The most exciting game of the preseason is finally here. Finally, a chance to watch some real football! We should get a good look at the Chargers first teams this Saturday, and they will have a tough test against the reigning NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks. Here are three things to watch on offense and defense/special teams:
Offensive line: Left guard Orlando Franklin did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, so it’s likely he won’t play against Seattle. The rest of the starters should look the same – left tackle King Dunlap, center Chris Watt, right guard D.J. Fluker and right tackle Joe Barksdale. This is a line that’s still learning to gel, and there shouldn’t be too much concern about the absence of Franklin, especially in August. Keep an eye on the right side of the line, where the new starting center (Watt) is barking orders to the new starting guard (Fluker) who is not only playing a somewhat foreign position, but now has to communicate to his new starting tackle (Barksdale). Fluker seems to be making strides at the guard position – (and give him credit for giving it his all to learn quickly there) – but Seattle is going to be a good test for where this line is at and how comfortable they feel with that right side.
Melvin Gordon: Gordon had six carries for 11 yards in the first preseason game, but did not play in the second because of a minor ankle injury. He’s got high expectations for this third game. He showed some hesitancy in the backfield against the Cowboys – (and we should note that the offensive line also had some blown assignments, which didn’t help) — so hopefully both those areas take a step forward against the Seahawks. Gordon hasn’t had any pass protection snaps yet, so the Chargers may also dial that up for him Saturday. On Monday, Mike McCoy was adamant that the run game needs to improve – the Chargers had a lot of minus-plays against the Cardinals – so the pressure is on to show they’ve made strides.
Ladarius Green: Where, oh where, is Ladarius Green? It’s a question we’ve been asking for years now. This season, it’s different – Antonio Gates will serve a four-game suspension to start the 2015 campaign and it’s expected that Green will see some serious playing time in his absence. So, is this the week that we see the beginning of that shift? Green’s name hasn’t been heard too much in the first two preseason games, and one would think Game Three would be the perfect opportunity to get him involved before the real thing happens in September. As is often the case in the NFL, though, “thinking” sometimes leaves us scratching our heads after the fact. We’ll see.
Middle linebackers: Rookie linebacker Denzel Perryman did not play last week against Arizona but is expected to see a good number of snaps against Seattle. This is a critical week for Perryman because he’s missed significant time over the spring and summer with various injuries. Known for his physicality in college, the Chargers need to get a good look at Perryman against real competition and see what he can provide to a defense that’s hardly been physical over the past few seasons. Keep an eye on Nick Dzubnar, an undrafted free-agent from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The former hockey player has steadily worked his way up to the Chargers second team defense, and had a nice against the Cardinals, notching his first NFL sack and two quarterback hurries. Also of note, Manti Te’o, who’s no stranger to preseason injuries, is not expected to play against Seattle because of an apparent arm injury.
Cornerbacks: Outside of Jason Verrett, Brandon Flowers, and Patrick Robinson, the cornerback depth chart is basically anyone’s guess. Greg Ducre, Steve Williams, and Chris Davis have all missed practice time over the last month. Richard Crawford had a bad game against Arizona. But, at least third-round pick Craig Mager is showing progression after a shaky start in training camp. How the second unit shakes out is worth keeping an eye on. Remember, Verrett and Flowers have injury history. Look what happened last season.
Kicking competition: Old and reliable, or new and affordable? That is a question the Chargers will be forced to answer at kicker before the start of the season. It’s no secret that Nick Novak needs to improve on kickoffs, and he says he has, but undrafted free-agent Josh Lambo has a big leg and has been impressive so far this preseason. But, it’s a small sample size for Lambo, and Novak has proved his worth over the last three years with the Chargers.
For a more in-depth look at these storylines and more, listen to this Seahawks-Chargers preview podcast.