You can surf the channels all you want this season and you won't find a return of Hard Knocks. Due to the lockout that show will not go on this season, but may return in future. However, Hard Wonks is back. I'm your host Wonko and I'm going to to take you to training camp with the Chargers Hard Knocks style. If you haven't seen the real show, here's the basic idea: As the team prepares for the start of the season the show searches for storylines among the team. Sometimes it's big stories like Darrelle Revis' hold out last year. Sometimes it's small stories like the battle for the starting FB spot in Cincinnati two years ago. Sometimes you get a preview of a fringe guy who will make a bigger impact in a few years like Danny Amendola with the Cowboys 3 years ago who didn't make the cut, but became a useful player for the Rams for the past two years. But, those are all stories for teams not based in San Diego. At Bolts From The Blue we want to hear about our Chargers.
First Episode: The Offensive Backfield.
We start the show with a recap of the Chargers 2010 season. The theme of the recap is that the season didn't go as planned and how all multitudes of mistakes by players, coaches and the front office undermined the season. The story ends with the beacon of hope for the Chargers: Philip Rivers.
Cut to a shot of Philip yucking it up with his fellow QBs. Maybe he's throwing a few passes or maybe he's just taking in practice while he quips with Billy Volek or Norv Turner. The segment can end with the clip of him completing that bomb to Vincent Jackson and the narrator saying, "It's plays like this one that will keep the Chargers fans hopes alive all season."
Now comes a shot of Billy Volek and Scott Tolzien taking snaps in their red "hands-off" jerseys. There is a contrast between the two. One is veteran who once started games in the NFL and even helped win a playoff game for the Chargers. He had a chance this offseason to find a better situation through free agency, but came back to San Diego to reprise his old backup role on a team that has hopes for a championship. Tolzien is just starting out. He played in big games at Wisconsin, but has a long way to go before he'll see his next big game. He went undrafted and is trying to win a job on a team that for much of last year didn't have a 3rd QB on their roster. He's had very little time to learn the playbook, but will get plenty of chances in the upcoming preseason games to prove his worth.
Meanwhile, at the running back position, the narrator tells us that a more high profile player carries some doubts with him. Overlaying shots of fumbles and injuries we hear about how Ryan Mathews' rookie season was not what people in San Diego were hoping for when the Chargers traded up to draft him 12th overall in the 2010 draft. This year many expect him to improve and correct some of the mistakes from last year. However, he surprised people by showing up to camp after the lockout not properly conditioned. This forced him to miss some early practices and fans were already starting to wonder how optimistic they should be about the young tailback. Nevertheless, it's only the preseason and he'll still get 16 games this year to prove he can stay healthy, hold on to the football and be a consistent contributor in the dynamic Chargers offense.
In addition to Mathews the Chargers have a fan favorite in the backfield. Some video of Mike Tolbert's dances and some shots of the fans cheering his carries in practice introduce the bowling ball-like running back from Coastal Carolina. Tolbert's precense helps soothe some the anxiety about the running back position since he picked up much of the slack left by Ryan Mathews in 2010. He even got the lone offensive touchdown in the Chargers first preseason game. Cue another shot of his dance moves. This time make it the one from last Thursday.
The Chargers also lost a fan favorite in the backfield. The proof of the Darren Sproles fandom that exists is San Diego is shown with a veritable cornucopia of clips of young ladies in their cute pink and powder blue Sproles jerseys. The diminutive picked up some serious cash in his last two seasons with the Chargers (cue Scrooge McDuck clip with the rich bird swimming in his money vault), but left the only team he'd ever played for to join the New Orleans Saints. Somebody has still make up for the plays where he came in on third down. Maybe that's Mathews, who has plenty on his plate to pick up already, maybe it's the latest fan favorite Tolbert or maybe it's somebody else.
Talk of somebody else filling Sproles' role leads us into the battle for the last running back spot. Here, Jordan Todman is introduced as the RB the Chargers drafted out of UConn. His college story is told including how he basically carried his team to a BCS bowl in his final year. His pro story is just beginning but some well chosen shots from the Seahawks game will show the viewers the promise that awaits. Some of the other RBs stories are less cheerful, but pull at the heartstrings and give the audience something to root for.
Curtis Brinkley was shot multiple times in 2009, but returned to the NFL in 2010 and is still fighting to get on a roster in 2011.
Shawnbrey McNeal transferred from Miami before his Junior year to take care of his ill mother back in Texas. He then left his new school, SMU, a year early to declare for the NFL. A shot of the tattoo he has of his mother's name should work its way in here. Then we can hear how he went undrafted and then failed to make the Chargers last year. Now he returns, fighting for a job and his mother.
Brandon Sullivan's story is nothing like those two. He's just a kid who has experiencing starting games at Qualcomm Stadium albeit as a San Diego State Aztec. He's a versatile player who started games at RB and FB and stayed in San Diego to make an impression and one day play an NFL game at Qualcomm again.