You guys, it’s great to be back.
As I’m writing this, we are just a little over 24 hours away from the start of the 2019 NFL season (I know it started Thursday but holy cow was that some EXHAUSTING football). The smell of new leather and rousing fandom are in the air and it’s almost time to select that special jersey you’ve been waiting to wear, hoping it brings you all the luck in week one.
For me, it’s my sparkling clean navy Hunter Henry jersey.
For those of you who don’t know, prior to the 2018 season, I purchased a super clean, stitched jersey. Stoked to finally wear the Bolts’ rising star’s number, the sparkle of that purchase was quickly stripped as Henry tore his ACL about two weeks later.
I couldn’t begin to describe the amount of dread I felt.
But, that was almost 17 months ago. We are one night away from seeing number 86 trot out onto the field, ready to stake his claim as this year’s Comeback Player of the Year.
Before last season, I started a new series where I point out a handful of things that I’ll be watching a little closer than the rest during the week’s match-up. I’m happy to bring it back while also starting a conversation with you guys, as well.
What are you all most excited to watch for on Sunday? What will be keeping your attention from start to finish? Let us know in the comments below. But without further ado, here are the three most intriguing things that I’ll be watching on Sunday afternoon.
1.) The Return of Hunter Henry
There aren’t many positions that have played a bigger role in the success of the Chargers’ offense over the years than the tight end position because, well, the team has had a first-ballot hall-of-famer for the past 14 years. Until now.
Up to this point, it doesn’t look like the team is going to bring back Antonio Gates which means it’s finally time for Henry to have that breakout season that he’s been waiting on since 2017.
Add in the loss of wide receiver Tyrell Williams in free agency and you also get a decent bump in the target share department for the former Mackey Award winner. Over his first two seasons, Henry has 12 total touchdowns. After catching eight scores as a rookie, the expectations have stayed high for the fourth-year tight end.
I expect Henry to start this season with a bang. The Colts’ defense is no joke, but there are areas to exploit. Aside from linebacker Darius Leonard, there aren’t notable defenders who will match-up with Henry. Leonard will likely be tasked with limiting Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson in the passing game, leaving Henry to abuse whatever defender is left.
2.) How much rookies Jerry Tillery, Nasir Adderley, and Drue Tranquill play?
Anthony Lynn has already stated that Tillery and Adderley will both rotate in a good deal on Sunday. However, I’m curious to see if they’ll ride the hot hand early on or if they’ll simply play sparingly in order to “get their feet wet”.
Tillery and Adderley both flashed in their first professional games played. Tillery recorded a sack against the New Orleans Saints while Adderley executed a tip drill with himself against the San Francisco 49ers last week for his first career interception.
Neither will start, but I’ll be keeping a close eye on when they play and in what formation/packages they are used in.
Will Tillery be used primarily on passing downs? Will Adderley only come in on Dime packages? I’ll be waiting to see.
Anthony Lynn said Jerry Tillery and Justin Jones will rotate at DT on Sunday: "Tillery is going to rotate in there with JJ. I'm looking forward to seeing those two play for sure." #Chargers— Gilbert Manzano (@GManzano24) September 6, 2019
On a lesser note, it’ll be interesting to see if Tranquill gets any run at MIKE in week one. He was the most impressive rookie in the preseason by a mile and I can’t wait to see if Lynn feels comfortable enough putting him in and letting him run the defense for a handful of snaps.
3.) How will the Chargers strategize against new starter Jacoby Brissett?
There’s not many better sites for a elite pass rusher than an inexperienced quarterback behind center. In this case, Brissett isn’t a rookie or a first-time starter. He’s actually one of the better back-ups in the NFL, but he also isn’t a franchise guy, either.
In his only full season as a starter, Brissett had alright numbers, throwing for over 3000 yards while only managing 13 touchdowns to seven interceptions. He has the weapons around him to find success, including second-round pick Parris Campbell and FA signing Devin Funchess.
Will he be able to take advantage of those around him? Not if Gus Bradley has anything to say about it.
The Colts’ offensive line went from a bottom-tier unit to one of the best in the league in 2018. First and second-round draft picks Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith were both God-sends, locking down the left guard and right tackle spots, respectively. But the Chargers have Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram on the other side, and their own first round pick in Tillery.
Without Derwin James to move around, I don’t expect their to be many exotic blitzes but the Chargers have plenty of other athletes who could thrive in a variety of roles, including linebacker Kyzir White and cornerback Desmond King, who had 3.5 sacks himself as a rookie.