San Diego Chargers Preseason: Important backups to keep an eye on

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, John went over some starters to keep an eye on during the preseason. Today, we go over some key backups that will be interesting to watch throughout the preseason.

Finally. Real, live football. No, unfortunately we won't get the chance to see Philip Rivers for four quarters in the new look offense. We will, however, get the chance to see just how this San Diego Chargers roster is shaping up.

To most, preseason games don't really mean much. With so many guys on the cusp of making the roster, and with the talent at several positions seemingly having marginal difference, these are some of the most important games for these young players. We know all eyes will be on the offensive line to see how they mesh, so here are some guys/groups that aren't "starting" that I'll be keeping my eye on in the coming weeks.


Keenan Allen

"I want to be a starter. I don't want to watch. I want to be part of the moment. I don't want to watch it" - Keenan Allen

After the unfortunate news of Danario Alexander's torn ACL, it looks like Allen's wish might become true sooner than expected. He is a rookie, so expectations are tempered, and he's reportedly had an up and down camp.

Allen's skill set is a great fit in almost any offense, so I truly believe that the more game experience he gets, the better he'll be. Unlike Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal (who are both listed ahead of him on the depth chart), Allen can line up at any receiver position. He can play inside and work the middle of the field or he can play outside and create separation on intermediate routes. He brings a little bit of everything to the table. His game translates well wherever you put him.

It'll be interesting to see how he is used now with the injury to Alexander, and how long it takes him to get to work with the first-string offense in preseason. With Alexander down, it's almost like it's back to square one with the receiver corps. Royal and Robert Meachem combined for 37 catches last year. The Chargers will be holding out Vincent Brown with a hamstring injury tonight, so Allen should see extended time with the first team. The Chargers will need someone to step up in a big way, so I'll be keeping an eye out to see if Allen is that guy, and see if he's ready to make "the leap" as a rookie.


Darrell Stuckey

I would've said keep an eye on Stuckey either way, but now it seems like we should more than ever. Even if Marcus Gilchrist is being held out for precautionary reasons, Stuckey will finally gets a chance to play with the starters, something that seems like has never happened.

Some argue that "if Stuckey hasn't cracked the lineup yet, it's because he's not good enough." I've always wondered why the last regime never stuck him out there to at least see what he could do. I'd counter that by saying that he hasn't been afforded the opportunity, one that has finally come now.

Stuckey has always been a very athletic player. It will be interesting to see how Defensive Coordinator John Pagano gets with him. He's capable of playing either in the box, or center field. I'll be watching to see how efficient of a tackler he is. Also, how he does covering opposing tight ends? There has to be a reason he hasn't played in 3 years, and I'm hoping that this game will tell us whether it was on the old regime, or he truly has faults in his game. I've heard that Stuckey looks like a star when it comes to individual drills, but once he gets to the team 11-on-11, he forgets everything. I'll be keeping a close eye on him.

Here's a quick chart that looks at the production of Safeties that have played along side of Eric Weddle since Stuckey was drafted. Their overall grade from that year by Pro Football Focus, their "stop percentage" (which is a tackle that is a result in a loss for the offense), and where that Safety ranked in coverage when he was the primary player in coverage. As you can see, there's a little room for improvement at the position.

Player PFF Grade Stop % Stop % Ranking Coverage Rank
Atari Bigby -7.8 4.5 54 of 77 91 of 91(!)
Corey Lynch 2.3 3.1 62 of 77 35 of 91
Steve Gregory('11) -8.5 2.9 49 of 54 48 of 62
Paul Oliver('10) 3.7 2.5 64 of 74 14 of 87


The Outside Linebacker Group

This might be one of the biggest concerns heading into the season, getting after the Quarterback without having to send the house. The Chargers will be counting on this year's version of Antwan Barnes or Jyles Tucker to come out of nowhere and produce. Jarret Johnson isn't the answer, but there are a handful of intriguing young guys who might be.

The Chargers brought in Thomas Keiser from the Carolina Panthers and former Alabama SAM linebacker Jerrell Harris (who is a sneaky good athlete with plenty of potential, just hasn't figured it out yet) after drafting Tourek Williams in the 6th round and signing undrafted free agent in Frank Beltre.

That's the group that will have the best shot, 3 of those guys have a chance to make it if you factor in Special Teams contributions. Like Barnes and Tucker before them, I'll be looking to see if they can win the edge. What I mean by that is if they can simply beat the Tackle off of pure speed and athleticism. Each will have plenty of opportunities during the game to show us what they can do.

Watching Keiser, it seems like he's more of a scheme guy than actual true pass rusher, which makes him similar to Jarret Johnson. In my opinion, Devan Walker had the best chance to make the team, because he was the one pure pass rusher of the group that could beat you with speed, but after being put on IR yesterday he's out of the equation.

Jerrell Harris could be the dark horse here. Coming from a dominant defense at Alabama, he obviously has the talent, he just needs to put it all together. Out of college some thought Harris would be a better player than former teammate and first round pick, Dont'a Hightower. Harris can run, cover, and is a sure tackler, which is what the Chargers need. It'll be interesting to see if he is able to develop into a pass rusher and show that he has better play recognition, but again, Special Teams can get you on the team, and he'll be given every opportunity to make the roster.

The Chargers bring back virtually nothing from last year's team in terms of creating pressure with their Outside Linebacker group, and asking a bunch of guys with little to no experience to replace Shaun Phillips and Melvin Ingram is a tall order, so we'll see which player takes advantage of his situation.


Brad Sorensen vs. Charlie Whitehurst

Let me just start out by saying this first: No, I don't expect that either of these 2 will take a regular season snap this year. At least, I hope they won't.

This is the battle for the backup position. Can Sorensen outplay Whitehurst? If you have seen the highlights on the team website, Sorensen has been in there quite a bit. I've heard a couple people that have argued he's been the most impressive quarterback, including Rivers. This will be an interesting battle, because it can potentially save the team $1.3 million this year.

Some will argue that Whitehurst is a veteran and has more experience. Problem is, this is an entirely new offense and, if anything, Sorensen has more experience having played in a spread system in college. So, the experience factor goes out the window because they both get a fresh start under the new system. I think Sorensen would be smarter to keep, because he hasn't reached his ceiling, and has greater physical tools. His ball placement will need to improve if he wants to win the job, and this next month should give us a good idea of each quarterback's talent.


Other Battles

There are plenty of other guys fighting for a spot. Center Nick Hardwick's contract is up in 2014, and he might be cut after this year, so the David Molk vs. Colin Baxter competition is important for the future.

There is the battle at the Nickel Cornerback that is intriguing, and arguably one of the most important positions on defense, coming down between Johnny Patrick (who's been a lot better than advertised in practice) and rookie Steve Williams.

Those are the battles/players I'll be looking forward to watching. There is plenty of competition on the 2013 Chargers so every game, every quarter of the preseason is incredibly important. Are there any other back up guys that you are looking forward to seeing this preseason?


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