Before the game began, my main concern was with the left tackle spot, vacated by Marcus McNeill due to injury. Yes friends, that's the ugly side of the NFL. The guy got signed to a long-term contract by the Chargers two seasons ago, but this deal was voided because he suffered a spinal injury. While playing football for the Chargers. So he gets hurt at work, they cut him. Not that the Chargers are worse than any other team, it's the entire NFL that's morally bankrupt, and the NFL Players Association that is unable to stand up for itself.
Anyway, I was worried about the left tackle spot. Jared Gaither, who was brought in last season to sub in for Mr. McNeill, performed remarkably well for a mid-season free agent acquisition, and was rewarded by signing a four-year deal with $12.5M guaranteed and an $8M signing bonus. Nothing too surprising about him playing well, he's a monster and has talent and athleticism. What was always the concern with him in Baltimore was his motivation, both during games and off-season when he would reputedly not work as hard on his conditioning as he should have.
So we get into training camp, and Mr. Gaither promptly gets injured, suffering back spasms after the first day. Eyebrows are raised around the league. Hundreds of wiseacres hold their tongues, although they're dying to pelt San Diego GM A.J. Smith with "I told you so's".
Back spasms. Coaches used to ask us "Are you hurt, or are you injured?" In this case, there's no telling, this is the kind of soft-tissue injury that doesn't show up on X-Rays or MRI's, but it is the kind of injury that can be brought about by overwork after a period of inactivity. Hmmmm..... Also, it's the kind of injury where the player has to decide when he's well enough to suck it up and get back out there. Double hmmm.....
So with Marcus McNeill still unsigned I was dreaming of a reconciliation between the parties, and a miraculous recovery, but it's not meant to be. Marcus has decided that he won't be able to continue his career and will retire.
So, worried about the left tackle position, but there are now other fish to fry.
Ryan Mathews has broken his collarbone and will undergo surgery and be out four to six weeks. He got injured on the third snap for the offence and his first carry of the game.
Are the Chargers snakebitten or what? Things never seem to line up with our team. Mark Schlereth of ESPN blames the temperate weather saying that it's too nice in Southern California and the players are too soft because of it, they're lounging around and wearing flipflops to practice. Obviously, cold and miserable like Cincinnati or Cleveland or Buffalo is the way to go. But really, this goes beyond rational explanation such as this one, we have to invoke supernatural causes for our misfortune. Surely a hex was placed on the Chargers that caused Head Coach Norv Turner to not be fired last off-season, there can be no other reason why he was retained.
Anyway, Coach Turner was hyping Ryan as his #1 workhorse back, and was planning to give him lots to do in camp to get him ready, since he has been slow to mature and learn the NFL game. Now that plan goes out the window, and we're much more interested in the training camp battle between Curtis Brinkley, Jackie Battle, Michael Haynes or Edwin Baker for the third RB spot on the depth chart. And now do we have to keep a fourth and fifth RB to start the season, at the expense of a tight end or linebacker, to make do while Ryan heals?
The game itself was as expected for a pre-season game, with little flow or emotion, but lots of effort by players trying to win a roster spot. Green Bay linebacker Desmond Bishop suffered what looked like a bad injury, having his right knee hyperextended by a falling Ronnie Brown. Antonio Gates caught a 23 yard touchdown, solidifying the notion that he's 100% healthy. Nick Novak probably kicked himself out of a job by sidewinding a 35-yard field goal attempt off the left upright. Not the way to unseat Pro Bowler Nate Kaeding.
Philip Rivers was up and down during the game. He made some good plays, but also appeared rushed on some passes (was he hearing footsteps from his blindside?) and forced a ball to Robert Meachem that was picked off. I have to say that I won't be picking him up early in any fantasy football league. We all saw how he performed behind a patchwork line last season, and he's now playing without Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman on his left side. Fingers crossed that you get it together Philip, but I won't rest my season on you.
Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes were effective and more in their first games as a Bolt. John Gruden shone the spotlight on Melvin and to a lesser extent Kendall, and even Brandon Taylor got some love, which is to be expected for the higher draft picks. The positive thing is that all three seem to be players, instead of projects, they don't appear to be guys who look great at the Combine but can't play and perform right away. So the prized rookies picked up for the defense seem to be doing the job. Finally.