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Los Angeles Chargers: Training Camp Battles to Watch

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Keep a close eye on these battles during training camp.

San Diego Chargers v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Training camp for the Los Angeles Chargers starts today and while many players are already “locked in” to starting spots (e.g. Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen, Jason Verrett), there are a few battles for both starting and backup roles that will be well worth keeping an eye on when the players hit the field for their first training camp under new head coach Anthony Lynn. Let’s take a look at what those positions are and which players will be battling it out to claim their spot.

Backup QB

Philip Rivers is the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers. Nobody argues that he isn’t and there is nobody on the roster that is going to take his spot away from him. However, the battle for the QB2 and QB3 spots recently got a bit more entertaining with the Chargers acquisition of former Buffalo Bills QB Cardale Jones.

Meet the contestants

Kellen Clemens – Kellen Clemens entered the league in 2006 as a 2nd round pick of the New York Jets out of Oregon. He spent 5 uneventful years in New York before signing with the then St. Louis Rams in 2011. After the 2013 season, the Chargers signed Clemens as a backup to Philip Rivers, where he has stayed ever since. As a mostly career backup, Clemens has never thrown for 2,000 yards in a season, and has a career quarterback rating of 69.4

Cardale Jones – The Chargers recently acquired Cardale Jones from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a conditional draft pick. The former Ohio State star (where he won a national championship) was drafted in the 4th round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Having only attempted a relatively small number of passes in college, Jones is an incredibly raw passer but has the tools NFL teams look for in a QB.

Mike Bercovici - Mike Bercovici is entering his second season in the NFL. The Arizona State product was signed by the Chargers as an undrafted free agent after the 2016 NFL Draft. He showed some promise early in his first preseason game but played rather poorly in the games following. Bercovici appears to have an uphill battle ahead of him just to earn a spot on the Chargers roster.

My early prediction

It wouldn't surprise me to see the Chargers keep three quarterbacks, with Clemens and Jones earning the two backup spots behind Rivers. Should the team only decide to keep one, I have to think Cardale Jones is the one to make the cut. He is familiar with Coach Anthony Lynn and is a young, developmental player that provides more in the long run than does Kellen Clemens. Jones is my pick.

Backup RB

Melvin Gordon came into his own last season and will enter the 2017 season as the undisputed number one running back for Coach Lynn’s Chargers. With the departure of Danny Woodhead during the off-season, it is a little unclear who will serve as the immediate backup to Gordon when the regular season opens up.

Meet the contestants

Kenjon Barner – Barner spent his rookie season in 2013 with the Carolina Panthers and the last two seasons in Philidelphia with the Eagles where he served primarily as a special teams player and RB3. In that role, he has never eclipsed 130 yards rushing in a season. However, Barner does appear to possess the tools necessary to thrive in a backup role and has provided some electric plays as a return man on special teams.

Kenneth Farrow – Kenneth Farrow is entering his second season in the league, and his second with the Chargers. He served as a backup last season, carrying the ball 60 times and accumulating 192 yards rushing. Farrow is a ground and pound type runner, not particularly quick or explosive. What he has working to his advantage is a year playing for offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.

Branden Oliver - Fan favorite Branden Oliver missed the entirety of the 2016 season with an injury, but returns for his fourth season with the Chargers. Small in stature at 5’8”, Oliver is a tough runner who fights hard for every yard he earns, which is, in part, what made many fans fall in love with him. In addition to missing all of last season, he also missed 8 games in 2015 with an injury. Oliver has 690 yards rushing on 191 attempts to go along with 383 receiving yards as a Charger.

My early prediction

A lot of fans are really high on Branden Oliver as the backup to Melvin Gordon, and I'm a fan of Oliver as well. However, I am a bigger fan of the former Philadelphia Eagle, Kenjon Barner, and that is ultimately who I think will take the backup running back role, with Oliver behind him as the RB3. Barner is a quick and shifty back who can run and catch out of the backfield and should provide a great compliment to MGlll. Aside from that he provides value as a kick and punt returner on special teams.

Slot CB

Veterans Jason Verrett and Casey Hayward should, health permitting, form one of the top cornerback tandems in all of football. Brandon Flowers is no longer with the team though, so the ever important in today’s NFL position of slot cornerback is open for competition.

Meet the contestants

Michael Davis – The Chargers signed Michael Davis out of BYU as an undrafted free agent after the conclusion of the 2017 NFL Draft. Davis has the size (6’2”, 196 lbs) and speed (4.34 40 yard dash) that teams look for in their cornerbacks. He drew praise from Head Coach Anthony Lynn during OTA’s and is looking to build on that heading into training camp. If he can continue to impress he will land himself a roster spot and possibly see a lot of the field in the upcoming season.

(Authors note: If you haven't listened to Michael Davis’ interview on the Lightning Round Podcast, go check it out, you’ll be glad you did.)

Desmond King – The Chargers drafted Desmond King in the 5th round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The rookie out of Iowa was the recipient of the Jim Thorpe award in 2015, which is the award given to college footballs best defensive back. During his illustrious career for the Hawkeye’s, King demonstrated exceptional cover skills and an ability to make plays on the ball, accumulating 14 interceptions during his time at Iowa.

Craig MagerCraig Mager was drafted by the Chargers in the 3rd round of the 2015 NFL Draft. He played his college ball at Texas State where he was a three-year starter. The start to his career in the NFL hasn't exactly been spectacular, as he has often been overmatched and has given up a lot of big plays when on the field. He has one interception in his two seasons with the Chargers.

Trovon ReedTrovon Reed enters training camp going into his second season with the Chargers. The second year man out of Auburn played in 6 games last year for the bolts, performing well while notching 3 pass break-ups and 2 interceptions in that short span. He will be looking to increase his playing time in 2017 as he has a real shot at earning the Chargers CB3 spot on the depth chart behind Verrett and Hayward.

Trevor Williams - Trevor Williams, who played his college ball at Penn St., enters training camp looking to earn more playing time in 2017. The second year man appeared in 12 games for the Chargers last season, starting in 5. He struggled last season as an undrafted rookie thrust into action. Williams must show improvement during training camp or he risks losing his spot on the Chargers roster.

My early prediction

This may end up being the biggest and most exciting battle of training camp. I really like Trovon Reed, and I am a huge fan of Michael Davis. But I'm going with the rookie out of Iowa to take the role of slot cornerback. Desmond King is a playmaker. He is going to get his hands on some passes in training camp and the coaching staff is going to take notice. I think his instincts will help make up some for what he lacks in speed.

Free Safety

Dwight Lowery was brought in from the Indianapolis Colts last offseason to be the Chargers short term solution at free safety. Now, a new challenger is approaching and he may be able to take over for Lowery as the team’s starting safety opposite Jahleel Addae.

Meet the contestants

Dwight Lowery – Lowery is entering his 10th season in the league, and his second as a member of the Chargers. He was signed last offseason as a free agent following the departure of Eric Weddle. He earned an overall grade of 77.8 from Pro Football Focus this past season, which was around the league average. He was inconsistent for a lot of the year but managed to make a few big plays toward the end of the season. Now he looks to retain his starting spot heading into 2017

Tre Boston - Boston was a 4th round pick of the Carolina Panthers in 2014. Last season as a full-time starter with the Panthers he earned a grade of 78.1 from Pro Football Focus. He finished last season allowing the lowest passer rating when targeted among all safeties (35.7) and allowed the eight fewest yards per coverage snap. Boston is still a young player, just entering his fourth season in the NFL. If he can impress during training camp, there is a good chance he could start week 1.

My early prediction

I don't think Lowery showed enough last season to hold down his spot indefinitely, and Tre Boston is a young and improving player. Boston is the better of the two safeties in coverage, and I believe a better all around player. The Chargers will give Lowery the chance to retain his starting position, but my early prediction is that by the time the regular season rolls around, Tre Boston will be the one starting next to Jahleel Addae.

Kicker

Josh Lambo has been an average kicker to this point for the Chargers and really has not had any competition for his spot since he won it from Nick Novak two seasons ago. That is, he hasn’t had any competition until now.

Meet the contestants

Josh Lambo – Josh Lambo enters training camp as the incumbent veteran kicker for the Los Angeles Chargers. As previously mentioned, Lambo won the Chargers place kicking job as a rookie during the 2015 preseason, when he beat out veteran kicker Nick Novak, who is now a member of the Houston Texans. Lambo won the coaches over with a big leg (bigger than Novak, anyway) and a clutch game-winning kick against the Arizona Cardinals in the second preseason game. His time as a starter for the bolts has been nothing above average, going 26-32 on field goals in both seasons for an 81.3 accuracy percentage. Lambo also missed 4 PAT’s last season, though he did lead the NFL in touchbacks.

Younghoe Koo - Younghoe (with correct pronunciation being Young-Way) Koo is a rookie who played for Georgia Southern during his time as a collegiate kicker. He impressed during his time in college, going 26-29 on field goals and 62-64 on extra point attempts. Koo has a big leg to help on kickoffs and long field goal attempts.

My early prediction

The new Chargers coaching staff is not committed to Josh Lambo in any way. Should he continue to perform this offseason like he has over his first two seasons, and Younghoe Koo performs in preseason like he did in college, this should be an easy decision for the coaches. I think Koo is the more accurate and reliable of the two kickers and has the bigger leg to boot (pun absolutely intended). My guess is the rookie from South Korea is the Chargers kicker in 2017.

What positional battles will you be watching during training camp? Let us know in the comments section.