NFL Nation: D.J. Fluker

IRVING, Texas -- If the Dallas Cowboys are to break out of their 8-8 doldrums, they will need younger players to grow up in 2014.

Pete Prisco of CBS Sports has two candidates for breakout seasons -- Travis Frederick and Terrance Williams -- in his annual list.

Frederick
Williams
Williams
The Cowboys were one of four teams with more than one player. The San Diego Chargers had three: D.J. Fluker, Melvin Ingram, Keenan Allen. The New Orleans Saints (Kenny Vaccaro, Akiem Hicks) and Denver Broncos (Montee Ball, Sylvester Williams) also had two.

Here’s what Prisco said about Frederick and Williams:
Travis Frederick, C, Dallas Cowboys -- When the Cowboys picked him in the first round of the 2013 draft, there were snickers. But it was the right move. He showed last season as a 16-game starter that he has a chance to be a really good center. He is smart and athletic, two musts for the position these days.

Terrance Williams, WR, Dallas Cowboys -- With Miles Austin now gone, this second-year player takes over as the starter opposite Dez Bryant. That should mean a lot of single coverage and a chance for big plays. Look for his numbers to go up dramatically from his 44 catches a year ago.

Defining how Frederick breaks out is tougher than Williams just because of the nature of his position. The Cowboys were stronger up the middle in 2013 than they had been in recent years because of Frederick. He did not miss a game as a rookie and carried himself as a veteran from the first day he arrived.

(As an aside, there is a similar feeling when it comes to this year’s first-round pick, Zack Martin.)

For Williams, it can be a little easier to define because his statistics will be there for everybody to see. He caught 44 passes for 736 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie.

With Austin gone, Williams will be the starter opposite Bryant in 2014. The Cowboys have no reservations about Williams. They believe he will slide into that role without any issues. In coach parlance, they don’t believe the game is too big for him.

He will get opportunities. Bryant will be the focal point of opposing defenses.

With Bryant catching 93 passes for 1,233 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013, Austin caught 66 passes for 943 yards and six touchdowns as the No. 2 receiver in 16 games in 2012. The Cowboys would live with those numbers from Williams.

Cowboys' quarterbacks had 375 completions last year.

Pencil in Bryant for another 90-plus catch season. Jason Witten will catch 75-80 passes. The running backs will combine for 80. Cole Beasley should figure in that 35-45 catch range. Dwayne Harris and Gavin Escobar will have more than the 18 they combined for last year. Devin Street will be in that 20-30 range if things go well as well.

There will be opportunities for Williams to show 2014 will be a breakout season.

Chargers rookies make an impact

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

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

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

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

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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's not the NFL's official award, but Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy was named the league's top rookie Tuesday by the Professional Football Writers of America.

Lacy
It could be a precursor to Lacy winning the Associated Press award, which the NFL considers its official honor. That will be announced Feb. 1, the eve of the Super Bowl.

Lacy was the PFWA's overall top rookie after rushing for 1,178 yards to lead all rookies and set the Packers' rookie record.

The PFWA also named top rookies on offense (San Diego Chargers receiver Keenan Allen) and defense (Buffalo Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso).

None of the three players honored by the PFWA was a first-round pick. Lacy was selected in the second round at No. 61 overall, while Allen was a third-round pick (No. 76 overall) and Alonso a second rounder (No. 46 overall).

The AP does not award a top overall rookie but rather splits the award into offensive and defensive rookies of the year, so Allen would appear to be Lacy's top competition for that honor. No Packers player has won the AP offensive rookie of the year award since John Brockington in 1971. Lacy broke Brockington's team rookie rushing record this season.

Lacy was the only Packers rookie honored by the PFWA. Left tackle David Bakhtiari, a fourth-round pick, seemingly was a strong candidate for the all-rookie team, but the tackle spots went to D.J. Fluker of the San Diego Chargers and Justin Pugh of the New York Giants. Both were first-round picks.

Micah Hyde was also bypassed as a punt returner. Tavon Austin of the St. Louis Rams was named to the all-rookie team as a punt returner. Hyde averaged 12.3 yards per return on 24 attempts, which ranked fifth in the NFL, while Austin averaged 8.5 (to rank 16th) on 33 returns. Each had one punt return for a touchdown. Austin was the eighth overall pick in the draft, while Hyde was a fifth-round pick (No. 159 overall).

The complete PFWA rookie honors can be found here.
SAN DIEGO -- Blocking for San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is an offensive lineman's dream.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's Ryan Mathews
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsRyan Mathews has emerged as a running back this season, to the delight of his linemen.
At least that's the way the team's longtime center Nick Hardwick describes it. Hardwick says opposing defenders shy away from contact when Mathews gets his legs churning.

"He is built like a block of granite," Hardwick said. "He is a pretty intense specimen, so when he gets going downhill, he is inflicting some pain on these linebackers and safeties."

Mathews' physical running style is something the rest of the offensive line feeds off of, according to rookie right tackle D.J. Fluker.

"I love blocking for Ryan," Fluker said. "Ryan just makes people look bad on the field. DB's don't want to hit him. They're scared of him because he's physical with them. It's great to see him have a great season. And it's been great to see someone go out there and give everything they have for their teammates."

In his fourth NFL season, Mathews has finally emerged from the immense shadow of being drafted as the replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson as the No. 12 overall selection in the 2010 draft.

The Fresno State product topped 1,000 rushing yards for the second time as a pro, rushing a career-high 236 times for 1,012 yards, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. Mathews has run for 415 yards after contact, which is No. 7 in the NFL.

"It's been good, really good," Mathews said after the Denver game last week, in which he ran for 127 yards. Mathews carried the ball 58 times in two games over four days.

"I'm sore, but that's what they are asking of me, so that's what I'm going to do. I'm just going to keep grinding, and doing whatever this team needs."

Added receiver Seyi Ajirotutu, who played with Mathews at Fresno State: "He's always been tough. But there's just something about this year that has been special. He's running hard, and everyone can see it. He just looks like a different back, and obviously he's running confident."

Mathews has stayed healthy, and is on track to play a full, 16-game season for the first time as a pro. And he's avoided putting the ball on the ground. Heading into the 2013 season, Mathews had fumbled 12 times, losing seven of them through three seasons. But this year, Mathews has fumbled just twice, losing one of them.

Mathews has five 100-yard rushing games this season, which is tied with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy for the most in the NFL.

But more than anything, at 26-years old Mathews has shown maturity. He's done a better job of taking care of his body, preparing himself for the rigors of an NFL season with a rigid regimen before the season started, one which included reporting to training camp at the appropriate weight on his 6-foot, 220-pound frame.

"He puts a lot of work in," fellow running back Ronnie Brown said. "There's a lot of stuff that's not seen. People give him a hard time. But he runs the ball hard. He prepares hard in the offseason. And he puts in the work that's necessary, and I don't think a lot of people see that, so it's not appreciated."

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said he first noticed a confident and decisive Mathews during offseason work by watching his feet. Rivers said Mathews benefitted from offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt streamlining the team's running playbook, focusing on a steady diet of inside and outside zone running plays.

"There have been less schematic things, which gives him a lot of reps at the run packages that we have," Rivers said. "He has been able to rep them over and over and over again, going all the way back to OTAs. As a runner, much like as a passer, if you run it five times you feel decent, but if we throw it 50 times over the offseason then you feel a lot better.

"It's the same way in the running game. If I run inside zone against every look they have 50 times throughout the offseason, I'm going to feel a heck of a lot better about it than if I get a lot of different ones. I think that is one thing I can see. I felt confidence in his feet, confidence in his vision grow over this whole offseason throughout training camp and all year long."

While Rivers has shown the ability to pick opponents apart through the air, Mathews provides the hammer in the run game, keeping defenses honest and closing out games by grinding out first downs to run the clock.

Once considered a good bet to leave town when his contract ends at the end of the 2014 season, Mathews has proved that he's a good fit long term for the Chargers.

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.”
SAN DIEGO -- For the first time in many weeks, the San Diego Chargers had all 53 players on the active roster participate in practice Tuesday -- a good sign for a team facing the Denver Broncos, who are undefeated at home.

"The last couple weeks coming out of games we've been fairly healthy," San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. "Every game you're going to have some dings, but nothing serious. So it's been a good couple weeks for us."

Receiver Eddie Royal (toe), center Nick Hardwick (neck), cornerback Shareece Wright (foot) and defensive back Johnny Patrick (ankle) were limited in practice.

Receiver Keenan Allen (shoulder), tackle D.J. Fluker (ankle), defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe), linebacker Jarret Johnson (hand), defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (toe) and defensive end Corey Liuget (knee) were full participants.

Royal had not practiced since injuring his toe against Indianapolis on Oct. 14. Royal missed just one game over the past seven because of the injury, against Cincinnati. With less practice time, Royal said he put in more film study and mental reps to make sure he was prepared to play.

"I just had to study more than normal," Royal said. "Because when you're out there running the plays, you don't normally have to go home and look at it for hours. But now that you're not doing it, you want to make sure that you're detailed in what you're doing. There's a lot of little things that you have to pay attention to when you're not out there practicing every day."

Mathews, Dunlap return to practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defensive end Lawrence Guy (toe), defensive end Corey Liuget (shin) and long snapper Mike Windt (ankle) were full participants for a second straight day.

OLB Jarret Johnson still out

November, 13, 2013
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SAN DIEGO -- The line to the training room is getting longer for the San Diego Chargers.

Johnson
Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who missed last week’s game against Denver with a lingering hamstring injury, remains out. Also not participating in the early portion of Wednesday’s practice were fullback Le'Ron McClain (ankle), left tackle King Dunlap (head/neck) and center Nick Hardwick (neck stinger).

With Dunlap and Hardwick unavailable, the starting offensive line working together during individual drills included D.J. Fluker at left tackle, Johnnie Troutman at left guard, Rich Orhnberger at center, Chad Rinehart at right guard and Jeromey Clary at right tackle.

Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram remains on the physical unable to perform list and was an observer at practice. New addition outside linebacker Adrian Robinson was at practice and is wearing No. 99.

Offensive lineman Mike Remmers also practiced for the first time since suffering an ankle injury against Jacksonville last month.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Observed in the locker room after the San Diego Chargers' 24-6 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upon Further Review: Chargers Week 3

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

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

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

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

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

D.J. Fluker misses practice again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Underrated tackles held up well

September, 12, 2013
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GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Whatever angst the Green Bay Packers had about their starting tackles should have been eased somewhat after their performance in Sunday’s season opener at San Francisco.

Although it wasn’t a flawless performance and there were issues in the running game, rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari and second-year right tackle Don Barclay held up well, especially considering their pedigree.

Bakhtiari was at least partially responsible for both of Aldon Smith's sacks, but otherwise was solid in his debut. Meanwhile, Barclay, in just his seventh career start, showed significant improvement over last season.

A study of all 64 opening-day tackles showed that the Packers trotted out one of the most unheralded combinations in the league. Bakhtiari was a fourth-round pick, while Barclay was undrafted.

Only two other teams had both of their Week 1 starting tackles taken in the fourth round of the draft or lower. They were: the Chicago Bears (Jermon Bushrod, fourth round; Jordan Mills, fifth round), and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Demar Dotson, undrafted; Donald Penn, undrafted).

Based on Week 1 starting lineups, 28 of the 64 starting tackles were first-round picks. Another 13 were drafted in the second round. That accounts for 64.0 percent of the opening-day starting tackles. Only 15 were drafted in the fifth round or later (or were undrafted).

“I know that when you get players that are doing a good job, that’s a tribute to them, not where they were picked,” Packers offensive line coach James Campen said. “It doesn’t matter to me where they were picked as long as they can play.”

Bakhtiari was one of only six rookies who started at tackle in Week 1. Four of them -- Eric Fisher of the Kansas City Chiefs, Luke Joeckel of the Jacksonville Jaguars, D.J. Fluker of the San Diego Chargers and Justin Pugh of the New York Giants -- were first-round picks. Of the six, only the Bears’ Mills was drafted lower than Bakhtiari.

Of course, the Packers didn’t envision a Bakhtiari-Barclay starting tackle combination. Like many teams in the NFL, they used high draft picks on tackles. In 2010, they took Bryan Bulaga at No. 23 overall. A year later, they picked Derek Sherrod at No. 32. Together, they were supposed to be the starting tackle combination for the foreseeable future. But Sherrod still hasn’t recovered from the broken leg he suffered as a rookie and remains on the physically unable to perform list, and Bulaga was lost for the season to a knee injury on Aug. 5.

Tackles are often the key to pass protection, and other than Smith’s two sacks, one of which came when Bakhtiari whiffed on a cut block, the Packers kept Aaron Rodgers fairly clean against the 49ers. The running game, however, was another story. The Packers had only 63 yards rushing against the 49ers.

“Didn’t notice them that much, so that was good,” Packers offensive coordinator Tom Clements said of the starting tackles. “They both played well. They got after it, and they were playing against excellent players, and they moved their front four around at times to get different defenders on them, and they reacted well.”

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