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Thursday, August 7, 2014
W2W4: San Diego Chargers

By Eric D. Williams

The San Diego Chargers (0-0) and the Dallas Cowboys (0-0) open the preseason Thursday night at
Qualcomm Stadium. The game starts at 10 p.m. ET.

Here are three things to keep an eye on during the game.

1. Rookie watch: First-round pick Jason Verrett likely will not play, as the Chargers take a cautious approach to his return from shoulder surgery in March. Third-round selection Chris Watt’s availability also is uncertain after sustaining what appeared to be a head or neck injury in Tuesday’s practice. Watt did not practice on Wednesday. But other rookies to watch for include edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, nose tackle Ryan Carrethers, running back Marion Grice and receiver Tevin Reese. Specifically, I’m interested to see how Attaochu rushes the passer against the Cowboys’ talented offensive line, and if the 165-pound Reese can make a couple big plays in the passing game and as a returner.

2. Can the defense make plays? One point of emphasis on defense during training camp has been creating turnovers. And defensive coordinator John Pagano’s group has done a good job of that during practice. Now, the Chargers need to take the next step and consistently get the ball out during games. A player to focus on is inside linebacker Manti Te'o. Coming off offseason foot surgery, the Notre Dame product has looked faster and more instinctive in practice. He needs to carry that effort over to the game. Lastly, the Chargers have to do a better job of getting after the quarterback. They face Brandon Weeden, not Tony Romo, on Thursday. In 20 starts, Weeden has thrown 26 interceptions and has been sacked 55 times. San Diego’s defense will have some opportunities to make plays against the Oklahoma State product.

3. Look crisp, stay healthy: We’ll likely see most of the starters for a series or two at the most. So it’s important for guys like Philip Rivers, Nick Hardwick, Malcom Floyd and Eric Weddle to make the most of their limited opportunities. San Diego’s starters want to get a few reps, look sharp and then get off the field so younger players can get a chance to show what they can do. Floyd will be playing for the first time since suffering a neck injury early last season, so the contest is a chance to take a couple hits and clear another mental hurdle that he’s healthy. Dwight Freeney, who’s returning from a torn quad injury, did not practice on Wednesday and likely will not play on Thursday. The most important thing for the Chargers is to make sure their core players leave the game without injury and on pace to start the regular season healthy.