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San Diego Chargers Mid-Preseason Review: The Standouts

Halfway through the preseason, there's plenty of reasons for San Diego Chargers fans to be excited about the 2013 season and the future of the team. Here's the young players/coaches that have performed above expectations against the Seahawks and Bears.

Jody Gomez-USA TODAY Sports

Fact: Preseason games do matter.

Fact: Final scores in these games do not matter.

The San Diego Chargers have given up a combined 64 points in two games. However, there have been plenty of good to take away from these games.  Whether it was players that most fans haven't heard of stepping up and making plays, or players that we were in question of based on previous poor performance that have stepped it up in training camp and through the first two games.

Let's take a look at the positive performances through the first half of training camp.

Ryan Mathews

"The way Ryan Mathews ran the football today was outstanding" - Head Coach Mike McCoy, after the Bears game

If we were picking a player that has stood out the most so far, it's Mathews. He's looked good, in fact, really good so far. He looks far more comfortable running with new zone blocking this year. He's more decisive, he's quicker, and still runs with the same power he's always run with.

He's been asked to split out as a receiver, and even pass block more, and he's looked better doing both. Of his 64 yards, 28 of those have come after contact, a great sign as the season approaches. Mathews looks like a confident back that will easily eclipse his career high of 1,091 yards.

Ladarius Green

Green has played more snaps than any other Charger this preseason, and he just continues to get better. I'd be interested to see how many pounds he's officially gained since last year, because he certainly looks to  have benefited from an NFL strength & conditioning program.

He's not going to pave the way for Mathews just yet, but he's certainly an improved run blocker, if only because he shows more effort.  Green has the ability to stretch the field and get open. Whether it's because he's too fast for the linebacker, or too big for the defensive back, he looks like a weapon that the Chargers might be forced into using with the recent flurry of injuries.

Green has caught all 7 of his targets for 104 yards and 2 touchdowns this preseason. The future looks bright for for the tall tight end.

D.J. Fluker

This might surprise some, but I've been pleasantly surprised by Fluker's play so far. In the run game, he's been nothing less than awesome, and it's been really fun to watch. He's already made some blocks that I had only seen Kris Dielman make in the last 10 years. He's a great finisher that has driven his man to the ground a handful of times. Fluker could block out the sun if he got his hands on it.

Many will point to the Seahawks games, where one of the staff members said "he almost got Rivers killed." Then against the Bears, where he was beat to his inside for a sack. The good news is, he's had 23 other snaps where he hasn't given up any pressure, at all. He's had help, and will likely continue to get help, but that's not a terrible thing. If he protects his inside shoulder, or "sets inside" then he'll allow his help on the outside to eliminate guys from simply running right around him. He's done a good job of picking up blitzes and stunts.

I look forward to watching Fluker's progress moving forward.

Brad Sorensen

When you have a roster with as many holes as the Chargers do, each roster spot is incredibly important. This is where the Sorensen dilemma comes into play. I have a hard time imagining keeping 3 quarterbacks on the roster when that roster spot could be the difference between a defensive lineman covering kicks.

As of today, Brad has been the quarterback that looks most comfortable in the offense. Neither of the other two quarterbacks have handled the pressure in the pocket like Sorensen has, that's what I've been most impressed with. He's 15-24 this preseason with a healthy 8.8 yard per attempt (Charlie Whitehurst has a 5.4 ypa), and has had four dropped passes.

Unlike the other two QBs on the roster, Sorensen hasn't turned the ball over. He's had some minor accuracy issues, but nowhere near to the extent that it would keep him off the team. At the end of the day, he's done enough to win the backup job with his play and cheaper salary. Not to mention, he's the only QB that was brought in by this new Chargers regime

Play Calling

If there is a glimmer of hope for why this offense can still be successful this season, in the midst of the current group of pass catchers dropping like flies, it's the play calling. It's been refreshing. The execution has been lacking, so I don't want that to take away from the scheme that's been put in place. Whether it's quarterbacks still learning to get rid of the ball quicker, the receivers losing their feet/dropping the ball, or the line blocking like it's 2012 again.

The Chargers have run the ball 56 times so far and dropped back to pass 79 times. Remember, these quick crossing routes and flat routes are an extension of the run game, too. The play calling has been complimentary of the Chargers strengths. Zone blocking runs to the left, power runs to the right. Passing wise everything has been intermediate, the potential is there for success, now it's just about the execution.

Kwame Geathers

I questioned his motor out of college, and I was wrong. If indeed Cam Thomas isn't able to hold up on running downs, I think the answer is obvious on where to turn.

Geathers has been very good in the running game. He has the strength to over power his man and push him up to 4 yards deep in the backfield. He's not always making the play, but he's helping others make it, and he's been a force in the first two preseason games.

Kwame has been one of the most surprising players so far that I now expect to play 20-30 snaps per game come the regular season. Many wanted the Chargers to draft Star Lotuleilei, but Geathers has been much better and it hasn't been close.

Dwight Freeney

He looks healthy, first and foremost. He looks like the player we had all hoped for. He's quick as ever, with a bull rush that's been on display twice now where he pushed the tackle all the way back into the quarterback.

Freeney hasn't been the beneficiary of a sack yet, but he's forced consistent pressure when he's on the field leading to his teammates making the sack or the quarterback forcing the ball into coverage. If Freeney is able to keep this up he'll be able to single-handedly mask the Chargers lack of complimentary pass rushers. He'll create a lot of 1-on-1 match ups that Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes will need to win.

Dwight Freeney looks primed for a huge season with the San Diego Chargers.

The Defense

With all the roster turnover, there were a ton of questions on how the defense would perform. So far, I've bee more impressed with the defense than any other unit, and surprisingly, with defensive coordinator John Pagano, too.

Like I said earlier, the box score would lead you to believe that the defense is giving up points and yards left and right, but that's not the case. Two big plays in two games, one was a guy that won't make the team and the other was a direct result of Corey Liuget coming off the field and a missed tackle in the open field by a player who makes that play 99/100 times.

Giving up and average of 262 net yards, and 40% in 3rd down conversions over two games are all steps in the right direction. The secondary is more aggressive this year, the blitzes are more creative, and the pressure has been on the quarterback. The Chargers need to continue to improve, but with more time to gel, and barring injury, this team has a chance to sneak into the top 10 as a unit this year.

Those are the good takeaways from the first half of training camp. Even though the score hasn't shown it, there have been a lot of positives so far throughout the first few games. Who have you most been impressed with?

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