AFC West: San Diego Chargers

SAN DIEGO -- Add another piece of evidence that San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is back playing at an elite level. A year after finishing off the list at No. 121, Rivers debuts on #NFLRank -- ESPN’s ranking of the top 100 players on offense and defense in the NFL -- at No. 30.

Rivers’ ascension to No. 30 is no surprise after how well he played last season, leading the league in completion percentage (69.5 percent) and finishing fourth in the NFL in passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (105.5).

But the real question for Rivers is can he keep it going?

The answer to that is yes, for a couple reasons.

No. 1 is continuity. Even though former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt took his considerable talents to Nashville as the head coach of the Tennessee Titans, his replacement, Frank Reich, doesn’t plan to make major tweaks to San Diego’s offense.

Reich served as San Diego’s quarterbacks coach last season, has a good relationship with Rivers and will be given even more control as the new offensive coordinator. Rivers will have more ability to run no-huddle and call plays at the line of scrimmage.

“He has complete mastery of this offense,” Reich said about Rivers. “He’s the proverbial coach on the field.”

The Chargers also have continuity in terms of personnel, with most of the offense returning from last season.

And Rivers has playmakers. He will continue to lean on the short passing game, feeding big targets such as Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green -- which means his completion percentage should remain high and his interceptions should stay low.

Finally, the Chargers are a team that will run the football, taking the pressure off of Rivers to carry the offense. While running back Ryan Mathews likely will not carry it 285 times again this season, he still will be the main running back in San Diego’s offense, with Donald Brown and Danny Woodhead serving in complementary roles.

And with the ability to consistently run the football, opposing defenses have to play Rivers honest.

“My thing is to keep fine tuning the details -- all of the little things,” Rivers said. “Every little thing matters, and it’s not relaxing on anything. I think our whole offense and our whole team has that mindset.”
In this ESPN Insider piece Insider, ESPN NFL Insider Mike Sando ranks the NFL head coaches in tiers. San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy finished tied for 20th on the list with Tennessee Titans head coach and former Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.

Sando polled 30 league insiders, asking them to provide a 1-5 rating for every head coach, with 1 as best and 5 as worst. Sando then averaged the results and compiled a piece that features comments from the league insiders on each head coach. Sando performed a similar project ranking all the quarterbacks in the NFL earlier this year.

According to Sando, eight current general managers, four former general managers, six coordinators, four position coaches, four executives and four personnel director types participated in the poll.

McCoy received six votes for a 2 rating, 23 votes for a 3 rating and one vote for a 4 rating, according to Sando’s polling.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick tops the list, followed by Pete Carroll, Sean Payton, Andy Reid and Tom Coughlin.

No. 20 seems about right for McCoy. He experienced some success in his first season by guiding the Chargers to the playoffs, but he’s still a relatively new head coach with a lot more to prove.
SAN DIEGO -- During a conversation with reporters on Monday, San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy announced the defensive tackle Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament tear in his knee against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, and is done for the season.

The undrafted rookie free agent out of Boise State suffered the injury with 13:06 left in the contest while trying to tackle 49ers running back Glenn Winston.

McCoy said the defensive tackle Kwame Geathers, who also suffered a knee injury in the first half of the San Francisco game, is having further tests done by the team's medical staff, so he did not know the extent of his injury.

Geathers was injured at the 7:23 mark of the opening quarter on a 4-yard run by San Francisco running back Carlos Hyde.

The Chargers are already thin along the defensive line, and those two injuries further weaken the Chargers' depth up front defensively. Starting defensive tackle Sean Lissemore (ankle) and backup defensive end Lawrence Guy (shoulder) missed the San Francisco game.

However, the Chargers made a roster move to try and bolster the team's depth up front, claiming defensive end Joe Kruger, released by the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday.

At 6-6 and 290 pounds, Kruger was a seventh-round pick by the Eagles in the 2013 draft. Kruger injured his shoulder during the 2013 preseason, and spent his entire rookie season on the injured reserve list. Kruger will likely work as a defensive end in San Diego's 3-4 defensive front.

After waiving 11 players on Monday, the Chargers have 80 players on the roster, and must cut down to 75 by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

"It's the tough part of the business," McCoy said. "It's not a fair business, but it's all part of our jobs."

McCoy was asked about center Nick Hardwick, who left the game in the first half with a neck injury. Hardwick dealt with neck stingers the second half of last season, but McCoy said his veteran center is fine.

McCoy would not provide a timetable for the return of other players who missed Sunday's game, including Vincent Brown (calf), Manti Te'o (foot), Jahleel Addae (hamstring) and Marcus Cromartie (groin). However, Te'o was seen walking in the locker room on Monday without a protective boot on his foot.

McCoy also remained vague on the status of offensive lineman Jeromey Clary, who is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. Clary has not practiced since the beginning of training camp as he rehabs from offseason shoulder and hip surgery. But the Chargers have to make a decision by Week 1 of the regular season on whether to place Clary on the active roster or put him on the reserve PUP list.

"We've discussed it from the very first day he had his surgery until today, and what our plan is with him," McCoy said. "And will let you know when we make a decision."

Asked if he had suffered any setbacks, McCoy did not answer the question specifically, only saying that Clary is working every day to get better.

W2W4: San Diego Chargers

August, 24, 2014
Aug 24
The San Diego Chargers (1-1) and San Francisco 49ers (0-2) play the third preseason game for both teams, considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season, Sunday at new Levi’s Stadium. The game starts at 4 p.m. ET.

Like all preseason games, finishing with no major injuries should be a top priority for the Chargers. So far, San Diego head coach Mike McCoy has been fortunate in that regard, with no major injuries through two games. Hopefully that continues. That said, here are three other things to keep an eye on during the game:

1. Tackle, and stop the run: The Chargers struggled to stop the run the first two preseason games, giving up a league-worst 5.58 yards per carry. Poor tackling remains an issue, as San Diego has had trouble tracking and targeting ball carriers in the open field. San Diego will not get a reprieve against the 49ers. San Francisco has the most diversity of runs of any NFL team in the league and can run effectively in heavy or spread formations. The 49ers have perhaps the best offensive line in the NFL, led by Pro Bowlers Joe Staley and Mike Iupati. Add to that an elusive glider like quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and San Diego will definitely be tested up front. It will be important for the Chargers to get 11 hats to the ball, be disciplined and gap sound.

2. Get after the quarterback: The Chargers have just four sacks through two games and have failed to put consistent pressure on the quarterback. Opposing quarterbacks have a 92.3 passer rating against the Chargers this preseason. Getting a healthy Dwight Freeney with the starters on passing downs should help. I’m also interested to see Jeremiah Attaochu and Melvin Ingram make some plays in the backfield on Sunday.

3. Get into a rhythm: San Diego’s first-unit offense has not scored during exhibition play, so it will be important for players like Philip Rivers, Ryan Mathews, Antonio Gates, Danny Woodhead and Keenan Allen to experience some success moving the football, and ultimately get into the end zone. The same can be said for cornerbacks Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers. Verrett is slated to see his first action in a Chargers uniform, and Flowers has not played much during exhibition play. Both will be tested against big San Francisco receivers in Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin, so it should be a good chance for those two to get some reps and get into a rhythm with the rest of the secondary. I know preseason records don’t matter, but that doesn’t mean having some success isn’t important to building momentum for the regular season. Since the start of the 2012 preseason, Denver and Seattle -- the two teams that appeared in the Super Bowl last season -- are a combined 16-5 in exhibition play. Apparently winning during the preseason matters to them.
SAN DIEGO – Out since the second day of training camp with a calf train, San Diego Chargers receiver Vincent Brown is biding his time until the injury allows him to take the field.

But it hasn’t been easy for the former San Diego State receiver. He’s a constant presence on the sideline during practice and in games, when he’s not inside the team’s training facility performing rehabilitation work so he can ultimately return to practice.

“I’m out there getting mental reps,” Brown said. “I’m studying the playbook, of course. And I’m doing my rehab trying to get back.”

[+] EnlargeVincent Brown
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziVincent Brown suffered a calf strain on the second day of training camp and hasn't returned.
Brown has missed a month, but likely will be back sooner rather than later. Still, there will be a transition in terms of getting back in game shape and working into the offense when he returns.

“I’m familiar with the offense and things like that, so that definitely helps,” Brown said. “I’m more familiar than I was my first year coming off of the (ankle) injury. Hopefully, I’ll just be focused on getting back in shape, and getting back what I’ve missed the last couple weeks.”

Now in his fourth season with the Chargers, Brown has experienced his fair share of injuries in San Diego. He missed all of the 2012 season due to an ankle injury, but came back in 2013 to play all 16 games for the first time in his NFL career, finishing with 41 receptions for 472 yards and a touchdown. Brown had only one drop on the year.

Brown seemed to be building on that 2013 performance with the way he played during the offseason, catching everything as a frequent target of Philip Rivers. Even Keenan Allen mentioned that he was feeling the heat by the intense competition from Brown.

Now that he’s injured, questions have cropped up again about Brown’s durability and his value to the organization. However, Brown will likely be on San Diego’s 53-man roster for a couple different reasons.

First, if Allen or Malcom Floyd suffer injuries early in the season, the Chargers will not find a receiver on the free agent market like Brown, who intimately knows their system. If Brown is released during final roster cuts, he won’t be around to bring back in Week 3 if you need him – he’s too talented and will be on someone else’s active roster.

Second, Rivers and Brown have a good rapport. Rivers trusts that Brown is going to be where he’s supposed to be on the route, and it takes years of running routes during practice time to develop that chemistry.

Finally, the Chargers have invested a lot of time and effort in developing Brown the last four years. Why let another team benefit from the investment when you can reap that reward?

Brown is doing the right thing by being patient and making sure he’s fully healthy before returning to the field. Remember, the NFL season is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

“It’s frustrating,” Brown said. “Whenever you’re not able to play, it definitely gets to you a little bit. But I can’t control it. It’s something that I’ve got to go through, and just trust the Lord the he can help me get back as fast as I can.”
SAN DIEGO -- With inside linebacker Manti Te'o ruled out for this week’s contest against San Francisco because of a sprained left foot, the San Diego Chargers will use a rotation of players to replace the Notre Dame product.

Sixth-year pro Reggie Walker is listed as Te’o’s backup on the team’s unofficial depth chart and will see time next to Donald Butler with the starters. But depending on what personnel grouping defensive coordinator John Pagano employs, free-agent addition inside linebacker Kavell Conner should see time with the starters as well.

Butler said it’s good to have experienced players to fill in for the injured Te’o.

“It’s huge,” Butler said. “It’s not a drop off at all. It’s a next-man-up mentality, and they’ve come in and have done well these last couple days.”

Walker is Mr. Versatility for Pagano’s defense. He can play all four linebacker positions for the Chargers. Signed after final roster cuts last season, Walker, 27, started six games for San Diego in his first year with the team. In 451 snaps, he finished with 42 tackles -- including five tackles for loss -- and three sacks.

“It’s valuable to have a guy like that,” Pagano said. “Any time you’re in a backup role and can come in and start games for you, it’s a plus.”

Conner, 27, signed with the Chargers during free agency this past offseason. He started 36 games during his four years in Indianapolis. Conner’s best season was 2011, when he started 15 games, finishing with 104 tackles. Conner also had 13 special-teams tackles for the Colts in 2013.

“It’s a great pickup for us, knowing his positional flexibility, not only as a linebacker but his position on special teams,” Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said about Conner. “He’s a veteran who has played plenty of snaps and has been there before. He’s been a leader on special teams from the very first day that he was here.”

Conner said he’s working to master San Diego’s defense.

“I’m still learning, honestly,” Conner said. “I’m trying to get everything down, learning some of the nuances of the defense and trying to get better every day.”

Pagano said Te’o had been playing well before the foot injury. Through two preseason games, Te’o leads the team in tackles with 11.

“He’s been doing really well,” Pagano said about Te’o. “You see the instincts. You see him a lot more comfortable just being able to go out, down in and down out just playing the game, reading things and seeing things. Everything slowed down for him.

“I think one of his key moments was when he saw that screen in the Dallas game, the way he was able to read it and react to it. He has great instincts, and you see it out here on the practice field.”

Te’o missed most of the exhibition season and three regular-season games because of a sprained right foot last year. He played the rest of the season with the injury but needed surgery after the 2013 season was over to repair a fractured bone in his foot.

Te’o injured his left foot this time and was seen wearing a boot after practice to protect the injury. However, Te’o is not expected to be out for an extended period of time.

“I’m just being patient with it, being smart,” Te’o said. “You have to just let your body heal.”
SAN DIEGO – Through three weeks of preseason games, the San Diego Chargers have the worst run defense in the league, giving up 5.58 rushing yards per play.

Yes, preseason games are not always a good measure of what will happen during the regular season, but San Diego’s inability stop the run continues a disturbing trend from last season, when the Chargers allowed 4.6 rushing yards per play, No. 27 in the league.

The Chargers allowed 243 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns by quarterbacks in a 41-14 loss at Seattle last week.

The Chargers haven’t been much better defending the pass. Through two preseason games, opposing quarterbacks have posted a 92.3 passer rating. The Chargers have just four sacks in two games.

Those humbling numbers have San Diego players looking for a rebound performance against a pretty good offense when they face the San Francisco 49ers on the road Sunday.

“We’re still trying to find our identity for 2014, and make sure we don’t stink this season up,” Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget said. “We want to make sure that we come out and play well, and do what we love to do, which is play football and play defense.”

Added middle linebacker Donald Butler: “I’m ready to get back on the field after that debacle that we showed on Friday. It will be good to get back out there for some live reps.”

Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano boiled down his team’s issues on defense to two things that need improvement: tackling and pressuring the quarterback.

“Those are two things that we didn’t do a great job of last year,” Pagano said. “I thought we did better late in the year, and that really changed for us. Getting the guys back healthy late in the year was big, but it’s just going out and making sure that we're fundamentally sound and playing with incredible effort.

“But those two things are things that we need to do better as a defense.”

Injury update: defensive end Lawrence Guy (shoulder), linebacker Manti Te'o (foot), defensive end Sean Lissemore (ankle), receiver Vincent Brown (calf), cornerback Marcus Cromartie (unknown) and safety Jahleel Addae (hamstring) did not practice on Thursday. Running back Kerwynn Williams (unknown) returned to practice after missing Monday and Tuesday’s workouts. Offensive lineman Jeromey Clary (shoulder/hip) remains on the physically unable to perform list. ... Chargers kicker Nick Novak turned 33 years old on Thursday.
SAN DIEGO -- Keenan Allen knows he's not sneaking up on anyone this season.

As a rookie selected in the third round of the 2013 draft by the San Diego Chargers, last season was supposed to be a developmental year for the Cal product. But season-ending injuries to Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd thrust Allen into the starting lineup.

Allen responded by finishing with 71 receptions for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns, developing into the go-to receiver on the perimeter for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.

Because of that effort, Allen debuts at No. 75 on this year's ESPN's #NFLRank list.

"I just want to build off of last year, help my team as much as I can out there and try and lead us," said Allen, when asked about what he'd like to accomplish in his second season.

Rivers said Allen's ability to understand the entire offense and his role in it helps the big receiver play fast. Along with that, at 6-foot-2 and 211 pounds, Allen has the short-area quickness to consistently create separation.

"What he does that makes him so good is he's very creative with his releases and his moves at the top of his routes, and yet he's very subtle," Rivers said.

Allen was targeted 107 times in 2013, the second-most behind tight end Antonio Gates (113) on San Diego's roster. In 2014, expect Allen to receive a similar amount of looks.

He'll have the added benefit of having Floyd back on the field. At 6-5 and 235 pounds, defenses will have to account for Floyd on the perimeter, along with Gates in the middle of the field.

"It's great," said Allen, when asked about having Floyd back. "It's going to take a lot of pressure off of me, along with Antonio Gates. I had a great year last year, so I'm guessing I'm going to get a lot of attention. But with Malcom out there, they're not going to really be able to double me up."

Further, NFL receivers often experience their biggest growth in development between their first and second seasons. Allen said he's worked on his speed and added a few pounds to build on what he accomplished as a rookie.

"I really attacked my speed," Allen said. "I'm just trying to get quicker off the ball and be that deep threat."
Examining the San Diego Chargers' roster:


Clemens cemented his role as the team's top backup with another solid performance against Seattle. Brad Sorensen is a developmental prospect worth keeping around, but I still believe you need his roster spot for more depth along the offensive or defensive line.


I particularly like Grice's ability to play special teams. Don't count out Kerwynn Williams.


Javontee Herndon continues to push for a roster spot, but likely remains a practice squad candidate, along with Tevin Reese and Torrence Allen.


Phillips has shown versatility, but Jake Byrne also has emerged a guy who could compete for a roster spot -- a good blocker who can make a catch in the red zone.


I'm interested to see if Jeromey Clary will come off the physically unable to perform list and get some work in this week. Clary has to show that he's close to playing for the team to have confidence to put him on the active roster for the regular season.


Lawrence Guy remains out with a shoulder injury. With Lissemore, Scafe and Liuget all nursing injuries as well, undrafted rookie free agent Tenny Palepoi remains a viable option of making the 53-man roster. I would also like to see more of undrafted rookie free agent Chas Alecxih.


Williams is a hard one to figure out, but I have him on for now. If Thomas Keiser does not make it on San Diego's roster, he will wind up on another team because of his pass-rush skills. Cordarro Law remains a practice squad candidate.


Davis has more upside than Steve Williams in my opinion. Also keep an eye out for Brandon Ghee.


Stuckey is a great special teams player, but he has not made a lot of plays while running with the second-unit defense. I'll be watching Alden Darby and Adrian Phillips more closely.


Interesting to see Scifres work on kickoffs against Seattle.
SAN DIEGO -- An undrafted rookie free agent out of Arkansas, receiver Javontee Herndon has raised some eyebrows among the San Diego Chargers coaching staff with his performance nearly three weeks into training camp.

Just ask Chargers receivers coach Fred Graves.

“I like what he’s doing,” Graves said. “The game’s not too big for him. Some guys come from college and the game is too big for them. And I’m not complaining about college offenses, but a lot of college offense are spread offenses and they don’t teach the guys the fundamentals.

“This kid, he understands what’s going on. And the biggest thing about him is, he’ll make a mistake and immediately correct it. So you’ll never see that same mistake.”

Herndon cut his teeth under two coaches at Arkansas familiar with pro-style offenses in Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema, so the learning curve has not been as steep for the Jacksonville, Florida, native. A former quarterback in high school, Herndon also quickly picks up play concepts and route adjustments.

At 6-foot and 198 pounds, Herndon runs polished routes and has strong hands, which allows him to pull down more than his share of contested catches. He’s a physical blocker in the run game and can also serve as a return man with reliable hands. Working with the third unit, Herndon created a good rapport with backup quarterback Brad Sorensen.

“We’ve developed some chemistry together,” Sorensen said. “We’ve run with each other most days. He’s big, strong and makes plays. He’s a guy you can trust as a quarterback. You don’t always have to put it in a perfect spot, and he can go up and make plays for you. So he’s got a bright future.”

Added Herndon: “It’s always good to connect with quarterbacks. I try to talk with Philip (Rivers) and all of them as much as I can because if they are familiar with you, they’ll look for you. So me and Brad talk a lot. I talk to Philip every chance I get, just asking him what I need to do (on certain routes).”

Herndon finished with 31 receptions for 437 yards and four touchdowns in his final season at Arkansas -- solid but not spectacular numbers. He ran a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at his pro day and posted a 34-inch vertical jump, so he’s a good athlete.

Still, Herndon was surprised that his name was not called on draft day. He said he received some interest from the Chargers as a possible Day 3 draft pick and ultimately decided San Diego provided the best opportunity to make an NFL roster.

“You’ve got to make your mark somewhere,” he said. “I just want to put my name out there, let them know what I can do and hopefully build on that during the preseason.”

Chargers Camp Report: Day 17

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
SAN DIEGO -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of San Diego Chargers training camp:

After an hour-long practice, Chargers head coach Mike McCoy was noncommittal on what players will take the field on Friday against the Seahawks, or how much the starters will play. Specifically, McCoy would not divulge if cornerbacks Brandon Flowers or Jason Verrett would be on the field for the first time this preseason. “We’ve got a plan,” McCoy said. “We’re going to talk about it as a staff tonight and tomorrow about exactly how we’re playing players, and how much players are going to play. Some guys we’re going to hold out. So, we’ll go from there.” Flowers fully participated in practice this week after missing the team’s exhibition opener against the Cowboys with a leg injury. He appears on target to play. Verrett still is wearing a red jersey during practice as he recovers from offseason shoulder surgery in March to repair a torn labrum. Flowers said he’s healthy, but the decision of whether or not he takes the field against Seattle will be up to the coaching staff.

• Defensive lineman Corey Liuget returned to the field after missing practice the past two days with an ankle injury. Liuget’s availability for Friday’s game is uncertain. Fellow defensive linemen Lawrence Guy (shoulder) and Damik Scafe (unknown) did not practice, along with receiver Vincent Brown (calf) and edge rusher Dwight Freeney (rest). Those four likely will not play against Seattle. Offensive lineman Jeromey Clary still is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

• McCoy talked about the importance of Verrett getting some reps in a preseason game before playing in the team’s regular-season opener at Arizona on Sept. 8. Verrett continues to wear a red jersey in practice, which limits how much contact he can participate in as his surgically repaired shoulder heals. At some point McCoy has to let Verrett see what he can do in a live game, but that likely won’t happen this week in Seattle. “You’d love to see him play in a full-speed environment to where he has to make the adjustment on the run,” McCoy said. However, McCoy said he doesn’t know how many live reps it will take to get Verrett up to speed for the regular season. “I can’t put a number on that honestly,” McCoy said. “He’s getting a ton of reps out here in practice. But there’s nothing like real reps in a game.”

• Up next: The Chargers travel to Seattle on Thursday and face the Seahawks on Friday, 10 p.m. ET at CenturyLink Field.
Examining the San Diego Chargers' roster:


Brad Sorensen had a solid outing in San Diego's first preseason game, but I still think the Chargers keep two quarterbacks on the active roster so they can add more depth at other positions.


Oliver is playing his way onto the 53-man roster, but Kerwynn Williams and Marion Grice remain in the conversation.


Javontee Herndon, Tevin Reese and Torrence Allen are practice squad candidates at this point. Brown is still solidly on the roster, but needs to get healthy.


Nothing changes here, with Johnson also serving as San Diego's fullback.


Troutman had a good week of practice and a solid performance in the exhibition game. Troutman could have played himself off of the bubble.


Scafe replaces Lawrence Guy, who could be out for an extended period with a shoulder injury. Undrafted rookie free agent Tenny Palepoi also played his way into the conversation of making the 53-man roster with a solid performance in the exhibition game.


No changes here, although Thomas Keiser showed that he can still be an impact player as an edge rusher.


Undrafted rookie free agent Chris Davis could get more of a look here if others continue to struggle.


The Chargers could use more quality depth here.


Novak appears to have built more leg strength during the offseason.
SAN DIEGO -- Looking a little sheepish, running back Branden Oliver walked up to legendary San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson after practice on Monday.

With Tomlinson at practice working for the NFL Network, Oliver made sure to take advantage of the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the greatest running backs to ever play in the league.

“We just really talked about defenses,” Oliver said. “I wanted to know more about how he analyzed defenses. He told me he just watched a lot of film to see how those guys moved around, so he can know what’s about to happen before the play even begins.

“That meant a whole lot. He’s a Hall of Famer. Just to stoop down and give me some knowledge and wisdom, I thank God for that.”

Oliver put Tomlinson’s pointers to good use against the Cowboys, finishing with a game-high 64 yards on seven carries, including a 16-yard touchdown.

“I have to give all the glory to the guys that were blocking for me, honestly,” said Oliver of his touchdown run. “I didn’t have to do much, except stay vertical. The cornerback came at the last second, so it was like 2 yards before I hit the end zone, and I kept running my feet and I got in the end zone.”

Oliver had been one of the more impressive players for the Chargers during the first two weeks of training camp. And Oliver showed that he should be in the conversation for a spot on the final 53-man roster by the way he played on Thursday against the Cowboys.

“He’s a good running back,” Chargers tight end David Johnson said. “Everybody knows, the whole O-line knows that he’ll get loose when we’re out there. We just had everyone working together, and we were sewing everybody up. As a team, we blocked good on a lot of those runs, and all he had to do was run.”

An undrafted rookie free agent out of University at Buffalo, Oliver turned down a chance to sign with Indianapolis in order to join the Chargers soon after the draft. Oliver has been impressive in practice, showing elusiveness, power and the ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

But after Thursday’s performance, Oliver understands he still has a lot more work to do.

“I just have to keep taking it one day at a time and just keep God first,” Oliver said. “I know I am in the right place. I have to keep getting better each and every day. This is just only one game, and you can’t get complacent.

“So it’s more to come, and I’ve got a group of great veterans in the running back room that I’m going to keep learning from, and (running backs) coach Ollie Wilson. So it’s not the end of it.”

W2W4: San Diego Chargers

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
The San Diego Chargers (0-0) and the Dallas Cowboys (0-0) open the preseason Thursday night at
Qualcomm Stadium. The game starts at 10 p.m. ET.

Here are three things to keep an eye on during the game.

1. Rookie watch: First-round pick Jason Verrett likely will not play, as the Chargers take a cautious approach to his return from shoulder surgery in March. Third-round selection Chris Watt’s availability also is uncertain after sustaining what appeared to be a head or neck injury in Tuesday’s practice. Watt did not practice on Wednesday. But other rookies to watch for include edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, nose tackle Ryan Carrethers, running back Marion Grice and receiver Tevin Reese. Specifically, I’m interested to see how Attaochu rushes the passer against the Cowboys’ talented offensive line, and if the 165-pound Reese can make a couple big plays in the passing game and as a returner.

2. Can the defense make plays? One point of emphasis on defense during training camp has been creating turnovers. And defensive coordinator John Pagano’s group has done a good job of that during practice. Now, the Chargers need to take the next step and consistently get the ball out during games. A player to focus on is inside linebacker Manti Te'o. Coming off offseason foot surgery, the Notre Dame product has looked faster and more instinctive in practice. He needs to carry that effort over to the game. Lastly, the Chargers have to do a better job of getting after the quarterback. They face Brandon Weeden, not Tony Romo, on Thursday. In 20 starts, Weeden has thrown 26 interceptions and has been sacked 55 times. San Diego’s defense will have some opportunities to make plays against the Oklahoma State product.

3. Look crisp, stay healthy: We’ll likely see most of the starters for a series or two at the most. So it’s important for guys like Philip Rivers, Nick Hardwick, Malcom Floyd and Eric Weddle to make the most of their limited opportunities. San Diego’s starters want to get a few reps, look sharp and then get off the field so younger players can get a chance to show what they can do. Floyd will be playing for the first time since suffering a neck injury early last season, so the contest is a chance to take a couple hits and clear another mental hurdle that he’s healthy. Dwight Freeney, who’s returning from a torn quad injury, did not practice on Wednesday and likely will not play on Thursday. The most important thing for the Chargers is to make sure their core players leave the game without injury and on pace to start the regular season healthy.
SAN DIEGO -- Everything at Chargers Park is a little more efficient in the second season of coach Mike McCoy’s tenure with the San Diego Chargers.

Players have a better understanding of expectations, from the daily practice schedule to the type of precision and high-intensity effort expected in drill work from the demanding McCoy.

Players also know something else: The style and culture he created works. Last season, McCoy told veteran players that if they bought into his philosophy they could be consistent winners in Year 1 of his program. McCoy led the Chargers to a surprising playoff run.

With a couple of newcomers on both sides of the ball added to an already talented roster -- led by one of the best quarterbacks in football in Philip Rivers -- the Chargers believe they can compete with the Denver Broncos for an AFC West crown.

Of course, San Diego has to get through a month of preseason work with its core players healthy while building on the continuity and chemistry established during the backstretch of last season, when the Chargers won four straight to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

“We’ve just got to keep moving and keep grinding,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We’re striving to be great.”


1. For the most part, the Chargers have not suffered any significant injuries through the first two weeks of camp. The team’s projected starting right guard, Jeromey Clary, is on the active physically unable to perform list recovering from offseason shoulder and hip surgeries. Clary hopes to return for the team’s regular-season opener at Arizona, but he could begin the season on the reserve PUP list and miss the first six weeks. On the flip side, edge rusher Dwight Freeney has looked explosive and healthy returning from a torn quad that cut short his 2013 season, and he should provide a boost to a team that struggled getting after the quarterback last season.

[+] EnlargeDwight Freeney
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliThe Chargers hope Dwight Freeney can help boost the team's sack total in 2014.
2. Defensively, the Chargers appear much faster than last season, particularly in the secondary. The return of a healthy Manti Te'o (foot) and Melvin Ingram (knee) helped improve the overall speed and athleticism at the second level of the defense, along with the addition of outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu, a second-round pick. In the secondary, the Chargers are more athletic with the addition of first-round selection Jason Verrett, the signing of veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers and the return of last year’s fifth-round pick Steve Williams, who missed all of his rookie season with a torn pectoral muscle.

3. Rivers has more playmakers at his disposal, making San Diego’s offense even more potent in 2014. The unexpected return of Malcom Floyd from a serious neck injury gives the Chargers a receiver who can stretch the field vertically opposite Keenan Allen. Floyd has flashed sure hands and playmaking ability in training camp. The addition of Donald Brown should provide a boost to the run game, easing the workload of Ryan Mathews. Also, tight end Ladarius Green appears to have taken another step in his development after showing the ability to create big plays last season.


1. While San Diego has not suffered any significant injuries, two of the team’s top three corners (Verrett and Flowers) are not expected to play Thursday against Dallas. Verrett has been wearing a red jersey in practice, a sign that he is not fully recovered from March surgery to repair a torn labrum. And Flowers is resting an undisclosed injury, although he played last season for Kansas City with a balky knee most of the year. If those injuries continue to linger, it will affect what the Chargers can do defensively during the regular season.

2. Along with defensive back, the Chargers also have some concerns with depth and experience along the offensive line. Rookie Chris Watt is the projected starting right guard with Clary out. Although the third-round selection out of Notre Dame has looked solid in training camp, Watt still has not played a meaningful snap in a regular-season game. The Chargers also have question marks behind left tackle King Dunlap and right tackle D.J. Fluker. Mike Harris was solid when called upon last season, starting in two games at left tackle. However, he finished the 2013 season on injured reserve with an ankle injury and has yet to test the issue in a game.

[+] Enlarge Ryan Mathews
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRyan Mathews rushed for a career-high 1,255 yards last season.
3. The Chargers' projected starter at nose tackle is Sean Lissemore, a versatile performer who played 208 snaps last season. Listed at 6-foot-3 and 303 pounds, Lissemore is not a typical run-stuffing nose tackle in a 3-4 defensive front. Lissemore’s backup is Kwame Geathers, who played all of 27 snaps as a rookie last season. Both are expected to anchor a San Diego defense that gave up an average of 4.6 rushing yards per attempt last season, 27th in the NFL. Run-first teams Seattle and Buffalo are among the Chargers' September opponents, so the middle of the defense will be tested early.


  • A point of emphasis for the Chargers during training camp has been creating more turnovers. San Diego finished with just 17 turnovers in 2013, third worst in the NFL. However, the Chargers forced six turnovers during the postseason, second only to the Seattle Seahawks. Weddle has two interceptions for touchdowns during training camp, and middle linebacker Donald Butler returned an interception for a score during a controlled scrimmage at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers are focused not only on creating more turnovers but also taking them back for touchdowns.
  • At an average of 6-6 and 322 pounds, San Diego has one of the beefiest offensive lines in the NFL. So it’s no wonder the Chargers were so effective clearing rushing lanes for Mathews last season. Mathews finished with a career-high 1,255 rushing yards last season. The goal for the offensive line is to create a similar mindset so the team can run against anyone in 2014. “Last year we started off coming out every day and being consistent and working together,” guard Chad Rinehart said. “We need to get back to that point. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like we’re there right now. But each day we’ve shown a little bit of improvement going into the season.”
  • Don’t expect much change from a scheme standpoint in San Diego’s offense with Frank Reich taking over as offensive coordinator. Reich worked as the team’s quarterbacks coach under Ken Whisenhunt, who left to become the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. Reich and Rivers have a good relationship. Reich will lean on the veteran quarterback even more to run the no-huddle offense and call plays at the line of scrimmage. But the team’s core philosophy of running the ball and leaning on the short passing game remains the same.
  • While Green will be featured more in the offense, veteran Antonio Gates will remain the most targeted tight end on San Diego’s roster. Gates has been the most targeted receiver for the Chargers two of the last three seasons. While NFL observers believe he has lost a step, the 34-year-old Gates can still beat one-on-one coverage in the middle of the field, particularly in the red zone.
  • One player to watch for during preseason play is undrafted rookie free-agent cornerback Chris Davis. The star of the Iron Bowl for Auburn last season with his return of a missed field goal for the winning score against Alabama, Davis has made handful of interceptions and pass breakups during camp. At 5-10 and 201 pounds, Davis is built more like a running back, but he has shown an ability to play physically and keep up with speedy receivers on vertical routes.