It All Matters
There was a different vibe in the air on Monday. The coaches were on megaphones barking out orders. Assistant coaches were screaming out players' names. The players were talking less and doing more. Drills were taken up a notch as techniques were dissected and helmets were slammed against one another.
There were roughly 1,500 fans in attendance on Monday and the team was focused. Not only do the Chargers have their first preseason game this week -- Thursday against the Cowboys -- but the players also know the first roster cut is looming on Sept. 1, so every single practice, play and drill matters.
Counting on the Offense
Philip Rivers started the 7-on-7 drill yelling out hard snap counts trying to throw off the defense, but the defense didn't bite and the offensive line didn't budge either. This is a great time to get those kinks out because off-side penalties will crush momentum. I asked Rivers after practice to give me one word that describes how he feels about off-sides penalties and he said, "Ugh, I can't even say it. I can't."
The other important drill was was run against time. The team was tested in several scenarios to get a play off before the play clock expired. Things got more intense as the drill progressed when the coach yelled out, "third-and-4 you have 10 seconds!" With so many new skey players on offense these were critical scenarios to practice.
Chris Watt was back at starting center with Rivers at the helm; they worked in unison to make sure the offense was quick, in position and aware of how the defense was set up. Once the offense got going, Rivers started peppering run plays and pass plays. The slant runs looked great because the offensive line swung together like a big beefy pendulum. When the second string came in, Kellen Clemens lined up behind center Trevor Robinson and got off some great passes. The pocket protection for him was as strong as it was for Rivers, which is huge. Often times a center has to adjust to the different quarterbacks' height, speed and quirks.
Robinson needs to stay consistent on is his initial punch. He is a scary man on the line with how vocal he is and his ability to get up field to the second level. If he can stay consistent with his first initial hit, we are going to have a real battle for the starting slot at center. Third string center Jeremiah Sirles, who played guard and tackle as a rookie, struggled a little today during his reps. He missed a snap count and got caught backpedaling a few times. We all know that center is a tough position to just jump into, but he needs to really step it up so he can get more reps in, because there are some hungry contenders behind him.
The Hit List
One of the hits of the day came from CB Chris Davis. The pad-clash could be heard down in Santee. The collision was so ferocious, Davis' earring got punched through his earlobe. The trainer looked at me and said, "First time for everything."
The defensive line was another story. I thought defensive line coach Don Johnson was going to pop a blood vessel. The defensive line had excellent first strikes but they just didn't stay on their blocks. That allowed the offensive line to push them around and create craters for the running backs. The one defensive lineman who responded immediately was rookie sixth-round pick Darius Philon, who woke up Watt with a 300-pound bull rush. This is going to be a key battle against the Cowboys, who are known for having an extremely physical offensive line.
Keeping Up With the Joneses
The vertical battle between the receivers, corners and safeties was insane and entertaining. One of my favorite match-ups was between Keenan Allen and Jason Verrett. My next favote was Jacoby Jones versus anyone. Starting at the line of scrimmage, I was reminded why Jones was once cast on Dancing with the Stars. This guy has moves like Jagger. If Jones gets the jump on you, you're going to have a tough time keeping up and catching up. Just ask Brandon Flowers, who got out juked at the line of scrimmage and then couldn't catch Jones, who took a deep pass into the end zone.
One scary moment was when Jones was up against Davis. He cut so hard that in an effort to cut back with him, Davis twisted his knee and went down. After a few moments, Davis got up on his own walked to the sideline, then came back in and took the next snap away from Patrick Robinson. This kid is hungry!
I'll be honest, I'm normally not a special teams kind'a girl. But this season, with this unit, I have been converted because these guys are exciting to watch. Not only the players but the coaches, who have literally dissected every piece of it. Position by position they have went through several players this camp, narrowing down personal based on speed, hands and physicality. Yes, you heard it here first -- the Chargers special teams units are a bunch of ass kickers.
With players like a trimmed down Manti Te'o streaming downfield to level anyone holding a ball, to Jaheel Addae and Jahwan Edwards, who both could give American Pharoah a run at the track, this is going to be fun to watch.
During full-team drills, Rivers scored on passes to four different receivers. Between Allen, Stevie Johnson, Jones, Malcom Floyd and Austin Pettis, Rivers is armed with a lethal receiver squad. He also has more solid runners than the U.S. Olympic Track Team, including first-round pick Melvin Gordon. From what I have seen at camp so far, the Chargers should be one of the highest scoring offensive units in the NFL.
The only thing Rivers does not have this season is an excuse, not with this offense. As the DJ was playing the final song at camp today, Van Halen's "Right Now," you could feel it's meaning in the air when the lyrics blared, "Right now ... this means everything." Because right now, in the midst of a stadium crisis, key vets looking for contracts, rookies trying to make the cut, this does mean everything.
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Jody Taylor is a retired women's pro football player and former media relations director for the Women's Professional Football League. She has been published in Sports Illustrated, CNN, Time and several sports media outlets covering the WPFL, Arena Football League and NFL. She is the founder of Sixty5 Media in San Diego and coaches for the NFL's Flag/Play 60 program in San Diego. Follow her @RealJodyTaylor