their legs back underneath them. We’ve had two physical football games the last five days, and so now is for them to kind of get as healthy as possible, just rest and enjoy this big win from last night. But we’ve got to get ready to come back in and get going for the next one. That’s what it’s all about.”

[+] EnlargeMike McCoy
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsMike McCoy and the Chargers will enjoy a "mini-bye" as they gear up for their final two games.
Speaking of injuries, the Chargers once again appeared to get through the game relatively healthy, according to McCoy.

“Like the last couple weeks, we’ve been very fortunate on the health side of it,” he said.

However, in his second game back from anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his left knee, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram suffered a scare in his first play of the game, limping off the field. Ingram did not reinjure his knee, suffering an ankle injury on his right leg.

Left guard Chad Rinehart suffered a lower leg injury in the second half but returned to the game. And right tackle D.J. Fluker was treated for cramping after the game but is fine, according to McCoy.

McCoy said he will watch football with his family this weekend, including games involving teams in the AFC wild-card hunt like Baltimore and Miami. But ultimately, McCoy said his focus will be on preparing his team for Oakland next week.

“We can just control what we can control here,” McCoy said. “We can’t worry about what anybody else is doing. We’ve got to try and get this team ready to play a good Oakland football team coming in, and that’s the No. 1 thing. We can’t worry about the scoreboard. Obviously, we’re interested in it, but I’m more concerned with what our football team is doing right now.”

One thing McCoy would like to see is an energized crowd at Qualcomm Stadium next week against the Raiders, something similar to the type of atmosphere fans created against despised quarterback Eli Manning and the New York Giants.

“We always talk about the players having their best game of the week or best game of the year,” McCoy said. “Well, we need the best support of the year. We’ve got to get them out there and be as loud as possible. I think coming off of this win should really energize our fans, and we’re looking forward to having a full house and get them going.”

Mathews, Dunlap return to practice

November, 28, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- Two impact players returned to practice on Thursday for the San Diego Chargers.

Mathews
Running back Ryan Mathews (hamstring) and starting left tackle King Dunlap (neck) both practiced on Thanksgiving Day.

Mathews had to leave last week’s win against Kansas City in the second half because of a lingering hamstring issue he’s been dealing with for the past few weeks. But Mathews is expected to play on Sunday.

Dunlap has not practiced since suffering a neck injury against Washington on Nov. 3. Rookie D.J. Fluker has started the past two games at left tackle in place of Dunlap.

“It’s good to get him out there,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said about Dunlap's return. “Like we’ve said, we try to get all 53 out as soon as we can. They’ve all worked extremely hard at this point in time, so when you have injuries, certain players take it differently. And it’s hard for certain guys to sit out. So it’s good to get him back out there.”

In his fourth season, Mathews is 11th in the NFL in rushing with 721 yards, and is on pace to have his second 1000-yard rushing season.

Mathews is one of five running backs this season with at least three 100-yard rushing games. A group that includes LeSean McCoy (4), Adrian Peterson (4), Eddie Lacy (3), Marshawn Lynch (3) and Alfred Morris (3).

Tight end Antonio Gates (hamstring), center Nick Hardwick (neck), safety Darrell Stuckey (concussion) and receiver Eddie Royal (toe/chest) did not practice for a second straight day.

Linebacker Jarret Johnson (hand) practiced for a second straight day. He was a limited participant, along with Dunlap and Mathews.

Defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe), defensive end Corey Liuget (shin) and long snapper Mike Windt (ankle) were full participants for a second straight day.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Observed in the locker room after the San Diego Chargers' 24-6 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Rivers
A reflective Rivers: Philip Rivers talked about becoming the second player in franchise history to eclipse the 30,000-yard passing mark with his effort against Jacksonville. Rivers has 30,023 yards, joining Dan Fouts, who finished his 15-year career as the Chargers all-time passing leader with 43,040 yards. “It’s kind of a ‘wow’ to myself when it hits you,” said Rivers, who received the game ball from coach Mike McCoy in the locker room. “It’s humbling when you hear that. And the first thing that comes to my mind is how many guys are involved in that happening. You don’t throw 30,000 yards to yourself. There’s a lot of guys that have been on the receptions end of it. No. 85 [Antonio Gates] has been on the other end of a lot of them. And then there’s a lot of guys up front that have protected for you to get the ball off.” One of those offensive linemen is longtime center Nick Hardwick. “It’s just a pleasure to work with such a great guy, a great teammate and true friend,” Hardwick said. “He’s the most competitive person I’ve ever been around. It’s a real honor.” Rivers also confirmed that his wife, Tiffany, did not give birth to the couple’s seventh child while he was in Jacksonville.

Still work to do: While players look forward to having some time off during the bye week, players understand there’s more work to do. Defensively, the Chargers have not given up a touchdown in 11 quarters, and did not allow a touchdown in back-to-back games for the first time since the first two weeks of the 2002 season. But, as safety Eric Weddle said, it’s better for players to learn from their mistakes by winning instead of losing. “The games and plays that you learn from help build your identity and who you are,” Weddle said. “So for us to play like we’ve played the last two and a half games is big -- and not reading the press and feeling like we’re all that -- but just staying closed-minded, staying the course and staying focused. It’s really a testament to these guys, the older players getting the young players right and the coaches coaching us up. Look at the guys that we had out there, and we’re playing lights out. It’s exciting, but we have to keep going upwards. We can’t take a step back.”

Last time Fluker played left tackle? Try high school: You can’t blame rookie offensive lineman D.J. Fluker for feeling a little uncomfortable moving over to left tackle in the opening quarter after King Dunlap left the game with his second concussion of the season. Fluker was drafted as San Diego’s long-term answer at right tackle, and had not played left tackle since his high school days in Foley, Ala. “I was a little nervous,” Fluker said. “So I had to kind of calm down, and the coaches just told me to be patient and it will come. And eventually that happened. I got beat a couple times, but I haven’t been over there for so long. Other than that, I think I did OK.” For the most part, San Diego’s offensive line kept Rivers clean, holding Jacksonville to just one sack.
SAN DIEGO -- One of the most talked about plays from San Diego’s loss to Oakland occurred in the third quarter.

Fluker
With the Chargers down 24-3 on the team’s own 20-yard line, Chargers right tackle D.J. Fluker forcefully slammed Oakland pass-rusher Sio Moore to the ground as he left the ground while trying to get to San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers.

Fluker received an assist from right guard Jeromey Clary, who came over to help block Moore on the play. You can watch it here.

Moore stayed on the ground after the play, and had to be attended to by Oakland’s training staff before leaving the field on his own.

Fluker said he was shocked that he got flagged for a personal foul for unnecessary roughness, and does not believe he should be fined by the NFL. Fines usually are announced by the league on Friday.

“I was surprised,” Fluker said. “Me and Clary looked back at it, and we were like, ‘A flag for what?’ But the play was still going. It happens. Other than that, I just love playing football. It’s not going to change my aggressiveness, not at all.”

Referee Jeff Triplette announced that Fluker received the penalty for body slamming Moore to the ground. A point of emphasis for the league this season is protecting players that could be considered in a defenseless or vulnerable position. The penalty was Fluker’s second personal foul penalty this season.

“My thing is, I was doing my job to make sure Philip was protected, and that’s what we did,” Fluker said. “I’m on the edge. Is it fair for him to bull rush me every time he’s out there? He jumped off of his feet. And when someone jumps off of their feet like that, our coach tells us to finish them. So that’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s our job.”
SAN DIEGO – Even after practice ended, Manti Te’o still wanted more work.

So while teammates exited the field, Te’o focused on form tackling and explosion with a tackling pad.

Te'o
“You guys should get a picture of that,” fellow linebacker Bront Bird told a line of photographers as he walked to the locker room.

Inactive for the first three games due to a foot injury, Te’o was a full participant in practice for the first time since suffering the injury in the team’s first preseason game. He appears ready to play in his first regular-season game on Sunday.

“That’s the goal,” Te’o said. “So once coach [Mike McCoy] gives me that green light, I’ll be ready.”

Te’o said the hardest part has been putting in the work on the practice field during the week, only to have to watch his teammates go out and play on Sundays without him.

“Sundays are the time to have fun,” he said. “You do all your work throughout the week during practice, you get all of your mistakes out and you grind during the week. And Sundays are that celebration at the end. So I finally get to go out there now.”

Right guard Jeromey Clary said he suffered a clavicle injury during the opening quarter against Tennessee, but played through it in part because the Chargers didn’t have anybody else to put in. Left tackle King Dunlap and left guard Chad Rinehart also had left the game with injuries, leaving San Diego with no backup offensive linemen.

“I didn’t feel great,” Clary said. “But I was still able to go, so I finished it out. At times maybe there were things that I couldn’t do as well as I wanted to, and it was evident on my part – I don’t know if anyone else noticed. But I wasn’t happy with what was going on. But it was the best thing to do.”

Clary said he is day-to-day, and he doesn’t know if he’ll play on Sunday.

“I’m going to go home and get some rest,” Clary said. “Hopefully I’ll sleep really good tonight, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

Along with Clary, Dunlap (concussion) and Rinehart (toe) did not practice. Center Nick Hardwick (shin) was a limited participant in practice, as was pass-rusher Dwight Freeney (not injury related).

Full participants for the Chargers included Te’o, middle linebacker Donald Butler (groin) and right tackle D.J. Fluker (concussion), who returned to the field after missing last week’s game.

Receiver Malcom Floyd (neck) and cornerback Shareece Wright (hamstring) also did not practice. After meeting with doctors to evaluate Floyd’s situation on Tuesday, McCoy said the team still is figuring out the right plan of action.

“We have a good idea what’s going on with him,” McCoy said. “But we’ve just got to make sure we’re doing exactly what’s right for him and his situation. And we’re looking for him to get back out here as soon as he can.”

Upon Further Review: Chargers Week 3

September, 23, 2013
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An examination of four hot issues from the San Diego Chargers' 20-17 loss at the Tennessee Titans:

Offensive line woes: San Diego headed into Sunday’s contest already down an offensive lineman when D.J. Fluker was ruled out because of a concussion. Michael Harris played solid in place of Fluker at right tackle. But the Chargers potentially lost two more starters up front against Tennessee. San Diego coach Mike McCoy told reporters after the game left tackle King Dunlap had a concussion. Left guard Chad Rinehart also had a turf toe injury in the second half and did not return. Already thin up front, the Chargers do not have enough quality depth to withstand that many starters being out heading into next week’s Dallas game.

[+] EnlargeRonnie Brown
AP Photo/Mark ZaleskiRonnie Brown's touchdown was San Diego's first rushing score in almost a year.
Throw to score, run to win: While the Chargers have one of the top passing offenses in the NFL through three games, they still have trouble consistently running the ball. San Diego’s struggles to move the chains late to close out games can be partially attributed to the team’s inconsistent ground game. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Ronnie Brown's 1-yard touchdown run in the second half was San Diego’s first rushing touchdown since Week 5 against the Saints last year. That’s a head-scratching statistic. The Chargers finished with a respectable 102 rushing yards against Tennessee. Ryan Mathews led the way with 58 rushing yards on 16 carries. Third-down back Danny Woodhead added 31 yards on the ground and had seven catches for 55 yards. But the Chargers failed to successfully run the ball when it mattered most -- at the end of the game.

Turnover drought: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says that one of his primary philosophies is “It’s all about the ball” -- meaning take care of it on offense and look for ways to create turnovers on defense. Through the first three games, San Diego has struggled in one of the top indicators on whether a team will win or lose: turnover differential. San Diego has created one turnover through three games, which is among the worst in the league. However, the Chargers did create a sudden-change situation when Tennessee punter Brett Kern fumbled the snap, recovering his own fumble at Tennessee’s 30-yard line. The Chargers turned that opportunity into a Nick Novak 44-yard field goal. The Chargers have a minus-3 turnover differential through three weeks.

Third down struggles: Heading into Sunday’s contest, the Chargers were converting an impressive 58.6 percent of their opportunities on third down, tops in the NFL. But against Tennessee, the Chargers finished just 3-of-9 on third down, including being 0-for-3 in the first half. Just a week ago, San Diego ran a season-high 79 plays against an up-tempo Philadelphia offense. However, that same offense managed just 53 plays compared to 68 plays for Tennessee. The Titans’ ability to effectively run the football also led to a 31:38 to 28:22 edge in time of possession.

D.J. Fluker misses practice again

September, 20, 2013
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Fluker
San Diego Chargers rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker did not practice Friday, missing a second straight day because of a concussion he suffered late in practice Wednesday. He is listed as questionable to play Sunday against Tennessee.

Fluker, the Chargers' top draft pick this year, must pass an NFL test before being cleared to play. If he cannot play, second-year player Mike Harris would start in his place.

Inside linebacker Donald Butler practiced fully Friday for the first time this week after a groin injury. He is listed as questionable. Rookie linebacker Manti Te’o is listed as doubtful. He was limited all week with his foot injury, and odds are Te’o will make his debut in Week 4.

As expected, receiver Malcom Floyd was ruled out of the game with a neck injury he suffered last week at Philadelphia. He didn’t practice all week. He reportedly may miss a month.
The San Diego Chargers' offensive line has been a pleasant surprise during the first two weeks of the season. The new-look unit has given Philip Rivers the necessary time to be a dominant quarterback again.

Fluker
One of the reasons for San Diego’s success on the line is first-round pick D.J. Fluker, who has stepped in and made an impact at right tackle. But the Chargers may be without him for Sunday's game at Tennessee.

Fluker did not practice Thursday because of a concussion he suffered in practice the day before. Because of league protocol, it may be difficult for Fluker to pass all of the tests necessary for him to be able to play Sunday. Mike Harris, a starter at left tackle last season, would start if Fluker can’t play.

Meanwhile, linebacker Donald Butler was limited in practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday with a groin injury. The team thinks he can play Sunday. Rookie linebacker Manti Te’o practiced on limited basis for the second straight day after being out nearly six weeks with a foot injury. Still, it may be a long shot for him to play Sunday.

Fisher not among top rookies so far

September, 12, 2013
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ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has an interesting article rating the top 20 rookies Insider from last week's games. Kansas City Chiefs tackle Eric Fisher is not among them.

Fisher
Fisher looked like the weak link of the offensive line in the win over Jacksonville, though he certainly didn't have a horrible game. He was pushed back on a bull rush by Jason Babin on one of Alex Smith's first pass attempts, but settled down and handled himself decently from that point forward.

Still, Chiefs fans might like to think the first overall pick in the draft is at least going to be among the top 20 rookies, and when it's all said and done Fisher might get there. It's just one game.

Four offensive linemen made Kiper's list: Chicago's Jordan Mills, San Diego's D.J. Fluker, Detroit's Larry Warford and Philadelphia's Lane Johnson. It's interesting to note that the second pick in the draft, Jacksonville tackle Luke Joeckel, also didn't make the list.

Double Coverage: Texans at Chargers

September, 6, 2013
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JJ Watt and Philip RiversGetty ImagesJ.J. Watt and the Texans could make it hard on Philip Rivers if San Diego's offensive line does not hold up.
In the second half of the opening Monday night doubleheader, Houston is traveling to San Diego to put an end to NFL Week 1. The Chargers are in rebuild mode, while the Texans are looking to take the next step this season and become true Super Bowl contenders. While the Chargers’ fan base should be revved up for this prime-time contest, getting J.J. Watt blocked could be a very futile effort for San Diego’s offensive line. ESPN.com’s Matt Williamson and Houston Texans reporter Tania Ganguli bring you their Double Coverage preview.

Tania Ganguli: How has the atmosphere in the organization changed with GM Tom Telesco and coach Mike McCoy taking over?


Matt Williamson: A change in San Diego was certainly needed. The environment had become stale and the once wide-open window under former coach Norv Turner and a roster stocked with great players has closed. A rebuild is needed, and a new general manager and head coach are what is needed to potentially get this team back where it once was -- or maybe beyond. Has the right side of the Texans’ once-great offensive line been fixed?

Ganguli: It's certainly on its way. The Texans are rightfully very high on right guard Brandon Brooks, and right tackle Derek Newton is healthy. They didn't mind rotation in those spots last year, but stability will definitely help.

Can McCoy turn Philip Rivers (back?) into an elite quarterback?

Williamson: I feel as though we have seen the best of Rivers’ impressive career, unfortunately. That being said, the scheme change, which stresses getting the ball out of Rivers’ hands quicker, could be an advantageous move to boost Rivers. He does have a quick release and makes quick reads, making him a good fit for what McCoy is looking to accomplish.

What is the status of Arian Foster, and might Ben Tate have an expanded role for the season and to open the year?

Ganguli: Tate will have an expanded role, especially early in the year. The Texans won't ride Arian Foster too much given he missed all of the preseason, training camp and most of organized team activities (OTAs). He was working, but they're intent on being smart with his return to make sure they have him at full strength late in the season.

What are the biggest problems with the Chargers' offensive line?

Williamson: Once again, the scheme switch to a short passing game should help the protection of this line -- a line that is better-equipped to run block than protect. Still, the true problem with this line is they simply lack good players up front. They added a few free agents, but no one that is even a league-average starter, and they used their first-round pick on D.J. Fluker to play right tackle. However, I have my doubts that Fluker is quick or light enough on his feet for edge protection. Instead, I think Fluker could be a Pro Bowler at guard.

What impact does first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins have on the Texans' offense?

Ganguli: It's difficult for rookie receivers to put up big numbers, but Hopkins will have a major impact on the Texans' offense. He'll take pressure off Andre Johnson, on whom the Texans were overdependent last season in their passing game. He is very skilled on contested catches and will help Houston's red zone efficiency.

What impact does Dwight Freeney have in San Diego?

Williamson: Can he still be productive at 33? Of course it would be ideal to have Melvin Ingram in the fold as well as Freeney, who could be the perfect mentor, but Freeney has looked quite spry through the preseason and should have plenty left in the tank. The concern for me is that San Diego will be forced to play the 33-year-old too many snaps, which could lead to less effective play late in games and especially late in the season.

How big a boost to this team -- tacitly and emotionally -- is it to get Brian Cushing back on the field?

Ganguli: Cushing makes a difference in both ways. He creates mismatches in the pass rush that free up the outside linebackers. His presence in the middle makes things easier on the Texans' defensive backs, too. Emotionally, Cushing provides an edge for the Texans' defense. His maniacal intensity is contagious and the Texans feed off it.

How will Danny Woodhead and Ryan Mathews impact each other?

Williamson: While Mathews is a decent pass-catcher, Woodhead is an exceptional all-around contributor in the passing game. Their roles should be very distinctive, with Mathews -- who has looked excellent this preseason -- as the early-down workhorse (if he can hold up) and Woodhead being the specialty movement player that is equal parts running back and slot receiver.

Watt is a rare interior pass-rusher, but does Houston have enough pressure coming from their 3-4 outside linebackers?

Ganguli: That remains to be seen. It's definitely been a focus for the Texans' outside linebacker group. Whitney Mercilus, now in his second year, has taken over as a starter opposite Brooks Reed after the departure of Connor Barwin. Mercilus set a franchise record for rookies with six sacks last season, but he missed most of training camp and the preseason. Reed is healthier than he was at the end of last season when he returned from a groin injury. He had an offseason surgery to repair it fully.


Random thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 33-28 loss at the Chicago Bears on Thursday night:

There’s no getting around it: San Diego’s first-team offense was awful.

It’s the preseason and I have never been an August alarmist, but the problems that plagued San Diego in Chicago are the same issues that sabotaged the team in recent years. They were the reason why new head coach Mike McCoy was brought in.

San Diego looked good offensively against Seattle last week, but it was a disaster on Thursday night. The first-unit offense committed four turnovers (backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst was on the field with the rest of the starters for one of them).

Quarterback Philip Rivers threw an interception and lost a fumble on a sack. Turnovers have been a problem for Rivers the past two years. He also hasn’t gotten much protection. That was an issue again Thursday night as Rivers was sacked three times in three series. That’s ridiculous, but it’s nothing new.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers was sacked every 11.9 times he dropped back to pass last season -- the worst rate in the NFL. The pace was much higher in this game. It has to get better or the Chargers and Rivers will falter regardless of the good work McCoy and his staff are doing.
  • Max Starks started over King Dunlap at left tackle. Dunlap started last week and has been the starter most of camp. Dunlap played the second drive and is considered the favorite to win the job. Starks was beaten badly on a play Rivers was sacked and where he lost a fumble on the third drive. The performance could go a long way in giving Dunlap the job.
  • Guard D.J. Fluker, the No. 11 overall draft pick this year, has struggled in pass protection, but has been awesome in run-blocking. That’s the book on him as a rookie.
  • Running back Ryan Mathews looked good. He ran hard and had 45 yards on nine touches. He will be fine if he can finally stay healthy.
  • Whitehurst had a solid night. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. He improved from last week and his performance in Chicago quieted talk that he could be replaced as the backup.
  • Rookie quarterback Brad Sorensen was also good as he went 8-for-14 for 127 yards and a touchdown.
  • The first-team San Diego defense was decent, considering all the turnovers it had to deal with. The unit has some holes, but it’s further along than the offense at this point.
  • The Chargers have been beyond shaky on special teams in two preseason games. They were alarmingly bad in all phases at Chicago. McCoy believes the team will be better in the regular season because of injuries. Guys are playing who won’t be in a few weeks.
  • Rookie receiver Keenan Allen's chances of winning the punt-returning job decreased when he badly muffed a punt and it was recovered by Chicago. Can’t do that, rookie.
  • Running back Danny Woodhead did not play as he comes back from an undisclosed injury. He is expected to make his preseason debut next week.
  • Second-year tight end Ladarius Green had a touchdown catch for the second straight game and he totaled five catches for 78 yards for the night. He is showing he may be a factor this season.
  • Former Green Bay linebacker D.J. Smith continued to look good for San Diego.
  • Key backup cornerback Johnny Patrick was shaken up.
  • Undrafted rookie safety Jahleel Addae continued to make a push to make the 53-man roster.
  • Detroit is reportedly signing defensive tackle Justin Bannan. The Chargers had interest in him earlier this summer and could still use depth on the defensive line.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting tight end Dallas Clark could sign with an undisclosed team this week. Could it be in the AFC West?

Oakland could use a veteran tight end as it tries to find production from several inexperienced players. Oakland coach Dennis Allen has often said the Raiders would be open to a veteran at the position. Denver is solid at tight end, but he played with Peyton Manning for years in Indianapolis. Clark has ties to new San Diego general manager Tom Telesco from their Colts’ days together. Tight end depth is decent in San Diego, though. Kansas City is deep at tight end.

Tight-end needy contenders such as Baltimore and New England could be favorites to land Clark.

In other AFC West notes:

Kansas City rookie right tackle Eric Fisher was of practice Sunday with a shoulder ailment. He told the Kansas City Star he plans to play Friday against San Francisco. It was reported that Fisher had a minor hand injury after the New Orleans game Friday. Fisher, the No. 1 overall draft pick in April, looked good in the game.

U-T San Diego chronicles the adversity Chargers’ top pick D.J. Fluker’s family has overcome. Check this story out.
SAN DIEGO -- Gone is the omnipresent GM lurking from the large deck that hovers over the practice field.

Gone is the comfortable head coach who went at his own pace.

It’s a new day for the San Diego Chargers. There is new energy in America’s Finest City.

Change was badly needed. The Chargers arguably had the best roster in the NFL five years ago, but it never paid off. The lack of success finally cost general manager A.J. Smith and coach Norv Turner their jobs after another lackluster season in 2012.

The Chargers’ fans demanded new leadership for the stagnant franchise. They got their wish. The Chargers now have some of the youngest, freshest leaders in football as the team moves past the stale days of the Smith-Turner era.

Smith was famous for watching practice from the deck of his office. New general manager Tom Telesco, 40, watches practice from the sideline. There are no messages of pecking order being sent from the general manager’s office. Telesco, in a camp-issued T-shirt and shorts, could easily be mistaken for an equipment manager.

The head-coaching switch from Turner to Mike McCoy, 41, is almost as distinctive as the change at GM. McCoy’s practices have appeared to be crisper and more detailed-oriented than in the past. There isn’t much downtime in San Diego’s practices. Everyone’s moving at all times. That wasn’t always the case under Turner.

“I think we’re getting a lot done,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “Coach McCoy clearly has a plan. It’s been impressive. ... The big thing is everyone has bought in to him. The reality is we are .500 over the past three years. It was pretty easy to buy in what’s now going on here.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziPhilip Rivers threw 15 picks last season to just 26 touchdown passes.
1. The quarterback: Rivers is a major focal point of this training camp. Telesco hired McCoy, Denver’s former offensive coordinator, with an eye toward fixing Rivers. The quarterback has struggled the past couple of years, particularly with turnovers. McCoy and new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, the former head coach of Arizona, form a strong quarterback-coaching tandem and quarterback coach Frank Reich is also highly regarded. All three men believe in Rivers, and it seems to be paying off. Rivers has looked fantastic in training camp. His confidence is high, and his passes are accurate. It is vital for both Rivers and the Chargers that he has a good season and the team continues build around him. If not, it could be a crossroads season for both the franchise and Rivers’ career.

2. The offensive line: Because of injuries, this unit has been terrible the past couple of years. No matter how much Rivers improves, he won’t have much of a chance if he doesn't have protection. The Chargers' line has four new starters. It is not a great unit, and there will be some growing pains. But the group is getting rave reviews for being athletic and tough. Rivers is impressed and trusts the group. He thinks it’s deeper with players such as rookie D.J. Fluker at right tackle and veterans King Dunlap and Max Starks competing at left tackle. Dunlap is leading the race. But if there are injuries, this group appears better equipped to weather them than last year's squad.

3. The rookie linebacker: The Chargers are thrilled with inside linebacker Manti Te'o. He will start in the team’s 3-4 schemes. He has looked good in training camp and has fit in with the locker room. The hoax he was involved in at Notre Dame is not a factor. The Chargers love the way he works and practices. He is instinctive, and he plays faster on the field than his combine times suggested. The Chargers think Te’o is ready to make a big impact.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsThe Chargers are happy with the progress of second-rounder Manti Te'o, who's slated to start at inside linebacker.
The Chargers are loaded with young talent on defense. Any defense that has Eric Weddle at safety, Te’o and Donald Butler at inside linebacker and Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes at defensive end is an impressive group.

I think these players will be the core to one of the better defenses in the coming years. The Chargers are doing backflips over the combination of Liuget and Reyes. Liuget is entering his third NFL season, and Reyes is entering his second. Liuget was terrific all of last season, and Reyes showed serious pass-rush potential toward the end of the season.

While this defense has some holes, there are some exciting pieces here.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

The Chargers are pretty thin in a lot of places. I think this team is on the rise, but it may not be a quick fix. There are too many positions where depth is an issue.

San Diego has dealt with the injury bug already. Pass-rusher Melvin Ingram, the No. 18 overall pick in 2012, suffered a torn ACL in May. Starting receiver Danario Alexander and backup linebacker Jonas Mouton suffered the same injury during camp.

Alexander's and Ingram’s injuries are particularly worrisome. This team can’t afford to lose high-end talent before the season starts. Other positions vulnerable to injuries include the offensive line (even though the depth is better than in the past), defensive tackle, edge rushers and the secondary. There isn’t much wiggle room on this roster.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • The Chargers appear to be well-coached. The influx of offensive coaches and the return of several defensive coaches, led by coordinator John Pagano, makes for a nice mix. Most of the new blood was needed on the offensive side of the ball.
  • The team feels great about Dwight Freeney, who was signed to replace Ingram. The Chargers are convinced Freeney still has something left in the tank and will be a difference-maker.
  • The Chargers like the progress of nose tackle Cam Thomas, who they think is ready for a breakout year. Coaches and teammates are talking him up big.
  • San Diego is looking to add depth on the defensive line. Free agent Justin Bannan on is still on the team’s radar. I think we will see the Chargers be active on the waiver wire at a few positions.
  • Free-agent guard Chad Rinehart is showing solid leadership skills.
  • The team loves free-agent running back Danny Woodhead. He has been a camp star and should take pressure off starter Ryan Mathews. Expect to see Woodhead used in several different ways. He could be a poor man’s Darren Sproles, perhaps.
  • Yes, tight end Antonio Gates hasn’t had a superstar season in years because of injuries, but the team likes what they see from him. He may have another year or two left in the tank.
  • Ladarius Green, Gates’ potential successor, is still growing. But he has shown flashes. He has natural pass-catching ability.
  • While there are questions at cornerback, the Chargers feel like Derek Cox and Shareece Wright will be an upgrade over last year’s starting duo of Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason.
  • Rookie quarterback Brad Sorensen has been up and down. He has a good enough arm to keep him on the 53-man roster.
  • Cornerback Johnny Patrick has looked good. He could see a lot of action in nickel situations.
  • Fifth-round pick Tourek Williams is getting looks at both defensive end and outside linebacker. The team would like for him to contribute at linebacker.
  • Robert Meachem, a big-money, free-agent bust last season, has been given new life after Alexander’s injury. Still, I have my doubts that Meachem will make much of a difference. He hasn’t been a standout in camp.

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