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Hard Wonks: Third Preseason Game Coverage

Saturday, when the San Diego Chargers take on the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium a number of players will have something to prove. This game is usually about solidifying jobs that include significant playing time. Most of the minutes in this one will go to first and second string players. For some it will be a chance to find some rhythm in their assured spots and for others it will be about removing doubts about the roles they are competing for. The defensive secondary on the Chargers represent these concepts.

The starters in the secondary are some of the players that know their roles come opening day. For Quentin Jammer it's another year to focus on getting the team over the hump. You can see his focus as he prepares. Covering the receivers with ease and making difficult stops look simple. For the other 3, despite knowing that they'll be first-teamers, they have something to prove.

Antoine Cason is the youngest starter in the secondary and this year will be anything but easy. Sure, he got his feet wet as a starter last year taking over that role from Antonio Cromartie, but this year there's a full year of tape of him for opposing coordinators to analyze. Plus, he already suffered a slight setback when he broke a finger early in training camp (closeup of him playing with a cast on). On top of that, he has to be building his resume for his next contract. A player's second contract is where he can make the bulk of his money in the NFL. Cason needs to maximize that value.

Eric Weddle already got that 2nd contract (do we need the Scrooge McDuck footage again?). In fact, he got it this past offseason. This year he'll come into each game with a target on his back. He's used to that target being placed on him from Offensive Coordinators and Quarterbacks, but in addition to that he'll be in the sights of the media and the fans (a audio clip of some talking heads speaking about his contract, maybe even some twitter quotes). Any mistake this year will be magnified. He needs a big year.

Bob Sanders knows that role well. With Indianapolis he was a Defensive MVP, a Super Bowl winner and the recipient of a very large contract (I suppose we should have way more Colts footage here than should ever be in a show about the Chargers). A contract he never lived up to. Sanders' aggressive style and diminutive frame haven't been the best combination when it comes to having a healthy career in the NFL. The same speed and aggression that gave him so much success has also been his downfall in recent years where he's spent more time on sidelines in street clothes than out on the field hitting people. (Cue lots of closeups of Bob, on field waiting for a snap, then on sidelines sweating, then him shaking his long, beautiful dreadlocked hair) He's come to San Diego for redemption. Redemption that can only be found with health, elite play and a return to the playoffs. It's a lot to live up to.

Besides those key 4 players, there are others that have a job to do on Saturday. (Go to some shots of practice; lots of whistles, grunts, nice places with coaches clapping, a mistake or two) Two rookies have been brought in to be the future back there. Another veteran player is looking for more playing time. And two others who had rough 2010 seasons are back to show what they can do.

The rookies are 2nd round pick Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright. Marcus is a do-it-all defensive back. He's comfortable as a safety or a corner. That fits well with the skills needed for a nickel or dime back as well as various special teams roles (show examples of college and preseason games), but he'll still need to show it against the Cardinals. Shareece had an interesting college career. He struggled with finding playing time, then encountered legal issues that led to struggles in the class room and suffered through a pretty serious injury before finally getting to show what he could do his senior year. The Chargers drafted him for his potential. So, while he may not be fighting for a job this year, he certainly needs to make an impression for future seasons.

Dante Hughes is liked by the organization, but he lacks the youth of the aforementioned guys as well as the game experience that should come with being a veteran in the NFL. The Colts drafted him in the 3rd round with hopes that he'd have a future as a starter (we'll skip adding anymore Colts footage). They ended up releasing him and he caught with the Chargers. However, San Diego never really found his role in 2010 and his playing time was sporadic. This year he's competing for the nickel job and each preseason game is an audition for that role.

The last two on the last line of defense are safeties Steve Gregory and Darrell Stuckey. Gregory got a chance to start in 2010, but squandered some of that opportunity by getting popped with a performance enhancing drug suspension. He still could get playing time in a nickel or dime role or on special teams. Stuckey might've gotten a chance to start last season, but an injury prevented that. He didn't see much playing time and if the Bob Sanders situation goes as planned he won't see much this year either. However, Sanders health is no guarantee and Stuckey may have an important role when all is said and done. Saturday's game will be about proving that the team should have confidence in him if the need for an injury replacement at safety arises.

That's what makes this part of the preseason compelling. Even with a group players who seemingly have some job security like the Chargers secondary does, there's still enough uncertainty out there to give everyone something to prove. Especially in the 3rd preseason game since it's about these 1st and 2nd teamers. Whereas next week the focus will shift to guys just trying to make the roster.