Sports Out West

5 things to watch in Chargers training camp

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

There is not a ton of buzz outside of San Diego about the San Diego Chargers.  The team that was the best team in the AFC West for years has fallen off the pedestal.  New head coach Mike McCoy would like nothing more than to return the team to prominence. That’s going to be a tall order, however, as the Chargers have plenty of holes to fill in a tough division. But there’s no doubt they have a lot of talent. They’ll need everything to come together if they want to compete for the AFC West crown. 

Here are five things to watch during Chargers training camp, which is set to begin on Thursday, July 25: 

1) Ryan Matthews

Matthews was a first-round pick out Fresno State in 2010.  He was expected to come in and replace LaDainian Tomlinson. He has not been that type of back.  He did average 4.3 and 4.9 yards per carry respectively in his first two seasons.  Last year his average fell to 3.8 yards per carry.

The good news for Matthews is his new head coach likes to run the ball.  While he was the offensive coordinator with the Carolina Panthers and the division rival Denver Broncos, McCoy’s offenses tend to be run-first with the exception of last season with Peyton Manning.  Even with Manning through 10 games, starter Willis McGahee had 731 yards rushing and average 4.3 yards per carry.  If Matthews struggles, it will not be due to lack of opportunity.

2) Offensive Line

Last season, the Chargers offensive line was anchored by Jared Gaither and his bad back. This season, the team attempted to fill the need for lineman in the draft with the selection of offensive tackle D.J. Fluker out of Alabama.  The team also picked up Max Starks from the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Starks is not known to be a great pass protector.  The team signed King Dunlap as insurance, but he had his own struggles with the Philadelphia Eagles.  Neither guy may be the long-term answer but the hope is they can at least hold down the fort for this season. 

3) Revamped Defense

Gone are the likes of Takeo Spikes, Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason, and Shaun Phillips.  The defense’s new faces are veteran Dwight Freeney and rookie Manti Te’O.  The Chargers were hoping for a big year from Melvin Ingram but he tore his ACL during minicamp. 

No one truly knows what to expect from this defense.  The jury is out on how much Freeney has left and if Te’O be an impact player at this level. Donald Butler is a solid player but can he lead a defense?  Training camp will be vital to see if this defense needs to add another veteran to the mix. 

4) Mike McCoy

McCoy was a solid offensive coordinator, but to be honest, who had heard of him before he worked with Tim Tebow?  He was not lauded as one of the up-and-coming young coaches just three seasons ago.  The two things he is most known for is giving Tim Tebow semblance of his college offense and letting Peyton Manning run his offense. 

When he ran his own offense, he did not leave a great impression.  It’s a scary thought to think that the Tebow offense in Denver is more memorable than anything McCoy did while he was in Carolina.

Pre-season probably won’t say a whole lot about his offense, as most teams are pretty vanilla, but it would be good to see something more than the imprint that is already on the team. 

5) Philip Rivers

The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, maybe to a fault.  In recent years, Rivers has appeared to try and make every play and it has cost him.  He has seemed to regress instead of improve.  Hopefully for the Chargers and Rivers sake he finds his game this season.

In the last two seasons, Rivers has thrown 35 interceptions.  In his three seasons prior to that, he only threw 33 interceptions.

Hopefully this season Malcolm Floyd can become a true number one receiver and Robert Meachem can look more like he did when he played with the New Orleans Saints.  Third-round pick Keenan Allen was a steal.  If he is healthy, he can be a quality possession receiver and may be Rivers’ go-to guy on third downs.  Antonio Gates is still finding a way to get open even though he is not the player he once was. 

If Rivers can return to form, the team has hope for the 2013 season.  If Rivers continues to struggle as he has the past two seasons, the team may have to begin to look to move in a different direction.   

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports    

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Keenan Actkins

Keenan Actkins is an Arizona resident living in the Phoenix metropolitan area. He brings a wealth of sports knowledge and passion to the team with his unique insight and strong voice and opinion. He also contributes to Yahoo! Voices and has written for WoodyPaige.com.

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