AFC West: Gartrell Johnson

A man for each team

September, 4, 2010
9/04/10
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The NFL roster shuffling is a fluid situation. Yet, as of right now, I think there is one player that would be a good fit for each AFC West team:

Denver, Gartrell Johnson, running back: The Broncos need a running back and there are no eye-popping names out there. Johnson, who was drafted and cut by the Chargers last year, was just cut by the New York Giants. He is a big running back who could develop in Denver and played at nearby Colorado State.

Kansas City, Derrick Burgess, linebacker: Burgess could be at the end of his career, but he does have a pass-rush burst. The Chiefs could use some veteran experience in the front seven and they are hungry for pass-rushing help.

Oakland, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, receiver: I love this fit. I think Houshmandzadeh is just what the doctor ordered in Oakland. He is a veteran who can help while the young players come along. There is some baggage, so Oakland could be weary of Houshmandzadeh like other teams apparently are.

San Diego, Michael Clayton, receiver: I think Chargers are going to look at offensive tackles. At first glance, there were no sure things available Saturday. The Chargers could also use a receiver. Clayton could be a good get for San Diego. He’d be a reserve and not much would be expected of him. But San Diego is a receiver’s paradise, so perhaps he’d re-energize his career there.

Chargers are banged up this week

September, 15, 2009
9/15/09
8:00
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


San Diego played the price for a hard-hitting 24-20 win at Oakland.

The Chargers will have several players miss practice at least on Wednesday as they begin preparation for Baltimore.

The rest of the week (and the game status of the players) will be taken day-to-day.

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson (ankle), center Nick Hardwick (ankle), guard Louis Vasquez (knee), defensive lineman Jamal Williams (arm) and defensive Luis Castillo (arm) are all expected to miss practice Wednesday. Coach Norv Turner told reporters that they will take it from there.

At this point, none of the injuries appear to be overly serious. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if a couple of these players don’t play against the Ravens.

Meanwhile, the Chargers gambled and lost when they put fourth-round pick Gartrell Johnson on waivers Monday. He was claimed by the Giants. The Chargers were hoping to put Johnson on the practice squad.

Plenty of roster moves in AFC West

September, 14, 2009
9/14/09
8:10
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Bill Williamson


There’s been some roster juggling in the AFC West on Monday.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen is reporting the Chiefs have signed receiver Bobby Wade.

Wade played for Kansas City coach Todd Haley in Chicago and the Chiefs have a big need for receivers. Wade was a surprise cut in Minnesota last week. Wade is an experienced player, who should be able to help the Chiefs right away.

Meanwhile, the Chargers cut fourth-round pick Gartrell Johnson to make room for defensive end Andre Coleman.

The Chargers liked Johnson, a big downhill runner. But he was the team’s fourth tailback. The Chargers will likely put Johnson on the practice squad if he slips through waivers Tuesday. Coleman was on San Diego’s practice squad the past two years. He gives the Chargers some depth Monday night. They are banged up at defensive end with starter Jacques Cesaire not expected to play against Oakland on Monday night.

Oakland cut defensive tackle William Joseph for the second time in a week to make room for Richard Seymour, who is expected to play extensively Monday night.

Breaking down the Chargers' game

August, 30, 2009
8/30/09
11:43
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

Thoughts from the Chargers' 27-24 defeat at Atlanta:

  • The Chargers' offense was clicking. San Diego converted 7 of 8 third-down situations. Quarterback Philip Rivers was fantastic, as was receiver Vincent Jackson. This team is ready to go.
  • The Chargers allowed just one sack Saturday night. Last week against Arizona, Rivers was sacked four times.
  • The Chargers also improved in their kick coverage.
  • The Louis Vasquez-Kynan Forney battle continued at guard and may continue for a few more weeks.
  • Rookie running back Gartrell Johnson displayed his downhill running ability with a 42-yard gain.
  • Top pick Larry English made his preseason debut and displayed his famous motor. He is going to be able to help this team early.
  • Veteran running back Michael Bennett scored on a 48-yard touchdown catch. Bennett is valuable and he should make the team.

Afternoon news and notes

August, 10, 2009
8/10/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

  • Denver quarterback Kyle Orton had a bounce-back practice after getting booed during a team scrimmage. Orton is under a ton of pressure and he has to feel it.
  • Todd Haley is getting some special help at his first training camp as a head coach.
  • Linebacker Mario Haggan is rising up the depth chart in Denver.
  • Tommy Kelly's penchant for jumping offside all training camp is bothering at least one teammate.
  • Denver receiver Brandon Marshall is still not practicing because of a hamstring injury. Still, Marshall should be ready for the start of the regular season without any issue.
  • The toe injury sustained by Oakland rookie receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is not considered serious.
  • San Diego rookie running back Gartrell Johnson has been impressive in camp. The fourth-round draft choice could be a short-yardage option this season.
 
  Robert Benson/US Presswire
  The return of linebacker Shawne Merriman should bolster the San Diego defense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- Philip Rivers admits the San Diego Chargers may have embraced Super Bowl talk in recent years.

The Chargers have been sexy preseason Super Bowl picks the past few years. While they have won three straight AFC West crowns, they haven't been able to get past the AFC Championship Game. Last season, San Diego's year ended in the divisional playoffs after a gallant effort in Pittsburgh.

Camp Confidential: AFC West
• Raiders: Fri., July 31
• Chargers: Tues., Aug. 4
• Broncos: Wed., Aug. 12
• Chiefs:
Thurs., Aug. 20
Training camp index

This year, the Chargers are not really interested in participating in any Super Bowl talk.

"There's nothing to talk about," said Rivers. "We've done all that talking. Now, it's just time to go out week to week and prove it."

This is how linebacker Shawne Merriman puts it: "Nobody is going through their lockers looking for the Super Bowl rings they are going to give us. We're not worried about it. All we are really looking at [is] Week 1. And then, we'll go from there. It's a new attitude. We're just going week to week."

San Diego coach Norv Turner says the attitude is a byproduct of the team knowing that it is good and in its prime. Still, after having to scramble late in the season the past two years to make the postseason, Turner said many on the team are trying not to look ahead.

Fantasy Football: 32 Questions
Tristan H. Cockcroft addresses the issue of whether Darren Sproles will elevate to flex-play status in 2009. Story

"We can play with anybody, they all know that," Turner said. "This year it's just about taking it one step at a time and not getting ahead of ourselves."

Key questions

1. Will Merriman be healthy?

The Chargers were lost on defense much of last season without Merriman. His worth to the defense was dramatically on display when Merriman missed all but one game because of a knee injury.

 
  Stan Liu/US Presswire
  Injuries have slowed LaDainian Tomlinson the past two seasons.

Merriman, who led the NFL with 39.5 sacks in his first three NFL seasons, is also good in coverage and is an enforcer who sets the tone for the defense. In defensive coordinator Ron Rivera's system, Merriman should be a terror.

By all accounts, Merriman is ready to play. He will be brought along slowly in camp and in the preseason, but he's expected to be at full-go for the Chargers' opening game Sept. 14 at Oakland. If Merriman can stay healthy, San Diego's defense should be much improved.

2. Does LaDainian Tomlinson have anything left?

Tomlinson nearly didn't return this season but the two sides agreed on a restructured contract.

Tomlinson has some things going against him. He just turned 30, which, frankly, is quite old for an NFL running back. He has dealt with injuries toward the end of the past two seasons and he had his least productive season of his eight-year NFL career in 2008.

Can he still produce at a high level? The Chargers believe if Tomlinson can stay healthy he should be fine. The San Diego offensive line is healthy going into this season, which wasn't the case last season, and there's reserve Darren Sproles to ease Tomlinson's load.

3. Can San Diego start fast?

This was a big question last season and the Chargers couldn't figure it out, so it remains. Look, San Diego is significantly better than its competition in the AFC West. If it can start fast, it can run away from the rest of the division.

Rivers admitted that fighting back from a bad start has worn out the Chargers the past two years. In 2007, San Diego was 5-5 before finishing 11-5. Last season, San Diego became the only team in NFL history to start 4-8 and make the playoffs. The Chargers hope their late-season heroics will be supplemented by better early-season play.

Market watch

This is an interesting time in San Diego. The Chargers have a veteran roster, but they are also mixing in some youngsters. The Chargers feel good about their rookie class. There are several rookies who are expected to make immediate contributions.

 
  Jody Gomez/US Presswire
  Larry English is expected to play a large role in the Chargers' defense.

San Diego came to this realization after the rookies performed so well in the offseason. If they continue to make progress during the rest of camp, San Diego could have as many as three rookie starters.

Top pick Larry English will essentially be a starter, although he may not be in every base package. Yet, the pass-rusher from Northern Illinois will be a major part of the defense. Third-round pick Louis Vasquez, is in a fight for a starting job at guard, and sixth-round pick Kevin Ellison has a chance to start at safety as well. Defensive lineman Vaughn Martin (fourth round) and power running back Gartrell Johnson (fourth round) also have a chance to make an impact as the Chargers slowly infuse their roster with younger talent.

Newcomer to watch

The Chargers have rarely been big players in free agency under general manager A.J. Smith. He'd prefer to build through the draft and he has done a fine job of it. But there is a free agent of note this season: linebacker Kevin Burnett.

The former Dallas role player has a chance to start at one of the Chargers' two inside linebacker spots in the 3-4 defense. Burnett is very strong in pass coverage and the Chargers believe he will improve a pass defense that was susceptible last season. Burnett has to beat out veteran Tim Dobbins, but the Chargers believe Burnett will be an impact player.

Observation deck

Veteran defensive tackle Jamal Williams is performing well in camp and is healthy. The Chargers expect him to be dominant this season. ... The Chargers are expecting good things from cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer. Jammer was good last season, but Cromartie struggled. He was dealing with a hip injury. He has been strong so far. ... San Diego is very comfortable with having defensive end  Jacques Cesaire start in place of Igor Olshansky, who signed with Dallas in the offseason. Cesaire is experienced and Olshansky didn't have a good season last year, so San Diego doesn't think there is a downgrade. ... San Diego is excited about using outside linebacker Shaun Phillips as a roamer in packages where both Merriman and English are on the field. ... Second-year fullback Jacob Hester got stronger in the offseason and looks primed to make strides.

AFC West news and notes

July, 26, 2009
7/26/09
1:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The San Diego Chargers have signed two more draft picks. They inked running back Gartrell Johnson and offensive lineman Tyronne Green. The team has signed four rookies in the past two days. Their big fish, top pick Larry English, remains unsigned. The Chargers rookies begin training camp Monday.

The San Diego Union Tribune has an update on seventh-round pick Demetrius Byrd. He was injured in an auto accident shortly before the draft. The talented Byrd is still rehabilitating and likely will have to make his NFL debut in 2010.

The Oakland Tribune reports that Raiders guard Robert Gallery will miss the first two weeks of camp, which starts Thursday, because he recently had an emergency appendectomy. Barring a setback, though, Gallery should be fine in time for the season.

The Denver Post takes a look at the rough childhood of first-round pick Robert Ayers.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- Veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson was tutoring rookie Gartrell Johnson often in the morning session. Johnson asked Tomlinson questions after several plays.

The stout Johnson, from Colorado State, was drafted by San Diego in the fourth round. He will give the Chargers a power running presence.

  • Malcolm Floyd was not at the mandatory camp. He is a restricted free agent who has not signed his tender. Because Floyd, a reserve receiver, doesn't have much choice, expect him to eventually sign and report.
  • Quarterback Philip Rivers said first-round pick Larry English, a pass rushing linebacker, looked good in practice. English said his locker is next to Shawne Merriman's locker.
  • There is no update on a potential contract extension for Rivers. He is signed through this season.
  • Defensive end Vaughn Martin was closely watched by the media Friday. He looked fast and he is clearly big and strong. He was a surprise fourth-round choice of Western Ontario. He is raw, but he is an interesting project.

AFC West grades

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
4:31
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Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

The draft grades are in. Predictably, none of the AFC West teams received an abundance of outstanding grades. The draft was marked by many reaches for AFC West teams, but still there were some good things that came out of each team's class.

San Diego: B-

The Chargers' draft was quietly productive. They may have taken pass-rusher Larry English a tad too early at No. 16 but he is a fine player who should make a fast impact. Guard Louis Vasquez has a chance to start right away if the third-rounder from Texas Tech has a good training camp. Guard Tyronne Green, (fourth round), running back Gartrell Johnson (fifth) and safety Kevin Ellison (sixth) all could help down the road. It was nothing fancy, but it was a solid draft by the three-time defending division champions.

Kansas City: C+

All of those who expected Kansas City general manager Scott Pioli to make a huge splash may have been disappointed. There wasn't any wild wheeling and dealing. Much like in free agency, Kansas City was conservative in the draft. Tyson Jackson, the No. 3 overall pick, is a good player who should help. Third-round pick Alex Magee is a defensive tackle who can help. Helping the draft out immensely was the fact that the Chiefs secured Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel for their second-round pick.

Denver: C

The Broncos did some very good things in the draft. They got some outstanding players in the form of running back Knowshon Moreno, defensive end/linebacker Robert Ayers and cornerback Alphonso Smith. All three should make big impacts. Still, there are some negatives about this draft that can't be overlooked. Denver added just one front-seven defender in its ten-pick draft despite having a very weak group there, especially on the defensive line. Denver gave up its first-round pick next year to take Smith at No. 37, which was a steep price.

Oakland: D

This draft could eventually turn into an "A" grade or it could be remembered as one of the worst drafts in recent memory. Right now, it's a "D" because the Raiders didn't use the draft board as well as they could have. First-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey and second-round pick Mike Mitchell were reaches. They both have good potential but they both could have been taken later. Also, Oakland didn't address tackle, its greatest need. Oakland did get a good value in receiver Louis Murphy in the fourth round.

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