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Chargers Training Camp Battles – Defense & Special Teams

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The offense is mostly set, except for 3 or perhaps 4 back-up roster spots. There is a similar dynamic on the other side of the ball, too. The action here will be for scarce back-up positions and to establish rotational pecking orders.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Chargers had to put a lot of spare parts, rookies, and FA's claimed off the scrap heap onto the field last year to play defense with the team's drafted veteran talent.  This year, the front office and coaches hope that the growing pains of last season will pay dividends in performance this season.

Defensive Line

The situation with the D-line was also covered by the same hack that talked about the looming battle for the 5th receiver spot.  There may be a surprise or two here, but I'll stick with the predictions I made earlier in July.

Inside Linebacker

There are clearly four men that will make the team, barring something really peculiar happening.  Donald Butler, Manti Te'o, Kavell Conner, and rookie Denzel Perryman should all make the team.  Gachkar and Walker were both lost to free agency and Perryman partially addressed that loss.

The Chargers probably want to replace Gachkar's contribution on special teams, though, so expect to see the 3 UDFA rookie ILB's on the roster playing a lot on the suicide squads during preseason.  The coaches will be trying to determine who cares the least about their own personal well-being to make an effective special team player.  Curtis Grant, Chi Chi Ariguzo, and Nick Dzubnar will all be looking to show the least regard for their health in pre-season to get a job with this team.  Good times...

Not knowing a thing about any of them, I am torn between the unusual name (Chi Chi) or the comedy of hearing sportscasters trying to pronounce Dzubner.  Hopefully, at least one of them can play special teams as well as Gach did.  Knowing my luck, it will be Grant.

Outside Linebacker

There is an opening here, too.  Melvin Ingram, Jeremiah Attaochu, Cordero Law, and Tourek Williams would be on the roster if the Bolts had to play a game for real on August 1.  Rookie Kyle Emmanuel has some impressive measurable, but no one is really sure how his FCS college background will do when he has to play against actual NFL players.  Assuming he performs well enough, he will be OLB #5.

That would leave Colton Underwood, Brock Hekking (and his hair), and Ryan Mueller out in the cold.  If Kyle Emmanuel is clearly overmatched, he may be slated for a practice squad year and the door is open for one of the UDFA's; two of whom are rookies.  Underwood spent last season on the Eagles practice squad after being a late pre-season cut by the Bolts.

Cornerback

Flowers and Verrett are the clear starters.  Patrick Robinson probably is the #3 CB, with Verrett taking over as the slot corner in the nickel.  Chris Davis is still around and 3rd round pick Craig Mager is also in the mix.

The talent and experience there is bad news for Richard Crawford, Lowell Rose, Greg Ducre, and Manny Asprilla, but Mager and Davis should not be complacent.  This is a case of 6 men fighting for one spot and one of those men being a 3rd round draft pick.  Mager also went to an FCS college and the team needs to see if his physical tools can translate onto the field against NFL players.

Safety

Eric Weddle is the unquestioned leader of the team's defense.  He is joined by Jahleel Addae, who was nearly a co-starter with the departed Gilchrist last season.  Darrell Stuckey has filled in at times besides Weddle, but he is more valuable as the special teams hammer.  Jimmy Wilson was brought is from Miami to fill out the safety unit and he has some decent NFL experience.  Several pre-season publications predict he will supplant Addae as the other starting safety.

This might not leave any room at all for Adrian Phillips, John Lowdermilk, and Gordon Hill.  Those three should have hope though; it is possible that the team at this point does not even have Stuckey listed as a Safety on the depth chart, so if there is a ninth DB retained, it might be one of them.

Special Teams

Mike Windt will remain as the long snapper, barring a series of unfortunate events.  John Phillips is a camp body that will draw some checks until the first cuts before finding a regular job.

Mike Scifres collarbone is healed to the point of where the team did not even get a camp body to do special team work in August.  This is his job and will remain his job, unless Donald Brown has any say in the matter...

Nick Novak seems to be about as safe as any NFL place kicker can be.  That means he will be looking over his shoulder at rookie UDFA Josh Lambo until he is cut.  Or will it be Lambo that gets cut?

Conclusion

This team can now be thought of as Telesco's and McCoy's.  With the turnover on most NFL teams being what it is, the holdovers from the AJ and Norv years are all proven veterans.  The team seems set with players that have the needed mixture of youth and experience to play well together and do something good this season.

It will be up to McCoy, Reich, and Pagano to get the most of the talent Telesco has gathered in 3 years and the veterans good enough to be kept for the last 3 off seasons.  Telesco apparently felt good enough about the team to take flyers on developmental players with high upside in the 3rd, 5th, and 6th rounds of this year's draft.

Position Counts

QB - 2

RB - 4

WR - 5

TE - 4

OL - 8

DL - 8

LB - 10

DB - 9

ST - 3

Total - 53

The August heat, used in the NFL for the last 92 years to eliminate dross and forge teams, is coming.  It's almost time for camp.