NFL preseason, Week 3: Chargers rookies picking up more than the playbook

For NFL rookies, learning a new playbook and terminology is a daunting task. The San Diego Chargers’ first year players aren’t just picking it up, they’re ready to master it. 

What precisely is the goal this far into the preseason for the Bolts’ newcomers? 

“Making sure that the playbook is second nature,” linebacker Manti Te’o told Sports Out West after practice on Wednesday. “From there, just allowing my instincts to take over. That’s my goal.”

The Chargers’ 2013 second-round pick made a name for himself by being in the right place at the right time, relying heavily on his gift to make great reads and initiate big plays on defense. Despite nursing a sprained foot, he’s still managed to continue the learning process, thanks in part to San Diego’s encouraging incumbents. 

“Donald (Butler) is in that position where the playbook is second nature,” Te’O added.”He teaches me what I’m supposed to do when I step out of line. When I actually do something good, he’s the first one along with Eric Weddle to  congratulate me on a good job, so it’s been good.” 

Seizing the moment

Quarterback Brad Sorensen is in the unique position of having to learn from the player he’s trying to compete with for the primary backup job behind Philip Rivers. But so far, Charlie Whitehurst has been helpful, along with Rivers, as he progresses into more nuances of the game as he gains familiarity with the plays and terminology. 

“Being able to sit back and watch them take reps each day and then watch them in the film room and how they approach the game and reading defenses,” he added. “That’s helped me and I’ve tried to take little parts of it and apply it to my own game.”

It gets more complicated than even that for a rookie who happens to play the quarterback position.

 “Protections is a new thing for me,” Sorensen said. “I’m going to have to study that forever and be the best I can with the protection stuff.

Then it’s coverages,” he stressed. “First it’s understanding what your job is, and then understanding what the other guys on the team’s job is. Then you’ve got to worry about the defense and what the defense is doing. So there’s always going to be something for me to study and learn. I’ve got a long way to go to get where (Rivers and Whitehurst) are.” 

So far, the rookie out of Southern Utah has managed to put together two sound performances in his limited opportunities, giving the coaching staff plenty to evaluate in terms of their final decision on who the No. 2 signal-caller will be. He threw the only touchdown pass for the Chargers in the first preseason game, a 31-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks while going 7-of-10 for 84 yards. He followed it by going 8-of-14 in the next game against the Chicago Bears and adding another touchdown strike. 

All eyes will be on him in Weeks 3 and 4 to see if he can secure the backup job. He knows that these kinds of chances don’t come often. 

“All you can hope for is an opportunity,” he said. “The coaching staff’s done a good job of allowing me chances to play, and I’m trying to make the most of it.” 

Photo Credit: Gregory Bull / AP 


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Michael C. Jones is the managing editor and founder of Sports Out West and a Southern California-based sports journalist. His credits include Yahoo Sports and Bleacher Report, among others.


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