I'm really liking what I am seeing from Cory Lekkerkerker. He is noticiably thicker and stronger, has long arms and a good punch. He does a pretty good job of sinking his hips. He can be beat with a speed rush though. Antwan Applewhite made him look pretty bad on one play in particular. But that just tells me he needs to work on his footwork. Overall, I like having Lekkerkerker at right tackle.
Speaking of tackles, how awesome is it to say you have a guy like Roman Oben as a backup. with Marcus McNeill improving each day, on top of what was already a Pro Bowl season, its his job now. But thats not to say Roman Oben couldn't handled the duties just fine if called upon. Oben stays in shape and has invaluable experience. And as for McNeill, he is in a rare position in that he can practice against two of the best pass rushers in the game; Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips. All three of those players make each other better, and thats an impressive quality about this team.
The interior linemen positions seemed to be locked down for the foreseeable future. Kris Dielman is a major force in the run game and brings an attitude to the line that his teammates feed off of. And Mike Goff has been as steady as they come, never missing a start. Ever since Nick Hardwick took it upon himself to take his game to the next level, his talent level, strength/power, and performance skyrocketed. He is now a bona fide Pro Bowler and could be one perennially. The backup interior linemen are a little shaky at times, but I think the addition of Cory Withrow and his experience will be a benefit to the young guys.
What can I say, the Chargers have the best defensive line in the NFL. Igor Olshansky looks ready to establish himself in the minds of NFL fans nation-wide. Underrated, Olshansky continues to dominate in defending the run but needs to improve in his pass rushing. He is a very tall player and uses his upper body well. But if he could work on getting lower and using leverage in his hips, he could take his game to the next level. Luis Castillo has the look of an all-pro. He came into camp in fantastic shape. He is much stronger this season, and has improved his foot quickness. 10 sacks should easily be within his reach. And of course, Jamal Williams is the man most responsible for the success of the entire defense. He is a load who simply cannot be block by any one person in the NFL. He had an awesome pass defended at the line of scrimmage that he turned into an interception. Beautiful. Gotta love what the Chargers have in Jacque Cesaire and Derrick Robinson. Those are two of the better backups in the game. D-Rob had a batted pass on Saturday as well, making me think they must have read the D-line Getting Better feature!
One of the things that really jumped out at me when watching the linebackers is the swagger that Matt Wilhelm has right now. He knows that his time has finally come, and he is looking to take full advantage of it. I'm excited to see him bring an agressiveness that was lacking at that position. Steve Cooper is going to absolutely blow people up this year. He's just a thick pitbull similar to a Lorenzo Neal. Cooper is a guy who loves contact and excels at rushing the passer from between the tackles. Everybody knows about the two outside linebackers; Phillips and Merriman are in great shape and both are getting much better at dropping back into the flats. A combined 35 sacks between those two is certainly in the books. On that same note, Merriman has a real chance to break the single-season sack record as long as he stays healthy all year and his D-line keeps playing at the high level we have come to expect. Rookies Brandon Siler and Anthony Waters did not practice, but I have high hopes for both those players to make an impact on special teams. Antwan Applewhite has tremendous power and plays with aggression. I frequently saw him in the backfield and at times abusing the second and third team blockers. Hopefully Applewhite makes the team, because the Chargers need quality depth at Outside Linebacker. If Applewhite can prove to have made the transition from Defensive End in college to Outside Linebacker in the pros, he could stick around. Not to be forgoten, Tim Dobbins is looking real impressive. He was in fantastic shape. He brings speed and explosiveness to the middle linebacker group. He is another guy who will make an impact on special teams. And if called upon, I would feel comfortable with Dobbins getting some starts.
I paid particular interest in watching the secondary practice. Everybody was healthy and accounted for as far as I could tell. Bhawoh Jue had an interception, albeit out of bounds, in the endzone. Marlon McCree and Eric Weddle were consistently around the ball. Quinten Jammer made plays and was physical. Drayton Florence was at times spectacular. But the real gem of the group was Antonio Cromartie. He is clearly much bigger and more physical in his play. He does a good job at baiting the QB to throw the ball to his receiver, only to have Cromartie swoop in and deny it. Cromartie can close in quickly, and has improved lateral movement. He is obviously great with the ball in his hands and was getting looks in the return game. With the pure skill and athleticism that Cromartie has been displaying this camp, its only a matter of time before he becomes a starter. As it is, he was in so many plays defensively and on special teams, that he is basically already a starter. I know people want to hear about the safeties, but nobody was spectacular. Its a difficult position to analyze as so much of it is based around supporting the rest of the defense. I will say that McCree and Weddle looked like a nice pair running around on the field. Weddle was getting some strong safety looks with the first teams, and was playing some free safety on second teams. The coaches were trying much more than the base defense, and showed glimpses of 4 man fronts on third down with 5 defensive backs at times. One thing is for certain; there is still time to determine who starts in the secondary and thats a good thing. No one has their job locked down aside from Jammer and McCree. Everyone else is competing, and that will raise the level of play across the board.
(Check back tomorrow for part 3 of our recap coverage)
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