I hate preseason football. "Week 3 is great, it's when the starters play a lot!" No. Week 3 is terrible. Your starters get injured, and it's long enough into preseason that you're absolutely desperate for some meaningful action to start. I was so bored that I spent the fourth quarter considering jumping out of my window, hoping that the resulting brain damage would make time go faster. I still haven't completely decided against it.
Anyway, let's look at the people who actually played in the game. Many of them won't be playing for much longer, with the Chargers expected to make their first cuts as early as Monday. Some players had a performance that should see them safe for another week (which makes this sound a little like a reality TV show), but there were one or two who may have played themselves out of a roster spot.
Just as a quick sidenote before I start: Drew Kaser was the MVP in my eyes (three punts downed inside the ten), but he can't actually 'win' anything from that. He's already beaten off his competition, so there's no room for him on this list.
1: Dexter McCoil
Congratulations, Dexter McCoil. You just earned yourself a roster spot.
McCoil was the only player who really stood out on the Chargers defense - and boy did he stand out. At 6'4 he's hard to miss, but it's impossible not to notice him when he's all over the field making plays. McCoil ended the game with ten - count them, ten - tackles against the Vikings. No other player had more than 3. This wasn't just a case of being in the right place at the right time, either. McCoil was absolutely phenomenal in his role as the 'box' safety, consistently sprinting downhill to collide with a ballcarrier and end a play.
I know that fans tend to get overexcited about physical freaks, but in McCoil's case, it's completely justified. This isn't someone who's got a lot of potential but looks lost out there - this is a refined football player. McCoil has the fundamentals down - as evidenced by his forced fumble, which was absolutely textbook. Coaches teach that the first man goes for the tackle - the second man then tries to strip the ball and get the fumble. McCoil did that perfectly, ripping the ball from Kyle Rudolph like a lion snatching his prey (or, to put it another way, like a concerned parent knocking a fork loose from their child's hand seconds before the child finds the nearest electrical socket). McCoil
might be clearly is the best safety on the roster right now. He's played himself onto the roster - but has he done enough to earn a meaningful role? Hopefully. He deserves it.
2: Spencer Pulley
I'm impressed. I didn't notice Pulley doing anything while I was watching the live broadcast of the game. For a UDFA going against a first team defense - especially the Vikings first team defense - that's pretty damn good. And he's making the roster because of it. The Chargers had been waxing lyrical about Spencer Pulley throughout Training Camp - but considering they've also been proclaiming Derek Watt as a cross between Lorenzo Neal and Jesus, that didn't necessarily mean too much. When they announced that he'd be starting in lieu of D.J. Fluker, however, it got a bit more serious.
This team likes Kenny Wiggins as their backup G, and they'll likely only carry one. For Pulley to have been starting above Wiggins means that he'd overtaken Wiggins for that roster spot. By not playing badly (and then also playing at Center for the 2s - versatility is a real asset to have), Pulley is all but a lock to make the Chargers 53. In fact, if D.J. Fluker can't play in Week 1, it'll be Pulley who starts at RG. Congratulations, Spencer (Can I call you Spencer? Good.) You deserve your roster spot. And you deserve to be the man who carries on the Chargers tradition of having a UDFA make the roster for the past 18 (now 19) years running. I'm not expecting you to be Kris Dielman. Just don't be Trevor Robinson.
3: Melvin Gordon
Melvin Gordon hasn't changed in some respects. He looks the same on the outside. He still can't pass block. But in many ways, this isn't the same Melvin Gordon the Chargers drafted a year ago. He's sharper, smoother, more confident. He's better. A lot better.
The Chargers only gave Melvin Gordon 4 carries against the Vikings. Which is fine. He only needed 4. On his last carry of the day, Philip Rivers spotted the Vikings blitzing, and he audibled to a run up the middle. The play wasn't perfectly executed - Matt Slauson lost his balance and fell over, and Derek Watt didn't actually block anyone - but it didn't matter. Gordon burst past the mess at the LoS before sprinting past the Vikings secondary to get home. Only this time, home wasn't just the end zone. It was San Diego. Because for the first time since being drafted, Melvin Gordon looks comfortable in his new home. He looks like he belongs.
Welcome home, Melvin.
4: Rasheed Bailey
Rasheed Bailey's had a very turbulent start to his professional football career. After being signed by the Eagles as a UDFA, he failed to make the final 53. He went to the BC Lions in the CFL, only to instantly move back to America and be signed to the Jaguars Practice Squad. They released him, and the Chargers picked him up this offseason. I'm not saying he's going to make the roster because he probably won't. But his performance against the Vikings will have done him the world of good.
Before Sunday, he'd never caught a pass for the Chargers, and he seemed destined to be on the list of first cuts due to be announced within the next few days. Against the Vikings, however, he caught two passes for 37 yards. Doesn't sound impressive? Well, it led the Chargers in receiving yards. More importantly, though, that means he now has more catches this preseason than Torrence Allen and Javontee Herndon (who's been injured, granted), and outperformed DeAndre Reaves. That's three players who will likely be waived (or in Herndon's case, IR'd or waived-injured) before Bailey. He'll live to fight another day - and that day will be the last preseason game against the 49ers. Week 4 is when the backups play the majority of the game, if not all of it. Bailey's performance today means that he's got another shot to impress and try and claw his way onto the Practice Squad, thus extending his NFL dream.
1: Branden Oliver
I'm heartbroken. Branden Oliver is my favourite Charger, and now it seems likely that he'll miss the entire 2016 season. I'm not going to post the injury here because of it's graphic nature - but if you do want to see it, be warned that it's absolutely gruesome. It must have been unbelievably painful. In fact, the pain could only have been matched by the mental scars of seeing your season wiped away before it began after having fought back from a season-ending injury a year ago. There was a big role to play for Branden Oliver on this football team. Now I'm just hoping he makes a full recovery.
2: Mike Bercovici
If you've heard the phrase 'played themselves off the roster' but didn't know what it looked like, just watch Mike Bercovici's performance against the Vikings. It was ugly. He never settled into a rhythm and ended the day with just four completions on 12 attempts.
He threw a terrible interception without a receiver in sight, then had another horrible pass dropped by Mackenzie Alexander, only to be gracious enough to throw another pass right to Alexander in the endzone. For Bercovici to have beaten Clemens for the #2 QB spot, he would have had to have left no doubt about who the better QB was (and even then, with the Chargers coaching staff's clear preference for veterans, that might not have been enough). Instead, he threw his opportunity right out the window.
At least, he tried to. Mackenzie Alexander intercepted it.
3: DeAndre Reaves
While Bercovici threw his opportunity away, DeAndre Reaves fumbled his. With Branden Oliver going down, a starting KR spot emerged. But when DeAndre Reaves was given the chance to return a punt (a little different, but still a shot at returning), he inexplicably tried to handle a ball that was a lot shorter than he expected, with the end result - rather obviously - being a muffed punt. In the end, he was lucky - very lucky - that the ball was ruled to have hit his other foot after he stepped out of bounds, ruling the play dead and meaning that the Chargers kept possession.
It won't matter, anyway. He hasn't shown enough as a WR to be worth keeping around, and now that he screwed up one of his first (if not the very first) attempts to return a punt, it's likely that his name is on the list of first cuts. There's a chance that he's able to stick around for Week 4, but the odds right now are pretty firmly stacked against him even making the Practice Squad.
4: Isaiah Burse
Hey, why not double down on receivers who very nearly fumbled away punts and who haven't shown enough on offense? Burse is in a slightly different situation than Reaves - the coaches like him, and he's definitely not going to be on the list of first cuts. The problem is, I just don't think he's done enough to get one of the Chargers coveted WR spots.
He's been given time with the 1s in preseason but hasn't made the most of the opportunity. Granted, most of the passes thrown his way have been difficult ones to make, but when you're a player on the bubble they're the ones that you need to make. He bobbled a punt dangerously last week, and this week had a grand total of zero catches. If the Chargers only carry 5 WRs, it'll be Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin, Tyrell Williams, Dontrelle Inman and James Jones. If they carry 6? Personally, I think Dom Williams is more deserving of a roster spot right now. I understand why people like Isaiah Burse, but so far he's flattered to deceive. Time's running out for him to change that.
5: Darrell Stuckey
Stuckey's roster spot is in trouble. I might be wrong (and please correct me if I am), but I didn't see Stuckey on the field for a single defensive snap against the Vikings. Right now, it's pretty clear that the coaches see him as the worst safety on the roster. I agree with them. If he were just a safety, he'd be on the list of first cuts. But as we all know, Stuckey is a lot more than 'just a safety' - he's a Pro Bowl ST player.
The question is, just how important do the coaches value his special team contributions to be? Personally, I think the Chargers would be crazy to cut such a good Special Teams player when their ST unit has been notoriously terrible in the past, and right now looks like it's being held together with some glue and a hair-band. But this is a competitive roster. There are going to be some tough, tough cuts to make. Unfortunately, Stuckey might be one of them.