The fourth preseason game is a joke. It's scheduled five days after the third preseason game and a week and a half before the first regular season game. What coach, in their right mind, would play his starters twice within a week in meaningless games if he could give them two weeks off instead? The fourth preseason game is the first bye week of the year.
The good news is that the third preseason game is awesome, and the most important, because it's the last real chance the coaching staff has to check on the first-stringers. There is plenty of information to gather. Here's what they will be looking for, and what we should be watching for as fans of the San Diego Chargers:
Who plays and how much
The first-team typically plays the entire first of and a little bit of the second half in the third preseason game, because the coaches want them to get used to making half-time adjustments and coming out ready in the third quarter. However, there are usually a few veterans that come out after halftime in street clothes because the coaching staff thinks they're ready and that they don't need any additional work. I like to take note of who those players are.
Whatever your stance is on Philip Rivers, it's fairly obvious that he's not yet comfortable and not yet where he needs to be for this offense to be successful in week 1 against the Houston Texans. It will be intriguing to see how long Mike McCoy leaves him in the game.
The offensive line
How good of a job the offensive line does of protecting him will also help determine how long Rivers stays in the game. It'll to be interesting to see how they do against the Arizona Cardinals' pass-rush, which isn't very good but now has John Abraham. How will D.J. Fluker look against their speed rushers?
The first-team playing more snaps means that there's a significantly higher risk for an injury. In fact, it will be a small miracle if the Chargers can leave Phoenix without at least a minor injury to a starting player. Always remember that any player can experience a season-ending injury on any down. That's just football.
Will he finally play?!? If he does, it will be interesting to see how many snaps, carries and catches he gets. The coaching staff, to their point, is either afraid of him breaking (a bad sign) or trusts him so much that they don't think he needs game reps (a good sign, I suppose). It will be interesting to see how they use him in the offense when he finally gets on the field.
Manti Te'o is not going to play in this game. After being injured on the third snap of his first preseason game, it's difficult to imagine Te'o being the starting inside linebacker next to Donald Butler against the Texans. Bront Bird has been getting the first-team reps in his place, and I'll be watching to see which Bront Bird has shown up this year. Is it the guy that's reckless and out of control, that runs himself out of plays consistently, or is it the guy that we saw in the second-half of 2012 that looked like he might be good enough to start in the NFL?
Le'Ron McClain vs. Chris Gronkowski
I honestly didn't think there was any way McClain was going to win the starting fullback job over Gronkowski, but here we are. Chris has battled injuries and simply hasn't gotten on the field enough to steal the job away. Will he play tonight? Will he get any snaps with the first team?
Unfortunately, the third preseason game often doesn't give you a chance to see much of the third-string quarterback. For those that are hoping Brad Sorensen can steal the backup's job away from Charlie Whitehurst, tonight may not be the night for that. He might have an outside chance of doing it on Thursday if Charlie performs very poorly in this game and that one against the 49ers.
Some quick thoughts:
- Mike Willie is going to be given a chance to make this team.
- With Danario Alexander down, I think Eddie Royal will play a big part on the 2013 Chargers team.
- Vincent Brown is saying and doing all of the right things right now. He just needs a big first half tonight to back it up.
- If nobody steps up from the group of receivers, and Ladarius Green continues to improve, I could see this turning into a Patriots-style offense that runs more 2-TE sets than 3-WR sets.
Those are my thoughts, what I have ready to take note of while watching the game tonight. What will you be watching for?