At some point last week I set a goal for myself: to attend all 11 "open to the public" practice sessions that the Chargers will be putting on over the course of this week and next. Some of these I'll be attending as a fan, in the stands, and some will be as a bona-fide journalist on the sidelines with a digital recorder and everything.
After two practices in the stands, and more twittering than my thumbs can handle, I've got a few notes I'd like to share about what/who I like in camp so far and who I don't.
Back to Mathews for a second. I've been searching for a good comparison in the NFL for him so that I could easily let people know what type of player he is, and it has turned out to be a difficult task. There are obviously guys that can out-do his speed and agility, but those guys seemingly can't match his size and power. Once he gets going in a straight-line, his speed and bowling ball-like force could match Michael Turner's. However, unlike Turner he has a shiftiness to him and seems to make big cuts on a dime without losing momentum. So he's like a shifty Turner, or shifty and fast Marion Barber, or a bigger (more powerful) Maurice Jones-Drew. Too much hype? Probably, but that's the only way I can describe his collection of skills.
This is going to seem like a complicated statement. The Chargers both need and don't need Marcus McNeill. At this moment, with camp just starting and the passing offense still working the kinks out (like every team at this time of the year), it would appear that having a Pro Bowl LT and Pro Bowl WR would go a long way towards improving the offense.
Unsurprisingly, Malcom Floyd is absolutely killing it in practice as always. Going against Quentin Jammer consistently is only going to help him, and I think he can nearly match VJ's production at the #1 spot. However.....
This is going to shock some people. As much as I'm rooting for Buster Davis to be really good in the slot position, I don't think he's as good a receiver as Naanee and I'm not sure he ever will be. He could grow into the role, sure, but the WR group as a whole has taken a step backwards from last year without Marcus McNeill or VJ. Granted, it's only been two practices.
On that note, Legedu Naanee is really good. He's opening my eyes the way Floyd did last year at training camp. He has the size/strength/speed combo that will remind a few people of Vincent Jackson. People love to rip on AJ Smith for some of his first round picks (CBD, Antoine Cason, etc.) but this team is still a contender every year because he consistently grabs guys like Naanee and Jackson before anyone know who they are.
This Traye Simmons madness needs to come to an end eventually, right? The guy is Dre Bly-small but never seems to get beat. I don't know if there's anyone in the secondary who is quicker to the ball when it leaves the QB's hands. I don't know if there's room for him on this roster, but he might force them to make some room.
Offensive lines never look really good the first few days of camp and this year is no exception. The guys look healthy and excited, but teamwork is the key ingredient and it comes about only with repetition. Anyone remember how worried they made us in the first few preseason games last year? They might do that again, but I like what I see from the guys individually. Jeromey Clary looks lighter on his feet than I remember, but I saw him get blown up by Derrick Jones at least once yesterday too.
The defensive line battle is a ton of fun. There's nobody that's clearly worse than the other guys, and different guys seem to step up on different days. I have no idea how the coaches are going to pick which of these guys to lose.
- Ryan Mathews seems to impress me every time he gets the ball. Is this because he's better and/or trying harder than an over-the-hill LaDainian Tomlinson? I have no idea, but the more you watch these practices the easier it becomes to spot the best player on each unit. As much as I love Darren Sproles as a change-of-pace RB and one of the league's best KR, Mathews has already shown himself to be leaps and bounds ahead of him and any other RB on the team (I haven't seen Tolbert at practice yet). We have ourselves a legitimate RB for the first time in a couple years, folks.
- I do a lot of watching of player groups when they're not running through drills or scrimmaging to gauge personalities. I feel like this gives me a fairly good idea of the atmosphere of the team. Last year's RB group seemed nervous to do or say anything, in fear that it would annoy LT. Last year's CB group seemingly wasn't able to do or say anything themselves because Antonio Cromartie was too busy showing off and making them watch (same thing on KRs and PRs). Last year's WR group seemed resigned to the fact that they weren't making the team. This year, just about every positional group seems focused, relaxed and eager to help each other gets better. It feels more like a team this year.