So with training camp started in San Diego come lots of hope and good vibes for the upcoming season, and also the potential for surprises. A classic example from the Chargers is how they specialize in finding undrafted free agents who win jobs at camp, guys like Antonio Gates, Kris Dielman and Mike Tolbert.
Here are some of the other surprises we'd like to see.
1) Our draftees are actually ready to play. They can step in and contribute right now. They make an impact on the field and in the win column. They're not projects who are athletically gifted but don't really understand the X's and O's and for who the game goes a little too fast. Instead of guys like Robert English and Antoine Cason or Buster Davis, who are projects who need to be babied into the lineup, or even guys like Jonas Mouton and Donald Butler who go onto Injured Reserve right from camp, we have guys like Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes and Brandon Taylor getting lots of snaps, and not just on special teams, but defensive snaps. Quality snaps that get the ball back in Philip Rivers' hands.
2) Heck, our team comes out of it ready to play. The Chargers are renowned for their struggling starts to seasons, and then coming on strong in the second half to barely make the playoffs, or barely miss them. For once it would be nice if baffled Norv Turner, he of the muddled, tormented, whiny-voiced post-game press conferences and master of the head-scratchingly awful play call and and clock mismanagement, could have his charges ready to play at the start of the season. And no, last season's 4-1 start doesn't count, not when we got trounced by the only decent team, and eked out wins against the abysmal Vikings, Dolphins and Broncos and the castrated-by-injury Chiefs. If they had lost one of these games, I might have put the blindfold on Norv myself, and lit his last cigarette.
3) Ryan Mathews has somehow X-Men'ned velcro hands and forearms. Yeah, that would be cool.
4) Chargers fans don't get the vapours over the next Bryan Walters. Hey, I get it, my interest was piqued by his buzz last year, and I know we shouldn't have cut Wes Welker, and I love to root for the underdog, the physically overmatched kid with the big heart, but we kind of fell for it, and maybe A.J. went against his better judgment and bowed to public pressure, but this guy cost us Scott Tolzien or Laurent Robinson when we gave him a roster spot. Let's not do that again okay?
5) We actually get the attacking, blitzing defence we were promised. I'll deal with this at more length in a future post, but did you ever notice no defensive coordinator ever announces when he's hired that he'll have a conservative prevent defence installed? No, they always swear that they'll be aggressive and attack the quarterback. Ron Pagano didn't disappoint this off-season, he said all the right things. But so did Greg Manusky last year, he told us we'd swarm the backfield and gamble and be exciting and rack up sacks and interceptions. Well, no. We did not. Now I don't necessarily blame him completely, he probably realized coming out of pre-season that he didn't have the horses, not like he did in San Fran. He figured that with only Shaun Phillips to rush the passer from the linebacking corps, and an inept front three who didn't develop as we'd hoped, and a backfield he didn't trust in man-to-man, he was going to have to nickel and dime offences to death. The third-down conversions accumulated, teams marched up and down the field against us, we couldn't cover and couldn't stop the run. So Greg Manusky went 'bend don't break' on us, and of all the rotten luck, the very same season Philip Rivers had an off-year. So I want Vaughn Martin, Cam Thomas and Corey Liuget to develop much closer to their full potential, I want Kendall Reyes to surprise in his rookie season, I want Aubrayo Franklin and Antonio Garay to be the trusty veterans who lead the way, I want Donald Butler and Takeo Spikes to plug up the middle of the field while Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes, Melvin Ingram and what the heck even Robert English swarm all over the backfield, I want Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer to blanket their charges for a count or two until the quarterback is buried, and I want Eric Weddle and Atari Bigby to snag balls out of the air and return them for touchdowns. If they all play like we expect them to, which shouldn't be too much to ask but is still probably unrealistic, then maybe Chuck Pagano can let slip the dogs of war, and we'll actually watch when the defence takes the field instead of going to the kitchen to make a sandwich.