The third preseason game is always a fun one to watch and last night's game did not disappoint. There were very promising signs from both the first and second stringers for the Chargers.
As for that last-second TD...who cares? It's a preseason game! If the Chargers had played poorly with their first stringers, but Charlie Whitehurst brought them back for a last-second TD...would you be happy! Of course not! Chris Redman and Eric Weems will barely see the field in the regular season, if at all. So this week, for the Bolts & Dolts, we'll keep our focus mainly on the first-stringers.
Philip Rivers - 10-for-15, 185 yards, 1 TD in less than a half of play, against a good defense that was bringing the heat consistently. If Phil can go 20-for-30 for 370 yards and 2 TDs every week, wins should come easily. I think Dan Fouts said it best when he said that both Rivers and Matt Ryan looked to be in mid-season form already.
Billy Volek - I feel like Philip and Billy Volek are having a weekly competition to see who can play better. The difference, of course, is that Volek is usually going up against the second string defense. Last night, however, he played most of his snaps against Atlanta's first-team defense and still matched Rivers. 7-for-9, 102 yards and 1 TD. Best backup quarterback in the league? Let's hope we never have to find out.
The Offensive Line (passing) - Well, at least they moved up here in pass protection. Only 1 sack was given up the entire game, and it could be argued that Rivers held onto that ball too long when he should've just gotten rid of it (the sack was made by a cornerback). Although John Abraham was flying all over the field and consistently needed to be double teamed, he was kept to only 2 tackles and zero sacks. Also, in that first half Atlanta seemed to be trying a lot of blitzes (which led to the Chargers running a lot of successful screens) and everyone on the line seemed to hold strong.
Louis Vasquez - If you're looking for a nickname, this one is easy. "Big Lou" didn't just go from bad to good in one game, he went from bad to dominant. Who knows if the game against Arizona was a case of him not be mentally ready, physically ready or just being nervous. Whatever it was, he was past it against Atlanta. Not only did he not let anybody through when pass-blocking, he was an absolute beast in blocking on screen passes. I can understand why the Chargers saw a guy as big and strong as Louis that could move like that and said "He can start in the NFL right now." I saw very minimal push from him in run-blocking, but having to run to the left side of the line is something the Bolts are used to.
Gartrell Johnson - He almost didn't make this list, but what he needed last night was a big run and he got it. A 42-yarder right up the gut, in which he had to jump over a body at the line of scrimmage and rumble his way through the secondary. Did he show off a complete lack of top-end speed? Yes. Was he drafted for his speed? No. I'm constantly looking for examples of players that were used in the role that I think Gartrell is suited for, so that Chargers fans stop worrying about his footspeed and lack of jukes. Brandon Jacobs is a good example, especially since they have similar speed (40 yd dash: Gartrell: 4.51, Jacobs 4:59) and Jacobs is always switched in with some speed backs. However, the better example for right now may be Jerome Bettis after he became Willie Parker's backup. He could be the goal-line RB and also the backbreaker in the 4th quarter. He'll need to earn the spot during the season though. I think he'll get chances.
Michael Bennett - Bennett would make the Preseason Pro Bowl if there was one. 3 TDs in 3 games, and showing himself to be a versatile weapon out of the backfield. When the running game was sputtering, he caught 3 passes for 84 yards (including a 48 yard screen pass that went for a TD). As I was saying in the open thread last night, some guys were earning a roster spot or a starting spot, Bennett was earning more time on the field during the regular season.
Malcom Floyd - If he can stay healthy, I have high hopes for what he can do for the Chargers in 2009. 4 catches for 56 yards and a very "headsy" touchdown in last night's game.
Buster Davis - Has he blown me away? No. Has he taken the slot WR spot away from Floyd (or Naanee)? No. Has he shown enough to ensure that he won't be cut? Yes. 2 catches for 28 yards, including a pretty 22 yarder, in last night's game.
Vincent Jackson - What can really be said? The first catch was probably the result of a push-off, but it didn't get called so instead we'll just call it fantastic. The second catch, the one-handed-while-turning-around catch, would be legendary if it weren't just a preseason game. If you couldn't see the game, the video of the catch is below. VJ and Malcom Floyd have consistently proven that they are able to, and most times will, catch even inaccurately thrown balls by Philip. That's big.
Kevin Burnett - If there were a Preseason Pro Bowl, Burnett would be the Preseason MVP. He's an absolute beast. He missed being the top tackler in 3 straight games by one tackle. I would put down a lot of money right now that says that Burnett will rack up 100+ tackles in the 2009 regular season. Strength, speed, grace, coverage, technique....he really does seem to have it all. With a good enough year from him, Vasquez, and English, A.J. Smith could be in line for another Executive of the Year award.
Quentin Jammer - Shutdown corner, hits like a Safety. What else could you possibly want?
Eric Weddle - Was flying around the field, looking very healthy. Sometimes he appeared to jump in on a tackle even when it wasn't necessary, it looked like he was doing it because he was having so much fun. Eric's ready for this season to get started and I see big things from him in 2009.
Health - Big bolt for health! The only injury to speak of was Dielman's bruised shoulder, which he has been quotes as saying "If it was the Raiders game I would've been back in there". So he's fine. With more playing time for the first team, and on turf, I was a little worried. However, the Chargers are still on track to go into the Raiders game as one of the healthier teams in the league.
The Offensive Line (running) - Ugh. Let's take away the longest run of the night from each of the 3 RBs and see what they leaves us.
- Johnson - 11 carries, 17 yards (1.54 YPC)
- Bennett - 6 carries, 11 yards (1.83 YPC)
- Darren Sproles - 2 carries, 6 yards (3 YPC)
Vasquez and Jeromey Clary provided zero push from the right side. McNeill couldn't do much better and Mooch was the weakest link on the line after Dielman left with a shoulder bruise. As I said last week, the offensive line is all about chemistry. The more they play together, the better they'll get, so I'm not too worried about it. Running against Oakland should be no problem.
Clinton Hart - He's going to give 'Tec a stroke by the end of the season. He finished the night with 1 tackle and no other stats, but he did miss two tackles near the line of scrimmage and was behind in coverage more than once as well. I'll say this, he's lucky to have such a good secondary around him. I think Steve Gregory outplayed him, but that was against Atlanta's second-stringers (mostly).
Pass-Rush - I was really hoping that this would be the game that Rivera sent everybody. How could he be screaming at his second and third-stringers on the sidelines when they know he's calling such a vanilla defense? Larry English came in and blitzed on every play he was in on, and looked pretty good too, but again there was only 1 team sack (it was attributed to nobody because it was Chris Redman running out of bounds on his own). The only reason I keep complaining about this is because I think it's hard to convince the players that they're mean pass-rushing machines unless they've felt it themselves first.
Antoine Cason - He was the leading tackler on the team, but part of that was because he was missing opportunities in zone coverage. He also missed a tackle that lead to a Falcons touchdown. He's still a great player, but this was not his best game.
Do you have any thoughts about Bolts From The Blue? Any tips you want to send our way? Whenever you have something to say, don't hesitate to e-mail me directly.