Tomorrow night's match-up between the San Francisco 49ers and the San Diego Chargers is fairly unimportant to the fans. The blackout is not surprising and, unlike the Seattle game, I think a lot of people will simply wait for the replay to rather than trying to (illegally!) stream the game online.
However, there are certain Chargers players that look at tomorrow's game with great importance. Here's a run-down of those guys:
- Louis Vasquez - Big Lou has gotten the nod and will start at RG against the 49ers. There's two reasons that this is very important. The first is that it means, even if Forney were to be healthy enough to practice today, Vasquez is practicing with the first-team offensive line. The more he can do that, the more he can learn and build chemistry with Hardwick and Clary. The second reason is that this is the first time he will get to go up against an NFL 3-4 defense. Considering more than 10 of the Bolts' 16 regular season games are against teams that run a 3-4 defense, it's important the he get an idea of what it's like to go up against it. A good performance against SF locks up the starting RG spot for him.
- Larry English - He looked good against Atlanta, although he wasn't asked to do anything but pass-rush. I think the Chargers will pull their first-team defense before SF pulls their first-team offense (because they need work), which should result in English getting a good chunk of plays against a real NFL offense after a full week of work. Last week I saw a lot of bull-rushing and going to the outside, I'm curious to see if he has an inside move that he likes. As with many "backup" players that will get time on the field int he regular season, a stand-out performance from him will keep him in Coach Rivera's mind when the gameplan in being drawn-up for Week 1.
- Kevin Ellison - I know a lot of people aren't going to agree with this, but I think Ellison could be on the 53-man bubble. With the injuries to the defensive line, and some concern about whether there's room for Michael Bennett (the most logical starter if LT were injured), I have a hard time thinking that the Chargers are okay with keeping 5 safeties. Ellison has shown no ability to cover the pass (0 Interceptions, 0 passes defended) and has lined up inside the box more than outside of it. As a 6th round pick, he was a bit of a gamble, and I think the team no longer sees him as their future starting SS. With roughly the same size as Stephen Cooper, I think it wouldn't be a bad idea to try to get him on the practice squad and move him to ILB. He could change my mind if he shows up against SF (he should get plenty of time on the field) and plays the pass well.
- Michael Bennett - Honestly, I don't know what else the guy could do. I know it's hard to keep 4 running backs, but I think it's necessary. LT is an injury risk, Gartrell isn't ready (as a runner or a receiver) and Sproles does other things (returns). If LT got injured, either the offense would take a step back with Gartrell taking over or the return game would take a step back because Sproles wouldn't be able to do both. I think Bennett should make the 53 man roster, but word from the team is that he'll most likely be cut. Another big performance from him and the team would look even more foolish for cutting him.
- Simeon Castille - Castille is in a good position. He'll get a lot of time against SF because the team wants to see everything he can do. If he plays well, the team probably keeps him. If he doesn't, he'll most likely be cut and the Chargers will scour the rest of the NFL's trash to find a good 4th DB. This is one of those games that could determine an entire career.
- Charly Martin - Sorry Charly fans, but "the next Wes Welker" will not be making this team. A team that rarely ever has more than 2 wide receivers on the field has no reason to carry 7 of them. They'll carry just 6 (with Osgood only working as a special teamer). Even if somebody gets injured, I think they'd prefer carrying 5 and using the spot somewhere else. However, Charly will probably see plenty of time on the field in the second half of this game and should consider it a "try-out" for other teams that are not as deep at WR.
- Vaughn Martin - He's been just as advertised. A beast at times, but an inconsistent one. Everyone is hoping that more time in the NFL and in the Chargers defense will help him develop more consistency. If he can show enough progress and push people around on Friday night, he'll be a part of the defensive rotation. If he can't do that, he'll be a third-stringer and a project that will be inactive and ride the pine in 2009.
- Antwan Applewhite / Jyles Tucker - Are they competing with each other for a roster spot? It's possible. I like Applewhite better because he's cheaper, can do more things (Tucker is basically a pass-rusher only) and plays better on special teams. However, Tucker is almost too expensive to cut. The team would take a cap hit of his contract, so it makes more sense to just get what value they can out of him in 2009. They'll each get playing time tomorrow and the team will definitely be comparing them, even without plans to cut either, to see who should be the 4th OLB.