AFC West: San Diego Chargers

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ESPN.com San Diego Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.

Week 1: at Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals have a handful of new starters on defense. Two of Arizona's best players on that side of the ball definitely will not play in linebacker Daryl Washington (suspension) and defensive end Darnell Dockett (injury). San Diego appears to be catching the Cardinals at the right time. Prediction: Win


Week 2: Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks' 41-14 manhandling of San Diego a month ago during preseason play at CenturyLink Field was not a good showing for the Chargers. The starters for both teams will play in this one, and the game is at Qualcomm Stadium. However, the Seahawks will have 10 days of rest after the team's season opener against Green Bay, while the Chargers are playing on a short week after a Monday night game in Arizona. Prediction: Loss


Week 3: at Buffalo Bills

The Bills are improved, with one of the better defensive front sevens in the NFL. They have a nice 1-2 punch at running back in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson and a human highlight film in receiver Sammy Watkins. But EJ Manuel remains inconsistent at quarterback. Prediction: Win


Week 4: Jacksonville Jaguars

This game could be the first start for rookie quarterback Blake Bortles if Chad Henne struggles early. The Chargers haven't lost to the Jaguars at Qualcomm, but Jacksonville's defense should be better with the addition of defensive ends Red Bryant and Chris Clemons. The Jaguars also get after the football defensively. Prediction: Win


Week 5: New York Jets

Will Michael Vick be the starting quarterback for the Jets instead of Geno Smith by Week 5? No matter the signal-caller, Rex Ryan will lean on the run game -- his Jets were one of 12 teams to rush for at least 2,000 yards in 2013. The Jets averaged just 15 points a game on the road in 2013. Prediction: Win


Week 6: at Oakland Raiders

The Chargers lost 27-17 on the road against an awful Oakland team last year. San Diego will be ready and bring more effort this time. However, the Raiders do have a bye before this game, so they will be rested. Prediction: Win


Week 7: Kansas City Chiefs

San Diego has not lost to Kansas City at Qualcomm Stadium since 2007. That streak should continue, although the Chargers can't rely on a Ryan Succop missed field goal to bail them out again. Prediction: Win


Week 8: at Denver Broncos

A nationally televised game against the best team in the AFC last year will be a good, midseason test of where this team stands. San Diego traditionally plays the Broncos tough in Denver -- the Chargers are 6-3 against the Broncos in Denver, including the playoffs, since 2006. Prediction: Loss


Week 9: at Miami Dolphins

The Chargers let one slip away at Miami last year. The Chargers haven't won a regular-season game in Miami since 1980. Prediction: Loss


Week 11: Oakland Raiders

San Diego players should be well-rested for the Raiders coming off of a bye week. Since 2003, the Chargers are 9-2 at Qualcomm Stadium against Oakland. Prediction: Win


Week 12: St. Louis Rams

The Rams have one of the most dominant defensive fronts in the NFL, but Shaun Hill does not instill fear in the hearts of NFL defenders. Prediction: Win


Week 13: at Baltimore Ravens

This game is the beginning of a brutal stretch of games to finish the season. San Diego has never defeated the Ravens in Baltimore. Prediction: Loss


Week 14: New England Patriots

New England runs the football, has an improved defense and one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. And that Bill Belichick is a pretty good coach. Prediction: Loss


Week 15: Denver Broncos

This game is a late-season AFC West battle that the Chargers likely will need to win in order to stay in playoff contention. Expect San Diego to play with urgency in this one. Prediction: Win


Week 16: at San Francisco 49ers

You can't discount how San Diego's defense handled San Francisco's offense in the preseason matchup between these two teams. But Jim Harbaugh should have his team playing much better by December. Prediction: Loss


Week 17: at Kansas City Chiefs

For a second straight season, the Chargers finish against the Chiefs, but this time on the road. Since 2004, San Diego is 6-4 at Kansas City. Prediction: Win


Predicted Record: 10-6

SAN DIEGO – Quarterback Ryan Lindley is returning home. Released by the Arizona Cardinals during final roster cuts, the San Diego native and former San Diego State player made his way through waivers and will be added to San Diego’s practice squad, the team announced.

Lindley
A sixth-round draft selection by the Cardinals in the 2012 draft, Lindley, 25, started four games for Arizona. Lindley’s career stats in the NFL aren’t impressive. He’s completed 52 percent of his passes for 752 yards, with no touchdowns and seven interceptions. Lindley’s been sacked 12 times and has a career 46.7 passer rating.

However, he does have a relationship with Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who served as Arizona’s receivers coach in 2012. And at 6-foot-3 and 235 pounds, Lindley has a strong arm, offering potential as a developmental prospect.

With Lindley in the fold, it appears the Chargers are moving on from second-year pro Brad Sorensen, who was released during Friday’s final roster cuts. Sorensen finished the preseason with 178 passing yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, completing 56.4 percent of his passes. Sorensen was sacked five times and had a 46.7 passer rating.

Along with Lindley, the Chargers added receivers Javontee Herndon and Torrence Allen, offensive lineman Jeremiah Sirles and Craig Watts, defensive lineman Chas Alecxih, outside linebacker Cordarro Law, cornerback Greg Ducre and safety Adrian Phillips to the practice squad.

The Chargers have one open spot remaining on the practice squad.
SAN DIEGO – Marion Grice said the San Diego Chargers showed heavy interest in him during the draft, attending his pro day at Arizona State and also explaining how they would use him in the team’s offense at the NFL scouting combine.

So it’s little shock that San Diego’s sixth-round pick in this year’s draft landed on the final 53-man roster. The surprise, of course, is general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy chose to keep five running backs on the roster, including undrafted rookie free agent Branden Oliver.

[+] EnlargeMarion Grice
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziMarion Grice took advantage of his opportunity in the final preseason game and made the Chargers' roster.
At 6-foot and 208 pounds, Grice is a back that can do everything. He’s a physical runner who can get it done between the tackles, but also has enough speed to get outside in the run game. He’s smooth catching the ball out of the backfield, but also smart and physical enough to pick up blitzes in pass protection.

Grice is familiar with the zone running scheme from his time at Arizona State, can line up as a slot receiver and returned kicks in college. But what’s sometimes goes unnoticed about Grice is his ability to move the pile in the run game.

“He’s a big guy,” Chargers offensive coordinator Frank Reich said about Grice. “He’s strong, runs hard. He’s tough to bring down and has great balance.”

With Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown, the Chargers are loaded in the backfield, so Grice said will have to figure out how to earn time on special teams.

Grice didn’t have much an opportunity to show what he could do during offseason work as he rehabilitated a leg injury. But his unique skill set began to emerge during training camp, blossoming in the final preseason game, when he finished with 79 yards on 19 carries.

“It was great to get an opportunity to play a little longer, get into a rhythm and just play hard,” Grice said about his effort against the Cardinals on Thursday.

Added McCoy: ““He’s done a nice job for us. I think he just got more opportunities. And that’s what we talked about earlier, is that some guys got more opportunities than they did earlier in the preseason. And that’s what this business is all about, making the most of your opportunities.”

Now that he’s on the roster, Grice will continue to focus on honing his skill set, watching and learning from the talented runners in front of him on the depth chart.

“I make sure I work on it every day in practice, trying to be a complete back,” Grice said. “I don’t want to just settle on being a third-down back. I want to be an every-down back. So I just keep working hard on it in practice.”
Most significant move: An impressive offseason performance and the continuity that would have been achieved by keeping him on the roster did not save veteran receiver Vincent Brown, who was waived/injured by the Chargers. Brown had not practiced since suffering a calf strain during the second day of training camp July 25 but was considered solidly on the roster because of his experience in San Diego’s offense. Brown played all 16 games for the first time in his NFL career in 2013, finishing with 41 receptions for 472 yards and a touchdown. Brown had only one drop on the season. Scheduled to make $1,431,000 in base salary for the upcoming year, Brown’s salary would have been fully guaranteed if he was on the Week 1 roster. The Chargers are about $5 million under the salary cap, so Brown’s release could be a move by San Diego to clear more salary-cap space for transactional moves during the season. The Chargers also like ex-CFL standout Dontrelle Inman and will likely run more two-tight-end sets with the emergence of Ladarius Green. Brown will revert to San Diego’s injured reserve list if he clears waivers.

Bolts go with two QBs: San Diego went with two quarterbacks on this year’s roster, releasing developmental prospect Brad Sorensen. The Southern Utah product had an uneven performance in games and in practice during training camp. He’ll likely be added to the team’s practice squad if he clears waivers. The Chargers kept Sorensen on the active roster as a rookie last year, keeping three quarterbacks. But in 2011 and 2012, San Diego kept only two quarterbacks, so they'll go back to that model in 2014. The Chargers likely needed a roster spot in order to add more depth along the defensive line, and Philip Rivers has the second longest streak of games started by a quarterback behind Eli Manning at 128, so San Diego doesn’t necessarily need a lot of depth there.

Are the Chargers a running team? Yes, San Diego has one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the NFL in Rivers and will run more no-huddle this year. But the Chargers showed their hand in keeping both rookie running backs Marion Grice and Branden Oliver on the active roster -- San Diego is a running team. The Chargers finished 13th in the league in rushing in 2013 with 1,995 rushing yards. But with Ryan Mathews injured at the end of last season, San Diego could not lean on the run game in an AFC divisional playoff loss at Denver. That should not be an issue this year, with five quality running backs currently on the roster and a physical run blocker in fullback/tight end David Johnson.

What’s next: All players waived Saturday are eligible to be claimed off waivers by other NFL teams at 9 a.m. PT Sunday. Teams can start setting practice squads at that time, once waiver claims have been settled.

Chargers' moves: San Diego released 22 players -- TE Mike Flacco, CB Crezdon Butler, DE Doug Worthington, DE Joe Kruger, WR Tevin Reese, QB Brad Sorensen, OL Craig Watts, WR Vincent Brown, DL Chas Alecxih, WR Torrence Allen, LB Victor Aiyewa, S Alden Darby, CB Greg Ducre, T Mike Harris, WR Javontee Herndon, LB Thomas Keiser, LB Cordarro Law, S Adrian Phillips, LB Colton Underwood, G Craig Watts, OL Kenny Wiggins and C Khalil Wilkes.
Good morning. The San Diego Chargers are expected to announce final roster cuts close to the Saturday 4 p.m. ET league deadline. As soon as they are announced, we will have a post on the released players and an analysis of the team's final roster.

News of players getting released continues to trickle out this morning. Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports tight end Mike Flacco, the younger brother of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, has been told he will be released by the Chargers.

Reportedly, the Chargers also released Crezdon Butler, Brad Sorensen, Tevin Reese and defensive linemen Doug Worthington and Joe Kruger. The team has not confirmed those moves, but that would put the Chargers at 69 players as they work on whittling the roster down to 53.

Ben Stockwell of Pro Football Focus praises Cordarro Law for his play in the final preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Ricky Henne of Chargers.com provides five lessons learned from San Diego’s final preseason win against Arizona.

Jay Paris of the Sports Xchange gives us an early preview of the regular-season opener at Arizona.

Tom Krasovic of U-T San Diego writes that cutting Sorensen makes sense for the Chargers because it frees up a roster spot for a team attempting to make a deep playoff run.

Russell Baxter of Bleacher Report gives the Charges a C grade for the team’s performance during the preseason.
SAN DIEGO – San Diego Chargers head coach Mike McCoy emphasized that Thursday’s final preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals was about picking the best 53 players for the regular season and not game-planning for the team’s regular-season opener against the same team on Sept. 8.

McCoy
“It was a very productive offseason,” McCoy said. “And now it’s the tough time of the business for us, as coaches and as an organization, the personnel department – everything – of making some very tough decisions moving forward of who the best 53 are for the football team, and picking the practice squad.”

McCoy said the team will not announce roster cuts until Saturday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. However, news has trickled out on a couple of the releases.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports that San Diego released cornerback Crezdon Butler.

Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego reports receiver Tevin Reese, quarterback Brad Sorensen, and defensive linemen Doug Worthington and Joe Kruger have been released.

None of these moves have been confirmed by the team.

In terms of the schedule, McCoy said his coaching staff will evaluate film from Thursday’s game and clean up mistakes made by players who make the final roster. And then the Chargers will begin preparing for Arizona, with a couple extra days to get a jump on game-planning for the Cardinals.

“You’ve got to study,” McCoy said. “You’ve got to watch as much film as you can. And we’ve got some extra days to take advantage of it. But I also think it’s important for some guys to take a deep breath for a couple days. Take care of your body No. 1, and get ready for the marathon. It’s a long season.”
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.

McCoy
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
12:00
PM ET
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.

Walker
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
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.

Te'o
“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.

Liuget
“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:

QUARTERBACKS (2)


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.

RUNNING BACKS (4)


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

RECEIVERS (6)

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

TIGHT ENDS (4)


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.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)


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.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6)

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.

LINEBACKERS (10)

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.

CORNERBACKS (5)


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

SAFETIES (4)

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.

SPECIALISTS (3)


Interesting to see Scifres work on kickoffs against Seattle.

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