AFC West: Melvin Ingram

CINCINNATI -- John Pagano knew what was coming, and his defense still couldn’t stop it.

After giving up 164 rushing yards to the Cincinnati Bengals in an earlier matchup this season, the San Diego Chargers' defensive coordinator is looking for a bit of redemption on Sunday.

“At times, the same rush that we held to a minus rush or a 1-yard gain, ended up in the second half being a six or an 8-yard gain,” Pagano said. “And you can’t have those things. The biggest thing is we’ve got to tackle. We have to go out and finish, tackle, and get them on the ground.”

[+] EnlargeBenJarvus Green-Ellis
Stan Liu/USA TODAY SportsBehind BenJarvus Green-Ellis, the Bengals racked up 164 rushing yards against the Chargers on Dec. 1.
Powerful Cincinnati running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis led the charge, finishing with 92 yards on 20 carries for a robust, 4.6 per carry average, and rookie scat back Giovani Bernard totaled 57 yards on 14 carries.

The two combined for 57 yards after contact, as San Diego defenders failed to get either back down at the line of scrimmage.

“We definitely know we have to gang tackle,” Chargers defensive end Corey Liuget said. “They have two excellent running backs, and we know, defensively, that can’t happen again. We just have to be sound with our tackling.”

After that game, the Chargers played much better against the run defensively. The return of outside linebackers Jarret Johnson (hand) and Melvin Ingram (knee) helped shore up San Diego’s run defense.

And it showed up in the stat book, with San Diego holding its next three opponents to an average of 56 yards a contest, including a season-low 18 rushing yards allowed at Denver.

But all of those good feelings melted away during the final game of the season, when a Kansas City offense led by mostly reserves bulled through San Diego’s defense for 143 rushing yards.

The Chargers had just a week to try and figure things out before facing the Bengals’ talented rushing attack again.

While Cincinnati has several playmakers on offense, the run game makes that team go. The Bengals are 7-2 this season when they rush for more than 100 yards. Running the ball takes pressure off quarterback Andy Dalton to make too many plays in the passing game, and it also helps keep Cincinnati’s defense fresh by keeping it off the field.

And with snow in the forecast for Sunday, the Chargers likely will see a lot of Green-Ellis and Bernard.

“Any time your offense can control the ball and keep Philip Rivers off the field, that’s a good day for your defense,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. “He’s such an outstanding quarterback, so it’s important that we do a good job offensively.”

Chargers rookie linebacker Manti Te'o said the defense obviously watched film from the first Cincinnati game, but that doesn’t mean San Diego will see the same running scheme on Sunday.

“It definitely helps a lot,” Te’o said. “But you’ve got to also understand they're watching the same things. And it’s all about knowing yourself. Knowing what you have to work on. Knowing how they’re going to attack you. They could come out on Sunday and run something totally different. Like I’ve always said, it’s all about us in this locker room knowing what we’ve got to do, knowing where we’ve got to be and executing.”

Ultimately, Johnson said his unit has to rely on being assignment-correct.

“We have to be gap-sound,” Johnson said. “They have two very different backs, but they’re both very effective in their own way. Their screen game to the backs is another thing they do really well. So if we’re going to win this game, we have to be effective stopping their backs.”

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.

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.”
videoSAN DIEGO -- Ask Melvin Ingram how he feels playing for the first time since anterior cruciate ligament knee surgery in May, and you’ll get the same answer.

“Not good, I feel great,” says a smiling Ingram after playing unofficially 13 snaps in San Diego's convincing 37-14 victory victory against the New York Giants on Sunday.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy said the team and the training staff had a plan to manage Ingram in his first game action in nearly a year, after being activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to the active roster this weekend.

“We could have waited, but where he was -- the medical staff did an outstanding job with him,” McCoy said. “And give Melvin a lot of credit for the way he’s worked. From the very first 30 seconds after he went down he said, ‘Don’t worry coach, I’ll be back. I’ll play next year.’ So give him and the medical staff all the credit in the world for the way they’ve worked.”

For his part, Ingram said he was pleased to part of his team’s victory Sunday.

“This is my first game back,” Ingram said. “I feel like I’m in a good spot, but there’s always room for improvement.”

Ingram was part of a handful of veteran players returning from injury for the Chargers on Sunday, including receiver Eddie Royal, outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and left tackle King Dunlap.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said the team received an energy boost from having Ingram and the rest of those veterans back in action.

“Anytime you get a guy like that back, it gives you a spark,” Rivers said about having Ingram back on the field. “Obviously the guys that have been around have seen the way he’s pushed [to get back on the field]. And you want to see guys be healthy.”

Added cornerback Shareece Wright: “Just his passion for the game, and his determination to get hurt and come back -- just wanting to play so bad. We definitely feed off of that.”

Ingram seemed out of place and a step slow at times. But he provided some good pressure off the edge on a handful of pass rushes, and finished with a tackle. Now, Ingram has to turn around and do it again on the road against the Denver Broncos on Thursday in a short week.

Rapid Reaction: San Diego Chargers

December, 8, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 37-14 victory over the New York Giants.

What it means: San Diego recorded its largest margin of victory this season. The Chargers move to 6-7 and are tied with the New York Jets (6-7) and a game behind the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) and Miami Dolphins (7-6) for the final AFC spot with three games to play.

Manning sputters: In his first game back in San Diego since 2005, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning struggled, finishing 20-of-32 for 259 yards, a touchdown pass and two interceptions. Manning was loudly booed by fans at Qualcomm Stadium when he took the field. Manning, who spurned the Chargers in the 2004 draft, is 0-3 in his 10-year career against San Diego.

Melvin Ingram solid in return: In his first game in nearly a year coming off anterior cruciate ligament knee surgery in May, Ingram unofficially played 13 snaps. Ingram had trouble containing the run a few times and finished with just one tackle. But he left the game healthy, which is the most important thing for the Chargers.

Stock watch: Running back Ryan Mathews gained 103 yards on a season-high 29 carries, as the Chargers controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Mathews eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this season.

What’s next: The Chargers travel to Denver for the team’s final road game of the season, a Thursday night contest at Mile High Stadium at 5:25 PT.
SAN DIEGO – According to San Diego Chargers coach Mike McCoy, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram performed better than expected during practice coming off of anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his left knee in May.

So it should be little surprise that the Chargers announced on Saturday that they moved Ingram from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list to the active roster.

Ingram
San Diego could have waited until Tuesday, but bringing the South Carolina product on board in a familiar environment at Qualcomm Stadium makes sense -- where the weather is expected to be 57 degrees and sunny -- instead of making Ingram’s first appearance in the freezing cold temperatures of Denver on the road next week.

But with Ingram still six-and-a-half months removed from major reconstructive knee surgery on May 21, expectations for his first game in nearly a year should be measured.

Perhaps we can look to Seattle Seahawks pass-rusher Chris Clemons for some guidance.

Seattle's leading pass-rusher had ACL reconstructive knee surgery on Jan. 18 by orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews -- the same doctor who handled Ingram’s operation, .

Similar to Ingram, Clemons pushed to get back on the field. Clemons missed the first two games of the season, playing in his first game for the Seahawks eight months after his surgery against Jacksonville on Sept. 22.

Entering the game on third down and in passing situations, Clemons played just 16 snaps his first game. That number jumped to a season-high 58 plays against Houston the following week. Clemons has played in 10 straight games for the Seahawks, totaling 3.5 sacks.

If he’s active for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, expect the Chargers’ training staff to control Ingram’s workload in a similar manner, gradually working him into game shape.

Activating Ingram now could be viewed as a risky move for the Chargers. Some might believe taking a more conservative approach and waiting to get Ingram on the field in a more controlled environment like training camp, giving him more time to build strength, stamina and mobility, might be a wiser approach.

But Ingram needs to play football at some point. And if the training staff deems Ingram healthy enough to play, why not get some snaps under his belt so he has film to evaluate during the offseason, along with the knowledge that his knee is fully healthy.

More than anything, Ingram’s presence on the field should give San Diego an emotional lift. The Chargers, losers of four out of their last five games, could use the help. San Diego’s defense did not record a sack last week against Cincinnati.
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 -- A day after his team’s disappointing loss to the Miami Dolphins, San Diego coach Mike McCoy provided some updates on players who suffered injuries against Miami.

McCoy said rookie receiver Keenan Allen, who appeared to suffer a knee injury in the second half, should be available this week. Allen played in 49 of the possible 65 plays on offense for the Chargers.

“He’s fine,” McCoy said. “He’ll be playing, which is great.”

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Kent C. Horner/Getty ImagesChargers receiver Keenan Allen is expected to play in Week 12 after hurting his knee against Miami.
Nick Hardwick missed five plays because of a neck stinger that forced him to miss some practice time last week, but McCoy said his veteran center should practice on Wednesday.

And reserve cornerback Johnny Patrick suffered a concussion and will go through the league’s concussion protocol program this week before being cleared to return to the field. The Chargers said Patrick had a head injury after the game, but did not confirm whether or not he had suffered a concussion.

McCoy wouldn’t say if outside linebacker Melvin Ingram will return to practice this week. San Diego has until Tuesday to decide if Ingram will be allowed to practice with the rest of the team. Ingram began the regular season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list after having surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in May.

If Ingram begins practicing this week, San Diego has 21 days to add him to the active roster or leave him on the reserve PUP list. So the latest the Chargers can activate Ingram is for the Denver game on Dec. 12, nearly seven months after his surgery.

“We’ll look at obviously the best interest of Melvin and the health of his knee,” McCoy said, when asked what will go into the organization making that decision. “And understand what we want to do moving forward with him. And we have a plan in place. We’ll let you know that as soon as we want to let everybody know.”

McCoy said his team will once again work on tackling after his defense struggled against the Dolphins. McCoy said San Diego had 12 missed tackles that led to 92 bonus yards after contact by Miami.

“I know we’re not always going to the ground, but that’s something we’ve been doing from the very first day we put our pads on,” McCoy said. “So that’s inexcusable. We’ve got to clean that up.”

McCoy also shouldered the blame for not telling the offense to spike the ball at the end of the game, which would have allowed the Chargers to run a few more plays while the team was driving for the winning score.

“We need to spike that,” McCoy said. “That was a mistake we made. And there’s no excuses for that, we just didn’t get it done.”

For the second time in three weeks, McCoy said quarterback Philip Rivers and receiver Vincent Brown were not on the same page, leading to another interception, this time a pick by Miami cornerback Brent Grimes in the opening quarter on Sunday.

“It was a double move,” McCoy said. “It was a slant-and-go, and he jumped inside of the corner when he’s got to go outside.”
SAN DIEGO -- He’d rather play sooner than later, but Chargers coach Mike McCoy said the team will not rush outside linebacker Melvin Ingram onto the field.

Ingram
The South Carolina product tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on May 14, during an offseason workout at the team’s facility, and had surgery a week later.

Ingram’s been on the physically unable to perform list since the season started. Ingram was eligible to return to practice two weeks ago during Week 7. The Chargers have until Week 11 for Ingram to begin practicing. After that, San Diego has 21 days to place Ingram on the active roster, which means he could be activated as late as the team’s Dec. 12 contest at Denver -- nearly seven months after his surgery.

"He'll be out there as soon as he is ready,” McCoy said. “I don't want to put a timetable on it. That's not fair to him. We have a plan for him and he is working extremely hard. He is chomping at the bit.

“He's been that way since the day he was injured on the field. He said, 'Don't worry, I'll be back.' We have to make sure we do what's best for him and not rush it. He has to pass every test we need him to do, and his body needs to get to where his mind is. He is a very high confidence guy, which you love, but we have to make sure we do what's best for his future also.”

While Ingram remains out, the Chargers got a boost to their offensive line depth with guards Chad Rinehart (toe) and Stephen Schilling (neck) returning to practice this week, along with left tackle King Dunlap (concussion).

Rinehart has missed the past four games and practiced for the first time on Monday. Johnnie Troutman has done a nice job starting in place of Rinehart at left guard. Schilling suffered a neck injury during practice leading up to the Jacksonville game, and was not active for the Jaguars.

Dunlap suffered his second concussion in four weeks against Jacksonville. He missed two games after the first concussion, but the second one appears less severe, as he returned to practice this week.

After missing two games, outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (hamstring) practiced on Monday and will try and play against Washington. However, starting middle linebacker Donald Butler remains out with a groin injury. Butler also has missed the past two games.

Safety Eric Weddle also did not practice because of a toe issue, but is expected to play on Sunday.
SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Chargers' first-round draft selection last year, edge rusher Melvin Ingram diligently works on agility drills with a trainer on a side field while the rest of his teammates prepare for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Five months after having surgery to fix a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, Ingram appears close to returning.

But looks can be deceiving when you’re talking about the long-term strength and stability of a knee, particularly at a position where an athlete has to put so much torque on his body to perform his job.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Ingram
AP Photo/Gregory BullMelvin Ingram, the Chargers' top pick in the 2012 draft, is working his way back from a torn ACL.
Now that the Chargers are in Week 7, Ingram is eligible to be activated off the physically unable to perform list and onto the active roster. However, according to league rules, the Chargers have a five-week window to bring Ingram back to the practice field. After that, the team would have 21 days to place Ingram on the active roster, which means he could be activated as late as the team’s Dec. 12 contest at Denver – nearly seventh months after his surgery.

San Diego coach Mike McCoy indicated the team is in no rush to make a decision.

“Melvin’s working extremely hard to get back,” McCoy said. “We’re going to do what’s best for him and the rest of the team. If you asked Melvin, he would’ve told you a month and a half ago he could’ve played. But that’s been his approach from the day he got hurt here, is that he would be back, and don’t worry about it.

“We just have to make sure we do what’s best for Melvin and his future, and the football team this year. We’re taking it one day at a time with him, and he’s working extremely hard. And when it’s the best time for the entire organization, he’ll be back out there as soon as we can get him out there.”

Ingram suffered the injury on May 14, during an offseason workout at the team’s facility, and had surgery a week later.

Typically, the recovery time for ACL injuries has been nine months to a year. But Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson changed the perception of league observers on that time frame by successfully making it back in eight months, playing in the first game of the 2012 regular season after having major knee surgery in December 2011, and going on to rush for more than 2,000 yards.

More recently, Seattle defensive end Chris Clemons returned to action eight months after surgery in January, playing in four games for the Seahawks before suffering an elbow injury last week.

“With the advancement in the medical field these days, everybody is coming back faster from all injuries,” McCoy said. “There’s certain things, techniques – whatever it is they’re doing with players, or anybody – all the research that’s put into the health and safety of players and what they’re doing is getting better and better every year.

“It’s kind of like a computer. Once a new one comes out, it’s outdated. So there’s new techniques, new things that they are doing, medications, rehab things that they are doing. And [head trainer James Collins] and his staff have done a great job of helping the players get as healthy as possible.”

Notes: Four San Diego players on the active roster did not participate in practice on Wednesday: linebacker Donald Butler, who missed last week’s game with a groin injury, receiver Eddie Royal (toe), and offensive linemen Jeromey Clary (clavicle) and Chad Rinehart (toe).

Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (hamstring) returned as a limited participant. Running back Ronnie Brown (ankle) was a limited participant as well.

Tackle D.J. Fluker (calf), defensive end Corey Liuget (shoulder) and cornerbacks Richard Marshall (groin), Johnny Patrick (chest) and Shareece Wright (hamstring) all were full participants.
Rivers/LockerUSA TODAY SportsJake Locker, right, will try to keep up with Philip Rivers and the Chargers, who have scored 61 points through two games.
The San Diego Chargers are the Tennessee Titans' white whale.

The teams don’t play that frequently -- just nine times since 1993, including a wild-card playoff matchup in January 2008. The franchises have undergone all sorts of changes during that span, but one thing has remained consistent when they meet: The Chargers always win.

Bill Williamson, why do you think that is, and what are the odds it continues?

Bill Williamson: I don’t see the Chargers' history with the Titans being a factor. I know in Nashville the word "Chargers" makes fans cringe because of the history. Both teams are rebuilding and trending upward. These are two similar teams, and they will both be in the AFC conversation in the coming years.

The Titans made a lot of changes. This isn’t the team the Chargers beat 38-10 last September. What’s the biggest difference?

Paul Kuharsky: The central part of the offseason revamp was the offensive line. The Titans have three new starters on the interior with left guard Andy Levitre, center Rob Turner and right guard Chance Warmack. Turner has been shaky, however, and Warmack is a rookie who is going to take some lumps when he’s across from someone like J.J. Watt. The group hasn’t jelled yet, but the run-blocking has been pretty good.

We've seen the good Philip Rivers and the bad Philip Rivers over the years. With the new regime in place, what is your feeling on who he will be now?

Williamson: I might be the wrong person to ask, Paul. I’ve always been high on Rivers. Yes, his play sank the past two seasons and he committed 47 turnovers during that span. But it wasn’t all on him. The previous regime in San Diego let go of a lot of skill-position talent, and the offensive line was decimated by injuries. Rivers didn’t have much help. He was pressing as a result. So far under head coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterback coach Frank Reich, Rivers has looked re-energized. He has looked relaxed and confident over the first two weeks. He has shown that he is still a high-level player. Stopping him is the main challenge for the Titans.

How’s Jake Locker coming along?

Kuharsky: He made a bad throw on a crucial third-and-1 late in regulation in the loss to the Texans. The Titans have hardly turned him loose so far. But since the start of camp, he’s shown steady progress. I’m not a complete believer by any means, but I think he has a chance and I didn’t always feel that way. We still haven’t seen some aspects of the offense that should be featured for him. Maybe this week he’ll run around more and we’ll see more boots and rollouts.

I’m curious about one of the guys who will be chasing Locker. The Titans have seen a great deal of Dwight Freeney over the years. How has he fit in the defensive scheme there?

Williamson: An old foe, indeed. Freeney is in a tough spot. He was signed (and paid well) to be the Chargers’ primary edge pass-rusher after 2012 first-round pick Melvin Ingram blew out his knee in May. But at 33, Freeney is best suited as a rotational player. He has half a sack this season. He has been active and will give his best effort, but he needs help. It would be a stretch to think he can still be a premier player. But he knows the Titans, and I’m sure he will be motivated to perform well Sunday.

What can Rivers and the Chargers' offensive line expect from the Titans’ pass rush?

Kuharsky: The best guys so far haven’t been the ends. Derrick Morgan, Akeem Ayers and Kamerion Wimbley should key the rush. Ayers moves from stongside linebacker to end on rush downs but has been limited by a bad ankle. Tackle Jurrell Casey and weakside linebacker Zach Brown have been the best rushers so far. The fronts are less predictable and the blitzes more frequent. That’s the influence of defensive assistant Gregg Williams. This defense is far better than I expected.
There appears to be positive news for injured San Diego Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd.

Floyd is now practicing at a full speed, and coach Mike McCoy told reporters Monday that Floyd, the team’s No. 1 receiver, should be ready for the Chargers' season opener. San Diego will host Houston on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 9.

The team initially thought Floyd tore his ACL when he got injured 14 days ago. However, it was a knee strain. Still, his availability for Week 1 was uncertain. Now, Floyd looks like he should be ready to go and the Chargers will need him with a thin core of receivers.

Meanwhile, pass-rusher Melvin Ingram was put on the physically unable to perform list. He suffered a torn ACL in May. The team has some hope he will be able to play late in the season. Still, it may be a long shot.

Antonio Gates still gets respect

August, 22, 2013
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San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates checks in as the 69th best offensive player in the NFL in our top-100 player project. I think the Chargers would be thrilled if they got production worthy of being the 69th offensive player in the league from Gates.

He is 33 and he has been dealing with injuries for five years. Gates still has ability, but his career may be winding down.

In other AFC West notes:

• In an interesting tweet, ESPN’s Ed Werderreported that the Chiefs want to see more mental toughness from No.1 overall pick Eric Fisher as he plays, despite thumb and shoulder injuries. The right tackle wasn’t very good against the 49ers last week. This is something to keep an eye on this weekend when the Chiefs play at Pittsburgh. Is Fisher's recent play major concern? I doubt. I just think it's part of the process when a player like Fisher goes from playing at Central Michigan to playing in the NFL.

The Chargers have not given up hope second-year player Melvin Ingram, whoe tore his ACL in May, could play late this season. I wouldn’t call his return likely, but it will be interesting to monitor.

• In an Insider piece, KC Joyner thinks there are three AFC West running backs Insider to stay away form in fantasy football.

• The Raiders’ home game against Chicago will not be shown on local television.
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.
SAN DIEGO -- There is no doubt the San Diego Chargers were delivered a rough blow Tuesday when starting receiver Danario Alexander suffered a torn right ACL injury, putting him out for the season.

However, the injury is not forcing the team to do anything rash at the position. San Diego general manager Tom Telesco said Wednesday that he likes the group of receivers the Chargers have.

“It hurts a lot because Danario worked so hard, he’s a good player and a good kid. We thought he had a chance to be a bona-fide playmaker this season,” Telesco said. “But we feel pretty good about the position. Fortunately, that is one of the positions where we have some depth.”

The projected starters will likely be Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown. Other key players will be rookie Keenan Allen, Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem. If the group can stay healthy, the Chargers should be fine there, although they will miss Alexander’s size and big-play ability. However, all five of these players have injury history, so there is some concern.

Still, Telesco is confident the group will be fine. Plus, Telesco said the open market at any position at this time of year is not great. He’s right. Players are unemployed in August for a reason.

When pass-rusher Melvin Ingram went down with the same injury as Alexander in May, the team rushed to sign Dwight Freeney. It appears no such deal will happen as a result of Alexander’s injury.

Meanwhile, the team was shocked to hear Alexander was hurt so severely. He showed no immediate signs of suffering a significant injury after it occurred.

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