AFC West: Jarret Johnson

ESPN’s Adam Schefter is reporting that San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Jarret Johnson will take a pay cut to stay with the team for the upcoming season. Johnson was scheduled to make $4 million in non-guaranteed base salary in 2014, and $5 million in base salary in 2015.

Johnson signed a four-year, $19 million deal, including $10 million of guaranteed money, to join the Chargers in the March 2012. The Alabama product is considered one of the team leaders on defense and has been pretty durable throughout his career.

However, Johnson missed five games in 2013 with hamstring and hand injuries. Johnson turns 33 in August.

The Chargers already executed a couple cost-cutting moves to prepare for the start of free agency, releasing fullback Le'Ron McClain and defensive backs Derek Cox and Johnny Patrick, along with restructuring the contract of veteran receiver Eddie Royal.

Prediction: Chargers 31, Chiefs 17

December, 29, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- Though they've been mysterious about specific plans for Sunday's game against the San Diego Chargers, it's easy to know what to expect from the Kansas City Chiefs.


Players and coaches to a man have talked about how important it is for the Chiefs to beat the Chargers, but Andy Reid has talked about resting key players and trying to keep them fresh for next week's opening-round playoff match, a game that really is important.

If Alex Smith, Jamaal Charles and other star players are out of the lineup early in the game, that sends a stronger message about Kansas City's desire to win this game than anything they say.

Meanwhile, the Chargers may or may not be vying for a playoff berth by the time the game kicks off. If both Baltimore and Miami lose in early games Sunday, San Diego would get the final wild-card spot by beating the Chiefs. If either Baltimore or Miami win, the Chargers are eliminated and as far as the playoffs go will have the same motivation as the Chiefs, which is to say none.

The Chargers seem more motivated than Kansas City does regardless. The 8-7 Chargers have talked about the importance of finishing with a winning record and building momentum for next season. While those incentives aren't nearly as strong as playing for the playoffs, they are more than the Chiefs have going for them.

So the playing field definitely isn't a level one in this regard. Maybe the Chiefs will surprise with their effort but more likely they will be watching the clock and waiting for it to expire like a kid on an average school day.

The Chargers are an improved team since they came to Arrowhead Stadium and beat the Chiefs late last month. They had been allowing a lot of points and gave up 38 that day but since have progressed considerably on defense.

Outside linebackers Melvin Ingram and Jarret Johnson are finally healthy and playing well. The Chargers made a lineup change in the secondary, benching cornerback Derek Cox, and suddenly they're creating turnovers and getting opponents off the field on the third downs. San Diego is allowing just 16 points per game in the four games since they played against the Chiefs.

Offensively, the Chargers may be without running back Ryan Mathews and wide receiver Eddie Royal because of injuries. But it's hard to shake the memory of how easy things were for Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen against the Chiefs the last time. And they were playing reserves at the end of the game against the Chiefs. It was seldom used wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu who caught the winning touchdown pass.

The Chiefs could rise up and play well, but it's not wise to expect that given the circumstances. They have bigger prizes to play for than Sunday's game and the result should reflect that.

Prediction: Chargers 31, Chiefs 17.

Mike McCoy mum on DB competition

November, 29, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- Derek Cox was the last player on the field at Friday’s practice for the San Diego Chargers, working on back pedaling and speed work.

About 30 yards away, San Diego coach Mike McCoy talked with general manager Tom Telesco and team president Dean Spanos. That conversation likely included a decision on if Cox would make his 12th straight start of the season on Sunday against Cincinnati.

However, for now McCoy will not make that decision public.

Cox
“We have a very good idea of what we’re doing,” said McCoy, when asked if he had made a decision on who the starting cornerbacks will be after holding an open competition in the secondary this week.

Cox followed suit in the locker room, telling reporters that he did not know what decision had been made.

“I’m not sure, you’ll have to ask Coach [McCoy],” Cox said.

Signed to a four-year, $20 million deal in the offseason, Cox has been benched in three of the past four games. Cox said he’s not letting the uncertainty of his starting job affect his preparation.

“You have to continue to believe in what you’re doing,” Cox said. “Because I’m working hard, and the main thing is to just go out and keep competing, stay positive about what you’re doing and believe in the process. And things will work out your way.”

McCoy did say that whoever starts on Sunday will be the best player to help the Chargers defeat the Bengals.

“It’s like everything else in this business, you can’t worry about the past,” McCoy said. “You’ve got to worry about the future. The future is now, and we’ve got to worry about Sunday. So we’re doing what we think is best moving forward.”

After missing the first two days of practice this week, tight end Antonio Gates (hamstring), center Nick Hardwick (neck) and safety Darrell Stuckey (concussion) returned to practice on Friday.

Gates and Hardwick are probable, and Stuckey is questionable.

Johnson
Along with Stuckey, Jarret Johnson (hand) and Eddie Royal (chest/toe) are questionable. Royal hasn’t practiced since injuring his toe against Indianapolis on Oct. 14, but has played in every game since.

Johnson missed last week’s game at Kansas City with the hand injury, but is hopeful to play on Sunday. Johnson, who has a soft cast on his left hand, said he played six games with a similar injury while with the Ravens.

“It sucks,” Johnson said. “You’re limited to what you can do. But you always want to play.”

Left tackle King Dunlap was a limited participant in practice for a second straight day, but is listed as doubtful, which means D.J. Fluker likely will get his third start at left tackle.

Fluker (knee), receiver Seyi Ajirotutu (hamstring), defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe), defensive end Corey Liuget, running back Ryan Mathews (hamstring), and long snapper Mike Windt (ankle) all practiced and are probable for Sunday’s game.

McCoy would not say if outside linebacker Melvin Ingram will be activated for Sunday’s game. Ingram practiced for a second straight week, but remains on the physically unable to perform [PUP] list. The chargers have until Dec. 10 to place Ingram on the active roster or keep him on the reserve PUP list.

“We know what we’re doing,” McCoy said about Ingram. “And we’ll let everybody know. And he’s taking it one day at a time.”

Also, Philip Rivers was named the FedEx Air Player of the Week and receiver Keenan Allen won Pepsi Rookie of the Week honors for their performance against Kansas City last week.

“Philip had another outstanding game, and Keenan’s been getting better every week, so they both deserve it,” McCoy said.
SAN DIEGO -- Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram said he had a good week of practice, but will not be added to his team’s active roster for the San Diego Chargers" target="_blank">San Diego Chargers' game at Kansas City.

Ingram
“I’m not playing this week,” Ingram said. “They’ve been through a lot more stuff than I have. I’ve just been through rehab, working out and conditioning stuff. But they’ve been through training camp and almost three-fourths of a season. So I just need to work on everything, and I’m just trying to get better every day.”

Ingram remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but practiced for the first time this week, moving fluidly and showing some explosion through individual drills during the early portions of practice.

However, Ingram still is a little over six months out from having surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. The Chargers have until Dec. 10 to add Ingram to the active roster, or place him on the reserve PUP list for the remainder of the regular season.

“Until you practice enough and do certain things, you’re not going to be in football shape,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “You’ve got to get out there and put the pads on, and do things a certain way before you get in football shape. He’s worked extremely hard, and he’s in good shape right now.”

McCoy on if Ingram will play this season: “I think that he’s got a very good chance. But it’s also something where we’ve got to each day pick it up for him, and see how his knee responds. He’s done a great job with it these last three days. So we’ll take it week by week and see how he feels.”

Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (hand), left tackle King Dunlap (neck) and receiver Eddie Royal (toe) did not practice on Friday. Dunlap is listed as out. Johnson is doubtful, and Royal is questionable.

McCoy said that Johnson played with a similar hand injury while with the Ravens. Johnson's left hand is in a soft cast after having surgery to fix the issue on Monday. Johnson's already missed three games this season due to a lingering hamstring issue.

“I’m always hopeful, yeah,” said Johnson, when asked about the prospect of playing this week. “Any injury slows you down and limits you, but everybody’s dealing with stuff, especially at this point in the season.

“This is a very important game for us and everybody needs to carry their weight. I’ve struggled with that this year with all my injuries. That’s not something new, but that’s something you’ve got to deal with.”

San Diego’s nickel cornerback Johnny Patrick (concussion) was cleared to practice on Friday after sitting out most of the week, and was a full participant. Patrick is questionable for Sunday’s game.

With Johnson and Ingram likely out, the Chargers likely will go with Thomas Keiser and Tourek Williams at outside linebacker, with Reggie Walker and Adrian Robinson serving as backups.

Center Nick Hardwick (neck), receiver Vincent Brown (shoulder), safety Jahleel Addae (ankle), receiver Keenan Allen (knee), running back Ryan Mathews (hamstring), defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe) and linebacker Manti Te'o (elbow) were full participants and are probable.
SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers’ best pass-rusher, Jarret Johnson, could be watching from the sidelines again.

Johnson
Johnson had missed two games due to a hamstring injury, but returned to the field against Washington last week. However, Johnson suffered a setback at practice on Thursday, and did not practice on Friday.

Johnson is listed as questionable on San Diego’s injury report. If he can’t go, the absence of a veteran defender like Johnson could be a significant blow for a defense facing the top-rated passing offense in the NFL.

“We’ll take it day-to-day,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “We’ll see how he is on Sunday morning, and we’ll go from there.”

Thomas Keiser likely would be the next guy up if Johnson can’t play. Keiser said even with cornerstone left tackle Ryan Clady done for the season with a foot injury, Denver’s offensive line has done a nice job protecting Peyton Manning. The Broncos allowed only 11 sacks this season, second best in the NFL. Keiser has two sacks on the year.

“Their offensive line is talented,” Keiser said. “And we’ve had time to look at them, scout them out. At the end of the day, it comes down to one-on-one matchups. So whether there’s three, four or five guys rushing, it doesn’t matter who you’re going against, because you’re going to have a battle. And you need to win it.”

Along with Johnson, offensive lineman Mike Remmers (ankle), receiver Eddie Royal (toe) and defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe) did not practice. Remmers has been ruled out for Sunday. Royal and Guy are questionable.

Royal has not practice the past two weeks leading up to San Diego games, and he’s still played.

McCoy said he’s not concerned about Royal experiencing timing issues with Philip Rivers because he’s not getting consistent reps with the starting quarterback each week. Royal’s totaled eight receptions for 125 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games.

“Not as of right now I’m not,” McCoy said. “The way he’s played the past, couple weeks doing this, there’s certain things that we are doing during the practice that he and Philip communicate on to make sure they are on the same page with everything. He’s out there watching every snap, doing whatever he can do and catching balls on the side.”

Out for the past three games with a groin injury, linebacker Donald Butler made it through practice this week and is probable for Sunday, along with offensive lineman Chad Rinehart (toe), punter Mike Scifres (knee) and linebacker Tourek Williams (thumb).

“It’s been a hard couple weeks for him to not be able to play,” McCoy said about Butler. “But he’s done everything he can to get back as soon as he can. So it will be good to have him out there.”

Jarret Johnson says he feels great

October, 30, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- The team’s most productive pass-rusher, San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Jarret Johnson moved a step closer to returning to the field on Wednesday.

For the first time in nearly a month, Johnson was a full participant at practice. Johnson missed San Diego’s last two games with a hamstring injury.

“I feel great,” Johnson said. “Obviously, missing the last two games was tough. But the bye week for me fell at a perfect time, considering the injuries I had, and the amount of time I needed to heal. It was perfect. So I felt great today.”

Johnson is tied for the team lead in sacks with three. He noticed an improvement from San Diego defensively on third down while watching from the sidelines.

The Chargers have held teams to 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) on third down the past two games.

“I just like the energy that we are playing with,” Johnson said “We seem to be playing better on third down. And any time you’re playing better on third down, it’s easier to build momentum and get excited.

“When you have long drives that are ending in field goals, a few touchdowns here and there, and you’re not playing as well on third down, you kind of feel like you get bogged down. When you start getting off of the field more, you get excited -- a big quarterback hit, or maybe a sack or whatever -- there’s more energy, and that’s what I saw the last two weeks that I was out. That’s what I was really fired up about, and I’m anxious to get in there and join them.”

Linebacker Donald Butler (groin), offensive lineman Mike Remmers (ankle) and receiver Eddie Royal (toe) did not practice on Wednesday.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy said he’s taking a wait-and-see approach to Butler’s injury. The University of Washington product has missed the last two games.

“Donald knows his body better than anybody else,” McCoy said. “As soon as he’s ready to get out there and feel like he can cut it loose, he’ll be out there. He’s got to be able to come out there and cut it loose. You don’t want a player to come out there and be hesitant in what they’re doing. So when he feels like he can go full speed, he’ll be out there.”

Offensive lineman Chad Rinehart (toe) was a limited participant. Johnson and safety Eric Weddle (toe) were full participants.

McCoy said it was good to see Rinehart back on the practice field. The Chargers starting left guard to start the season, Rinehart missed the last four games with a toe injury.

“He’s getting there,” McCoy said. “He’s working extremely hard to get back out there. He had a little rust out there today, and that’s all part of the process he’s been going through.”

Johnnie Troutman has started in Rinehart’s absence. So if Rinehart is healthy, does he get his job back at left guard?

“I’ll let you know on Sunday,” McCoy said.
SAN DIEGO -- Two key players on the San Diego Chargers defense were not on the field suited up for the early portion of practice on Saturday, putting them in danger of not playing on Monday Night against Indianapolis.

Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson hasn’t practiced all week because of a hamstring injury. And middle linebacker Donald Butler watched for a second straight day with a re-aggravated groin injury.

Cornerback Richard Marshall, a limited participant on Friday with a groin issue, tried to practice during individual drills, but shut it down. Offensive lineman Chad Rinehart remains out with a toe injury.

Running back Ryan Mathews (concussion), cornerback Johnny Patrick (chest) and offensive linemen King Dunlap (concussion) and D.J. Fluker (calf) were all on the field, and appear on track to play on Monday.

RB Ryan Mathews not practicing

October, 10, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- Injured in the first half of last week's loss to the Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews was not on the field during the early portion of his team's practice Thursday.

Mathews
Mathews appeared to suffer a concusion on a 5-yard run in the second quarter, taking a knee to the head from an Oakland defensive player. San Diego coach Mike McCoy said that in order for Mathews to return to the field, he will be subject to passing the NFL's protocol for concussion testing.

Other players not on the field for the early portion of Thursday's practice include outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (leg), cornerback Johnny Patrick (chest) and offensive linemen Chad Rinehart (toe) and D.J. Fluker.

Fluker did not appear to suffer an injury during the Oakland game but had his right knee wrapped as he watched practice from the sidelines. Nick Becton played right tackle with Fluker out.

The Chargers did receive good news, with left tackle King Dunlap getting the clearance from trainers to practice, after he missed two games with lingering concussion systems. Dunlap worked at left tackle with the first unit.

New offensive lineman Mike Remmers is wearing No. 60. New defensive lineman Lawrence Guy is wearing No. 71. New practice squad additions include tight end Ryan Otten (No. 82) and running back Kerwynn Williams (No. 30).

With Johnson out, the Chargers are thin at outside linebacker. Larry English, Tourek Williams and Thomas Keiser are the only guys available on the active roster
An examination of four hot issues from the San Diego Chargers27-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Tony Avelar/AP PhotoManti Te'o has the maturity and smarts to handle heavy adversity, Chargers GM Tom Telesco said.
Te’o needs to play free: After playing just 14 snaps in his regular-season debut last week, San Diego rookie linebacker Manti Te'o saw significantly more time against the Raiders. Te’o finished with a combined five tackles but did not make any of the game-changing plays that he became known for at Notre Dame. “I’ve got to do a better job,” Te’o said. “Personally, for me, I can’t take that long to get into a groove of things. I’m just thinking too much. When you think, you stink. As a rookie you’re trying so hard not to make a mistake, but sometimes by taking that mentality, you end up making mistakes anyway. So I need to just let the game flow and just go out there and play football.”

Turnovers still an issue: The Chargers have a minus-eight turnover differential through five games, tied for fourth-worst in the NFL, after turning it over five times against the Raiders. San Diego has forced just two turnovers this season while giving up the ball 10 times. And San Diego’s defensive backfield still does not have an interception. The Chargers will not be a consistent winner until they do a better job in this important statistical area.

Freeney’s absence noticeable: The Chargers sacked Terrelle Pryor four times, but none in the first half as the Raiders jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Starting outside linebacker Jarret Johnson did a nice job of picking up the slack with the team’s best pass-rusher, Dwight Freeney, done for the year after suffering a torn quadriceps injury last week. Johnson finished with two sacks, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble. However, Freeney’s replacement, Larry English, finished with just two tackles, and did not make an impact as a pass-rusher. Thomas Keiser, the team’s backup edge rusher, had one tackle in limited duty. “There was definitely more I could have done,” English said. “It wasn’t a good enough showing for me, personally, and we know as a team it’s wasn’t good enough.”

Allen a draft steal: While first-round selections Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson and DeAndre Hopkins have received more attention nationally, San Diego’s Keenan Allen is quickly developing into one of the most productive rookie receivers this season. Allen was targeted by Philip Rivers nine times against Oakland, finishing with six catches for 115 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown catch. Allen posted this impressive performance a week after totaling five catches for 80 yards in a win against Dallas last week. NFL scouts questioned Allen’s speed and ability to create separation at the next level because he's 6-foot-2, 211 pounds. But the Chargers grabbed the physical receiver out of California in the third round, and he’s averaging a healthy 16.1 yards per catch this season. He's also earned the trust of Rivers.

OAKLAND, Calif. -- It’s not uncommon for first-year coaches to have the type of see-saw season the San Diego Chargers are currently experiencing under Mike McCoy.

At 2-3 after a disappointing 27-17 loss to AFC West division rival Oakland, the Chargers have yet to win or lose two in a row through five games.

In order to develop into a championship-caliber team with sustained success, McCoy understands his team has to do the little things. And that means the Chargers can’t turn the ball over five times and expect to win.

The Chargers can’t have a 37-yard field goal blocked. Good teams don’t fail to recover a fumble defensively deep in their opponents’ territory.

Playoff teams get into the end zone on fourth-and-1 from the other team’s 1-yard line. Good teams don’t fall behind 17-0 to a team they’re favored to beat by five points.

Good teams aren’t lucky; they create their own luck. And if San Diego wants to be considered a good team, then the Chargers need to win the games they are supposed to, like the one they lost to Oakland on Sunday night -- even on the road.

“We’re a good football team,” McCoy said. “You’ve just got to keep playing, and that’s what we’re doing. You’ve just got to keep playing and keep going. Don’t worry about one play -- one score. That’s why you play for 60 minutes.”

Moral victories are for weak-minded people. The NFL is a bottom-line league, and if you have more losses than wins over a few seasons, you likely will not be in the league long.

So even though the Chargers rallied from a 24-3 deficit in the fourth quarter to actually have a chance to tie the game at 24-17 with a little over 10 minutes left, the fact is the Raiders dominated play on both sides of the ball for a majority of the contest.

“I’m not going to make excuses, if that’s what you’re looking for,” San Diego offensive lineman Jeromey Clary said. “We’re all pros here. And we’re expected to perform at a high level.”

The Chargers have experienced leaders on both sides of the ball who know what it takes to win in the NFL, including quarterback Philip Rivers, center Nick Hardwick, tight end Antonio Gates, safety Eric Weddle and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson.

[+] EnlargeMike McCoy
Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsThe Chargers have yet to string together consecutive wins under new head coach Mike McCoy.
And they have some emerging young talent, including receivers Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown, defensive tackle Corey Liuget and linebackers Donald Butler and Manti Te'o.

However, this team has yet to develop a consistent blueprint to winning that allows them to reel off a streak of four or five wins in a row.

“No excuses, we got beat tonight,” McCoy said. “We came out, and we were outplayed in all three phases. It was tough to go on the road and turn the ball over the way we did and win a football game on the road against a good team.

“Too many big plays -- but it all starts with just executing the system that’s in place. There was a lack of execution. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we just have to keep working.”

Rivers had a September to remember, but a game to forget opening up the month of October. He threw for over 400 yards for a second straight game, completing 36 of 49 passes for 411 yards and three touchdowns.

But Rivers also had three costly interceptions, after throwing just two interceptions in the first four games.

Like the rest of his teammates, Rivers knows he has to perform consistently at a high level for this team to develop into a consistent winner.

“Certainly as an offense, when you turn it over five times, you’re not going to win usually,” Rivers said. “You very rarely overcome it, and then we found ourselves down 24-17 with 10 minutes left.

“That doesn’t make us feel any better. There was a lot more than just turnovers, but certainly on offense, we’ve got to make sure we don’t turn the ball over.”

Upon Further Review: Chargers Week 4

September, 30, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- A review of four hot issues from the San Diego Chargers30-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys:

[+] EnlargeEric Weddle
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsChargers safety Eric Weddle, a seven-year veteran, had a stellar game against Jason Witten and the Cowboys on Sunday.
Weddle shuts down Witten: San Diego safety Eric Weddle twice broke up throws in the middle of the field to tight end Jason Witten on critical third-down plays for the Cowboys. The Chargers held Witten to just five catches for 43 yards. Witten was targeted 10 times. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, Weddle was dwarfed by the 6-6, 261-pound Witten. However, Weddle, a three-time All-Pro, reminded observers of something else after the game: He can still play. “I’m pretty good myself,” Weddle said, smiling. “Some people forget about that. But he’s one of the best guys in the league. For myself, I knew coming into this game that if I played well, and if I could nullify him in third-down situations, and any time I was matched up with him, then [we] would have a good chance to win.”

Rivers creating chunk plays: Philip Rivers finished with five pass completions of over 20 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers had plenty of success pushing the ball down the field, completing 9 of 11 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns on throws traveling more than 10 yards downfield. Heading into Sunday’s contest, Rivers had completed 62 percent of such passes, second best among qualified quarterbacks. Per Stats & Info, much of Rivers’ success came after he threw an interception for a touchdown to Dallas linebacker Sean Lee in the second quarter. After that play, Rivers completed 20 of 24 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Chargers to 20 unanswered points and the victory.

Pass rush help needed: With the recent news that pass-rusher Dwight Freeney may have suffered a torn quad that likely will put him out for an extended period of time, San Diego could be scouring the market for pass rush help this week. Freeney, 33, signed a two-year, $8.75 deal with the Chargers in May, including $4.75 million in guaranteed money. Freeney has just a half a sack on the year. The seven-time Pro Bowler was injured in the second quarter against Dallas and did not return. Larry English picked up the slack with Freeney out, and the Chargers still managed to get pressure on Romo for the remainder of the game. However, San Diego will need to find a long-term replacement for Freeney if he has to be placed on injured reserve. Jarret Johnson has been the team’s most effective pass-rusher, with two sacks and 14 tackles on the year.

Woodhead provides a spark: Since the Chargers lost Darren Sproles to New Orleans in free agency in 2011, the team has been searching for a running back with a similar skill set. And San Diego appears to have found one in Danny Woodhead. Against the Cowboys, he enjoyed his first two-touchdown-reception game. Woodhead is second on the team in receptions with 22 for 162 yards. He’s gained another 90 yards on the ground. Specifically, Woodhead has been effective in the red zone, making defenses pay for trying to double cover tight end Antonio Gates inside. And he’s been a nice change-of-pace back to the bruising running style of Ryan Mathews.
Manti T'eoMike Ehrmann/Getty Images"I like this pick 1,000 percent," new Chargers teammate Eric Weddle said of Manti Te'o.

Had the NFL draft been held the day after Manti Te'o and Notre Dame were handled in the national championship game by Alabama, the inside linebacker would have been considered a steal if he was a top-10 pick.

After all, this is a player who was considered the possible No. 1 overall pick last December -- one of the most decorated, praised players in the country during the 2012 season.

Fast-forward to the present, and the idea that Te’o lasted until the No. 38 pick is stunning. The Chargers sent the 45th and 110th choices to Arizona to move up and rock the draft with this selection.

“Great pick,” San Diego safety and leader Eric Weddle said by phone moments after the Chargers' move. “We got better. He is going to help us win games. I like this pick 1,000 percent.”

Te’o became a polarizing figure in January when the bizarre hoax involving a dead fake girlfriend became public. Te’o has said he had nothing to do with the Internet scheme, and the person behind the elaborate ploy has backed up Te’o’s claims.

Fair or not, the hoax has defined Te’o. His once-sterling character has come into question, and there is no doubt it hurt his draft status.

Of course, the title game and a slow 40-yard dash at the NFL combine didn’t help his cause. But let’s face it, if the hoax hadn't happened, Te’o would have gotten the benefit of the doubt on those issues -- particularly since he generated great tape throughout his college career, had great character and improved his speed at Notre Dame's pro day.

With Te’o, it’s all about the hoax.

That will stop, Weddle said. Indeed, Weddle brought up the issue himself.

"I could care less about that other stuff," Weddle said. “I’m sure everyone will think that way here.”

It has been said that Te’o, the butt of national jokes the past few months, will face his harshest critics in his NFL locker room. Weddle said that won’t be a problem in San Diego.

“If he wants to talk about it, we’ll listen,” Weddle said. “But it’s not going to be a problem here.”

I think Te’o is going to a perfect situation for him to achieve some normalcy. The Chargers have good leadership in Weddle, quarterback Philip Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates, center Nick Hardwick and linebacker Jarret Johnson. Indeed, Te'o told San Diego reporters Friday evening, Rivers had already called to welcome him to the team. This is a strong, business-oriented locker room. Te’o will be treated well.

Also, the team’s brass knows how to deal with off-field issues. New San Diego coach Mike McCoy was at the center of Tebow-mania while with Denver. Nothing can match that. New San Diego general manager Tom Telesco was in Indianapolis last season during coach Chuck Pagano’s public fight against cancer.

Distractions will not be a problem.

I also think Te’o will find friendly confines in the city. San Diego has a thriving Polynesian community, and one of the team’s greatest players, late linebacker Junior Seau, was Polynesian. Te’o will be welcomed with open arms. San Diego is not far, in relative terms, from Te’o’s native Hawaii, so that will raise his comfort level, too.

Plus, even though it is not so far from Hollywood, San Diego is laid back, and there isn’t a huge media presence around the team.

Sure, the team and Te’o will probably have to deal with the curiosity of it all early in camp, but that will go away pretty quickly.

Plus, in my opinion, the hoax is over. What else can come of it? Whether he was involved or not, Te’o faced public humiliation, he saw his NFL stock drop and now the recovery begins. He can become a linebacker again.

Te’o is being brought to San Diego to play football, and it’s a good fit.

San Diego is building a strong, young defense, and Te’o should be a nice piece in a linebacking corps that includes Johnson, Donald Butler and 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram. Add Te’o to a strong, young line and this is an intriguing group. Yes, Te’o has limitations in coverage, but San Diego will be versatile enough to highlight him on first and second downs, and he will be able to play to his strengths.

It’s been a trying three months for Te’o, but his NFL career is starting on the right track even though it’s from a draft slot several picks lower than expected.

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.
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.
We continue our position-by-position divisional rankings with a solid group of linebackers:

1. Tamba Hali, Kansas City: This is a special player. He is truly one of the best defensive players in the NFL.

2. Von Miller, Denver: Miller will only improve from a stellar rookie season. He is a gem.

3. Derrick Johnson, Kansas City: An underrated player. He is an A-player.

4. D.J. Williams, Denver: Very talented, but the red flags are piling up. He needs to stay focused on the field.

5. Justin Houston, Kansas City: I’m a big fan of this second-year player. I think he and Hali will be fun to watch rush the passer.

6. Jarret Johnson, San Diego: Free agent is a very solid pro. He will help this defense.

7. Melvin Ingram, San Diego: I’m very high on this versatile rookie. I expect big things right away.

8. Donald Butler, San Diego: A very talented player. He has a real future.

9. Rolando McClain, Oakland: McClain has to make fast improvements or his Oakland career may be on the rocks.

10. Shaun Phillips, San Diego: He can help, but he may be nearing the end.

11. Aaron Curry, Oakland: He can make some big plays, but he needs to become more consistent.

12. Takeo Spikes, San Diego: Spikes is getting way up there in age, but he isn’t the type of guy who you count out.

13. Philip Wheeler, Oakland: The Raiders will give this free-agent pickup a chance to prove he can be a better-than-average player.

14. Antwan Barnes, San Diego: He is limited but he has a real burst as a pass-rusher.

15. Jovan Belcher, Kansas City: A solid inside starting linebacker.

16. Joe Mays, Denver: Same here.

17. Wesley Woodyard, Denver: He will likely start if Williams’ six-game suspension sticks.

18. Brandon Siler, Kansas City: He was injured last year. He will help the Chiefs.

19. Larry English, San Diego: Make-or-break year for former No. 16 overall pick.

20. Travis Goethel, Oakland: If McClain gets suspended, he’ll get a chance.

21. Nate Irving, Denver: The Broncos want to see this 2011 third-round pick push Mays.

22. Miles Burris, Oakland: He likely won’t play much early, but the rookie is a player to keep an eye on.

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