This weekend, the San Diego Chargers held their last two open practices of the 2012 season. Until August of next year, your view into Chargers Park will have to come vicariously through some random beat writer. I went to both practices and tried to spend a little time focusing on each position group to get a feel for who is doing well and who isn't.
When I visit practice, I tend to pull out my phone and tweet every thought that I have. So, for those of you that had your timelines blown up by me, some of this will be repetitive. For the rest of you, enjoy.
One thing you never, ever want to see is Corey Lynch as the team's starting FS. Eric Weddle and Darrell Stuckey missed practice both days, and there was a noticeable dropoff in terms of deep coverage. John Pagano attempted to remedy that with lots and lots of blitzing.
Larry English, when healthy, is up there with the best pass-rushers on this team. He had one play on Saturday where it looked like Mario Henderson and Jacob Hester didn't exist. He basically got to the ball-carrier the same time as the ball for what would've been a 5+ yard loss. The talent is still there.
The running game looks lost. Mike Harris doesn't get much of a push at the line, Le'Ron McClain isn't throwing those nasty Lorenzo Neal-type blocks, and nobody else comes close to Mathews' combination of size and speed. Until Mathews' gets healthy, expect a solid running game (4 yards per carry) with no potential for big plays.
Taylor Embree is a guy that the team might have to cut, but they won't want to. He looks like the second best (healthy) receiver, only topped by Vincent Brown. He continues to remind me of Malcom Floyd.
Speaking of Brown, he couldn't be having a better camp. He looks fast, quick, smart and he's on a Gates-like level of seeing the same things as Philip Rivers. That's not even going into his hands (stellar) or his toughness (he can break tackles).
Corey Liuget looks scary. I don't know what type of workouts he did in the offseason, but his legs look way bigger than I remember them being. Through every drill, he looked like the fastest and strongest defensive lineman on the team. Looked good in scrimmages too.
Be very, very afraid of that Week 5 matchup against the Saints. The Chargers have 4 good corners and not a single NFL caliber player after that.....and Shareece Wright is debatable. Luckily, that's the only true spread-offense that the Bolts face this year, but don't think Peyton Manning isn't playing attention and planning for 4WR and 5WR sets.
Donald Butler and Takeo Spikes should be even better this season. You can see that they're now experienced with each other, as they always know where the other guy is. They're turning into a really good team, and Butler looks faster and more decisive than he was last season.
I'm assuming he'll be healthy by time the season starts, but Charlie Whitehurst is not healthy now. He was walking with a noticeable limp (not to mention a noticeable knee-brace) and was throwing with his upper-body. It did not look good. I can't imagine we'll see much of him in the preseason games.
I'm not even sure Ladarius Green is on this team. I like to pretend that the Chargers are keeping him in the locker room to do nothing but eat food and lift weights. Or maybe there's just not enough reps to go around for the 5 TEs on the roster. Either way, he's invisible.
Michael Hayes and Edwin Baker look like guys that have worked hard to make themselves good RBs, but they just don't have the speed to do anything in the NFL. If you want comparables, think Jacob Hester with less blocking and less special teams awesomeness.
Jarret Johnson appears dead-set on making sure that Mike Harris is ready for the season. Johnson was using veteran savvy and some heavy fists to harden the undrafted free agent up. I don't imagine he'd be throwing those haymakers at Jared Gaither.
Speaking of Johnson, you can see why he hasn't been a very good pass-rusher in the 3-4 (he plays too high and isn't fast enough to get around the edge), but he does everything else really well. He also hits like a freight train. However, I think the person happiest to have him around is Shaun Phillips. Despite their differences, those are two guys that turn into fiery professionals when they step on the football field. When they have their helmet on, they live and breathe football. There's no room for half-assing or even for joking around. You can sense the respect between them, and the respect the rest of the defense has for them.
There will be plenty of people talking about Jonas Mouton in the same breath as Donald Butler this year, but don't buy the hype. Butler was drafted as a complete player, NFL-ready. Mouton was drafted as a raw project and he still is. I wouldn't count on him as anything more than a Brandon Siler-like goal line LB in 2012.
The cornerbacks have no hands. At all. I guess Antoine Cason can catch a little, but don't expect much in the way of interceptions from this group. Weddle should still be the leader in that category.
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