2012 Training Camp Primer
By: Loren S. Casuto, Bolttalk Podcast Co-Host
Training Camp Competitions
1. Kicker - Nick Novak vs. Nate Kaeding
Of all the competitions in training camp, this is the only one for a starter and the one that will inspire the most passion. Kaeding has been the source of criticism since he arrived; fantastic in the regular season but doesn’t make the clutch kicks and his misses have caused the Chargers to lose playoff games in two separate years. When he went down on the first play of the 2012 season, the Chargers brought in someone they were interested in for the past two seasons. Novak impressed the team during last year’s training camp and when Kaeding went down then, the Chargers tried to bring Novak back. However he wasn’t able to get out of his UFL contract. When Novak returned in 2012, he kicked 11 straight field goals but ended with only 79% accuracy including missing some big kicks against Denver to win the game. Kaeding lowest accuracy was 80% in his rookie year, since then he averaged 86% accuracy.
My take: It’s 50/50 who wins this battle. My guess is Kaeding comes out on top and gets one last shot to prove he’s a big time kicker. More likely than not the Chargers will look for a kicker again in 2013 unless Kaeding has a spectacular year.
2. Left Guard – Tyronne Green vs. Rex Hadnot
Originally I thought that the biggest battle on the offensive line would have been Brandon Dombrowski vs. Mario Henderson for the swing tackle position. That battle was ended within 48hrs of camp starting when Brandon Dombrowski had a non-football injury to his foot. Alternatively there has been an increasing amount of discussion whether there is a competition for the left guard position. Much like Jared Gaither, Ty Green took over a spot on the offensive line when all-pro Kris Dielman went down with an injury that led to his retirement. While prior to this year Green had performed poorly in limited playing time at right guard, he was a revelation at left guard. Green has shown better awareness and pass blocking ability than at any other time and he joined with Gaither in locking down the left side of the offensive line for the final games of the season. But Hadnot is a nine-year veteran with multiple teams and at multiple positions. A powerful run blocker with a fantastic understanding of schemes and blocking assignments, Hadnot has been a part of some good offensive lines over the last few years. However he is not great on an island, not good at pulling and has poor quickness.
My take: It’s Green’s job to lose. He will go into the season as the starter based on his success in 2011. He will not be handed the job though and if he looks like he did over the past two years, Hadnot will take the job. If Green can build off his success Hadnot should still make the team, Norv likes linemen who can play a variety of positions.
3. 5th Receiver/Kick Returner – Roscoe Parrish vs. Micheal Spurlock vs Richard Goodman vs. Unknown
At the end of the 2011 pre-season a lot of Chargers fans were surprised to see the team go with two undrafted free agents at the back end of their receiver corps. They kept Bryan Walters, who made his name on two pre-season plays and promptly did nothing on an NFL roster, and Richard Goodman who became the team’s primary kick returner. While Goodman ended the year with the 4th best yards per return in the NFL and a 105yd kick return against the Raiders, he never really gained the confidence of the team or the fans. It almost seemed like the team had no one else to return kicks.
That changed within the space of a few days in early 2012; the team added Eddie Royal who now becomes the punt returner and slot receiver. But shortly after that the Chargers added two others with similar skill sets to Goodman. Micheal Spurlock was Tampa’s primary kick & punt returner under Rich Bisaccia and in 2011 and has the only kick return for a touchdown in Bucs history. Roscoe Parrish was the slot receiver and returner for the Bills from 2005-2010. While his return average is less than either Spurlock or Goodman, he is a more accomplished receiver with outstanding speed.
My take: I personally like Parrish for his versatility in that he can back up Royal in all facets of the game (returner and receiver). Spurlock’s history with Bisaccia might give him a boost but he’s nearly identical to Goodman in terms of skill set. I don’t know how Goodman has stayed with the team this long but he’s an impressive survivor. My guess is that Goodman returns for his third year with the club.
4. Tight End – Ladarius Green vs. Dante Rosario vs. Kory Sperry vs. Brad Taylor
The Chargers began the off-season with only one tight end on the roster, Antonio Gates. Now they have six, and it should be an interesting scramble for places. The team re-signed Randy McMichael who has become a complete tight end and a great veteran member of the team. Later in the off-season they re-signed Kory Sperry, he of much potential who hasn’t shown it since 2010 and caught one pass last year. They also added Dante Rosario, a solid underneath pass catching tight end that runs solid routes and is a decent blocker. Charger fans should remember him, he caught the game-winning touchdown with no time left in the 2008 home opener.
To that the Chargers drafted Ladarius Green in the fourth round; the former Ragin Cajun has incredible receiving skills and is the tallest tight end in the group. The team is already raving about his talents and work ethic but the question is where does he fit in this group. In addition the team also retained Brad Taylor from last year’s practice squad and signed TE/FB Patrick Doyle from USD. For the first time in nearly a decade the Chargers have a plethora of talent at this position, but few spots open.
My take: The Chargers will carry four tight ends for the first time since 2003 (when the team had Justin Peele, Josh Norman, Stephen Alexander and an intriguing undrafted free agent named Antonio Gates). I can’t imagine Randy McMichael being cut, and Ladarius Green is too talented and too needed to try and sneak him onto the practice squad. Unless Dante Rosario completely bombs in the pre-season he’s another fantastic addition at a time when many teams are going to double tight-end sets. Sperry’s promise won’t be enough to keep him on the roster this year, and the other two likely will be cut.
5. Back up center – Colin Baxter vs. David Molk
Prior to the draft, this position was not an issue. Nick Hardwick had been re-signed to a club friendly three year deal and the Chargers already had an impressive rookie, Colin Baxter, on the roster. Baxter filled in admirably for Hardwick when he went down in addition to playing well for the Jets prior to joining the Chargers for the second time in 2012. That was changed when the Chargers drafted (arguably) the third best center in the 7th round. Molk was the best center in college football in 2011 and reminds people of Nick Hardwick & Jeff Saturday when they came out of college; undersized, short but a tough and smart fighter in the trenches. Many pegged this pick as one of the best of the 7th round, and back up center has now become one of the more interesting competitions.
My take: I think this will come down to whoever has the better camp. Baxter is more experienced and very talented but Molk has a ton of potential and a similar player to learn from. I think the Chargers will do everything in their power to keep both men on the roster. Based on last year where the Chargers tried to move Baxter onto the practice squad only to lose him to the Jets, if one has to be on the roster, it’ll likely be Baxter.
6. Back up running back – Edwin Baker vs. Curtis Brinkley vs. Ronnie Brown
The Chargers had set their starting backfield within a week of free agency starting. The team had publically stated that Ryan Mathews will not only be the feature back but will take on the majority of carries. A week into free agency opening, the Chargers signed another former Raven & Chief in Le’Ron McClain and announced he would be the team’s primary fullback. McClain is a solid run and pass blocker who also plays well as a heavy running back. It’s the backup running back position that is a question mark. Bolttalk favorite Curtis Brinkley has played sparingly but when he has, he’s made an impact. When he took over on Monday night football after both Tolbert and Mathews were injured, he gave the team a fantastic boost and showed great all around skills. The team has hung onto him for three years and it looks like he’s progressing nicely. Ronnie Brown was the #2 overall pick in 2005 and played well both as a running back and a wildcat quarterback for Miami. However he was released in 2011 and had a subpar year as a backup in Philadelphia, though some of that could be blamed on a poor offensive line. Edwin Baker was the team’s last pick in the 2012 draft and a projected third rounder who fell to the fourth to last pick in the draft. Though he lost his starter’s job in 2012, he reminds scouts of a poor man’s Ray Rice. The former Spartan is a solid one cut speed back with good patience and vision but lacks pure speed and is ineffective in the passing game.
My take: It’ll come down to Ronnie Brown vs. Curtis Brinkley and in that I think Brinkley will beat a guy who played poorly with the Eagles. The Chargers will try to store Baker on the Practice Squad but the team’s luck in this will remain poor and another team will pick up Baker.
7. Backup Tailback – Jacob Hester vs. Jackie Battle
I am calling this a tailback position because the spot both individuals are fighting for doesn’t conform to any specific position. When the team re-signed Jacob Hester they did not define his role. The expectation was that he’d primarily play special teams but there’s no confirmation if he was being moved to running back (where he had some success) or if he would back up Le’Ron McClain at fullback. But when the team signed Jackie Battle, AJ Smith’s description of him sounded just like what the expectation of Hester was: “We look at him as a three-way player,” said Smith, “but his focus will be on special teams first, running back second and fullback third. He’s a guy we’re going to throw into the mix and see how it all pans out.” Needless to say where there had been one player for a spot, now there’s two. Battle has spent his entire career with the Chiefs and his addition makes him the third player since November to move from Kansas City to San Diego. Though primarily a special teamer, Battle became the starter after Jamaal Charles went down and had over 500yds of rushing. He specializes as a one cut power back who goes full speed at an opening with little cutting or moving around. He is also a good special teamer.
My take: This might be the most difficult battle to handicap short of Novak v. Kaeding. Clearly the GM loves both players and the coaching staff likes having versatility in their position players. It could come down to which of the three skills the team places the most value on; if it’s special teams or full back this should be Hester easily. If they want more of a running back it could be Battle. I think it’ll be Hester but the field during the pre-season will be final determining factor.
8. Strong Safety – Atari Bigby vs. Brandon Taylor
I put this last because in truth I don’t think it is a competition. Atari Bigby was brought in to stabilize the strong safety position but he’s been injured often with only one good season on his record. Brandon Taylor was selected in the third round and is considered to be a good prospect with great intangibles, toughness and run stopping skills. While Taylor, much like his draft mates Reyes and Melvin Ingram, are likely to be starters soon, the team wants to make him earn it. Plus Bigby has received early praise from teammates and coaches as being a good veteran addition to the team. Only way Taylor starts the year is if Bigby is out with injuries, something that’s very possible.
5 Interesting names to keep an eye on in training camp
1) Vincent Brown
Brown showed some very impressive ball skills, route running and hands in limited action last year. The team is very high on him and will still rotate him into the line-up.
What to watch for: If Brown takes another step forward it could spell the end for Malcolm Floyd next year. Even though Floyd is talented he remains brittle and unable to stand up for a full season
2) Vaughn Martin
The starting right defensive end, he stepped up when Luis Castillo went down and played the most snaps of any defensive linemen last year. The team needs him to be the workhorse again
What to watch for: Martin has come along way in four years, but he’s an unrestricted free agent next year with a young rookie nipping at his heels. Martin has to step up and produce.
3) Shareece Wright
Marcus Gilchrist got all the attention, not to mention the playing time, as Shareece Wright had a red shirt year with no real playing time. The team still has high hopes for the former Trojan.
What to watch for: All three cornerbacks have short leashes this year, not to mention both starters are free agents soon. Wright could go very quickly from fourth on the chart to starter especially if Gilchrist doesn’t improve.
4) Charlie Whitehurst
“Clipboard Jesus” returns causing the Lightning Ladies to swoon again; the question is what did two unsuccessful years in Seattle teach him about being a backup quarterback?
What to watch for: Charger fans might want to pray because this is your back up quarterback. If anything happens to Rivers, this is the guy who would lead the team after Volek was released. Whitehurst needs to show improvement since being the third string a few years ago, otherwise the Chargers depth chart looks very thin here. Update: He’s out for a minimum of two weeks, and the Chargers are scrambling for a backup.
5) Jonas Mouton
The second rounder from Michigan had fans criticizing AJ Smith for picking far above where any projections had him. He was placed on IR and missed his entire rookie season. Early reports suggest he’s playing very well.
What to watch for: Along with Demorrio Williams, it is crucial the Chargers have good depth at linebacker. After Mouton went down the team only had one real back up at inside linebacker, a mistake of the front office that caused the linebacker corps to run ragged. Plus after watching the success Donald Butler had coming back from a season ending IR trip in his rookie year, there’s some buzz to see if Mouton can do what Butler did.
5 guys on the hot-seat
1) Norv Turner & AJ Smith: I’d say this is a no-brainer but then again I thought last year they’d be gone if they didn’t make the playoffs.
2) Antoine Cason: Up-down-Up-down summarizes his entire career. He must show consistency and a return to his 2010 success.
3) Larry English: Another no brainer, his last chance to prove he wasn’t a massive bust.
4) Cam Thomas: Personal opinion, Aubrayo Franklin has also been brought to push Thomas for playing time. Think Thomas will win but he won’t be handed this job.
5) Andrew Gachkar: The speedy special teamer has competition from Demorrio Williams. Gachkar did well in limited time at linebacker, now he must take another step forward.