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Chargers' Sophomore Player Improvements

Kyle breaks down what the Chargers' many second year players need to improve upon.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Two weeks into training camp and the Chargers finally get their 1st live test against the Cowboys. There will be so many different things to keep an eye on over the next month, but most importantly, we're just looking for progression from all the players. There are some that believe the biggest growth in players happens between the 2nd and 3rd year in the NFL, while others believe the biggest jump happens from year 1 to year 2. Every situation is different, so the argument is pointless. Like I said, we're just looking for some sort of progression.

The Chargers had quite a few 1st-year players last year, and I wanted to highlight a trait that I was impressed with as well as what they can do to avoid the dreaded "sophomore slump" season.

D.J. Fluker

The 1st round pick from a year ago proved a lot of us wrong. He fixed some of his issues from college that made many think he'd be a liability in the NFL. He had flashes where he showed he can be a serious building block for this offense moving forward. Overall, he was consistently solid, and you can't ask for much more from a rookie offensive lineman.

Make no mistake, there were issues.

In pass protection, Fluker had a tendency to catch defenders and let them into his frame. That would cause him to get off balance and eventually surrender some sort of pressure. In this offense, Fluker can afford to have rushers try to beat him with speed off the edge, because Philip Rivers can just step up in the pocket and deliver the ball quickly. When he loses to the bull rush, it eliminates that pocket for Rivers. Here's an example:


Obviously, an extreme example but this was his biggest issue a year ago. What we should be looking for in his sophomore season in the passing game is for Fluker to make first contact. Use those long arms and ridiculous power to your advantage. If he's able to develop in this area, San Diego has a special player on their hands for a long time.

In the run game, Fluker surprised with his athleticism. He did a fine job at working to the 2nd level and sealing off linebackers. That's huge for San Diego's run game. We knew Fluker was one of the stronger rookie lineman in recent memory, but that worked against him a year ago. Here's my analogy: You're lining up against someone anywhere from 30-50 pounds lighter than you, and he's calling your mom all kinds of curse words, while giving your girlfriend the side eye and licking his lips at her. What would your reaction be? Well that's exactly what Fluker had a tendency to do. He'd fire off the ball, put his head down, and try and decapitate you. When Fluker plays under control, keeps his head up, he gets his hands on defenders, and takes them for a ride.


Manti Te'o

We'll have an in-depth preview on Te'o, so there's no need for me to double up on him. There are still questions that I'll be looking for as the preseason games get under way. Is he still coming off the field on passing downs? A 2nd round pick is a steep investment for a team that is in a sub package 65% of the time. If the team wants to use 3 safeties, and has capable corners, someone is the odd man out. I've been very critical of Te'o's play a year ago, but it's because I've seen him make impact plays in a similar defense. I'll be looking to see if he's playing faster, and more aggressively.

Keenan Allen

I've said everything that needs to be said about his season a year ago. Summary: He's pretty damn good. There were reports that Allen has gotten faster, that's certainly something to keep an eye on. Will Allen's usage be any different? More downfield routes? One of the biggest issues Keenan had with Rivers a year ago was the 2 not being on the same page. This happened more often than it should have where Rivers would read one thing, while Allen saw another. Hopefully, this isn't an issue in year 2 of the offense, especially on crucial 3rd downs.

Steve Williams

The ultimate wild card. If newcomers Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers aren't dressing, Williams should get ample time to show off his skill set. We know he's explosive. Some will see a 5'9" corner. Others will see an athlete who ran an unofficial 4.25 40-yard dash with a 40.5 inch vertical jump. Let's see how Williams handles himself on the outside against bigger receivers. I believe he can hang there because it's more about positioning and timing than simply being taller than someone. He's certainly a player to be excited about. Here's a couple vines during 1-on-1's during practice via fellow Charger enthusiast Daniel Stebbins.

Even though he gives up the catch, great patience at the line of scrimmage.

This time, zero patience, and he pays for it.

The fact that Williams looks back for the ball is a feat in itself compared to what fans are used to seeing from a year ago.

Tourek Williams

I'd like to see Williams have more of a defined role this year. When he got a chance to play with Thomas Keiser, they wouldn't even switch sides, one would be the left outside linebacker, and the other would be the right outside linebacker. With Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu on the roster, Williams' future could be to play the strong side backer, much like Jarret Johnson, where he develops into a formidable run stopper. He's flashed the ability to set the edge, but will need to become much more consistent at doing so. This is good Tourek:


Johnson has raved about Williams' improvements, let's see if that translates to the games.

Brad Sorensen

Hopefully, he never plays a meaningful game this year. I do believe Sorensen will get every opportunity to prove that he's better than free agent signing Kellen Clemens. Unlike Clipboard Jesus, there's no bond there with Rivers, no rapport, no relationship. Let's see how Sorensen is in his second year in the offense. We know he has a cannon, but how his is accuracy and better yet, his decision making. Is he still forcing throws? Not seeing the field? Many of the BFTB staff that attended fan fest said Sorensen out-performed Clemens. This backup QB battle is an underrated positional battle that no one is mentioning.

The UDFA's

Both Jahleel Addae and Kwame Geathers are expected to be contributors, albeit in much different respects. Geathers basically redshirted last year. Will Geathers be able to play well enough to play legitimate snaps during the regular season, or is he still coming off the ball high and getting washed out of run plays? He's flashed, but those flashes have been few and far between. I don't know if you guys remember, but he also sparingly played defensive end in the Chargers base defense. That will be something else to keep an eye out for.

I've touched on who I think should start next to Eric Weddle, but I'm just as interested in seeing what Addae's usage is. Is he playing that single high, center field role? Or is he lined up in the box or against slot receivers? Addae finished the season as strong as any defender a year ago. Keep an eye out to see if that play carries over to this year. Addae could very well be the missing piece at safety, or he could just be another flash in the pan.

That's a good group of sophomores. All could stand to develop in a specific area. Which sophomore are you most excited to watch progress this preseason?