The San Diego Chargers hosted the Chicago Bears on August 14th, 2010 in San Diego, outplaying the Bears in all three phases of the game en route to a 25-10 victory. While the Chargers did have a few bumps in the road, there was plenty to like in their first tune up leading up to the regular season.
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
ROOKIE MATHEWS SHINES
All eyes were on Ryan Mathews; the heralded rookie who grew up a fan of the very team which now employs him, Mathews faces pressure as the incumbent running back in a city which Ladianian Tomlinson help put on the map. The San Diego Chargers made a big investment in Mathews, making him the 12th selection in the 2010 NFL Draft. But with all that pressure on his shoulders, it was exciting to see him respond the only way he knows how; to get out there and play football.
Even with limited action in the Chargers' first preseason game, Mathews compiled 50 yards on 9 carries, displaying toughness and grit by grinding his way to daylight. Two of Mathews' best attributes shone through on Saturday; he's got great speed for his size, and once he gets moving he can bounce and break tackles very effectively - something Chargers fans haven't really seen since Michael Turner was in Bolts.
"I think its a running-backs's job to break tackles," said Mathews. "I'm just doing my job."
Head Coach Norv Turner liked what he saw of Ryan Mathews, highlighting his ability to break tackles and make something out of nothing. Turner knew the type of player he had in Mathews through all the offseason work they've done, but expressed his excitement about his new running-backs's future.
"He's got all the things you need to be an outstanding runner. He's physical, he really likes to play football, and he's a very mature young man. It's exciting to have him."
Mathews admitted his nerves were tested this past weekend, not getting much sleep the night before the game and throwing up in the locker room just prior to kickoff. Watching him take his first few handoffs, it was clear Mathews was trying to go 0-60 in the blink of an eye, running into his linemen before they could get out in front of him. As the preseason unfolds, Mathews' patience will grow and he and his offensive linemen will sync up better.
"I'm going to try and slow things down in my mind, but still play fast with my body."
YOUNG DEFENDERS MAKING PLAYS AND GETTING NOTICED
The were a number of young guys on the defense making big plays against the Bears:
Paul Oliver seems to have a sixth sense for the ball, notching one interception and also recovering a fumble. He's one of the most intriguing backups on the roster in that he doesn't get many opportunities to play but when he does get on the field, he tends to make the most of it. The Chargers don't seem to view him as a base defender but do find packages to play him in where he can use his athleticism and ball-hawk a little bit.
CJ Spillman is a willing and able tackler, launching his body at receivers and delivering a solid blow. He's another athletic defensive back who looks to shine when his number is called.
The Chargers under Ron Rivera have gained a bit of a reputation for secondary blitzes; look for more sacks like the ones cornerbacks Donald Strickland and Dante Hughes made in the upcoming season.
Speaking of sacks, Antwan Applewhite tallied two on Saturday. He's got some imposing physical attributes as a converted defensive end. As he gets more and more comfortable playing standing up, he could get more playing time in pressure packages. As a brief anecdote, I remember seeing Antwan working out at my gym leading up to the 2009 draft. He was wearing his combine sweatshirt, which prompted me to ask his name and school. I had no idea he played college ball down the road at San Diego State, and I mentioned that the Chargers would be wise to consider him as an undrafted free agent. The second I said that, I realized that could be taken as not the most positive thing to say about a guy hoping to get draft, but lo-and-behold Applewhite is an outside linebacker for the hometown Bolts!
Another outside linebacker getting plenty of deserved attention is Brandon Lang. Here's a guy who many thought could have been a mid-round prospect coming off a successful career at Troy. Lang went undrafted but the Chargers brought him in and he's having a solid preseason. He showed real ability to get after the quarterback and had an excellent blocked punt resulting in a safety. Lang could make the team and contribute on special teams where he has a chance to excel.
CAM THOMAS COULD BE THE NOSE TACKLE THE CHARGERS NEED
It was a huge relief watching Thomas take on double-teams and still push the pocket back. He's got hand-technique and combines it well with his size and strength. Watching him in the Senior Bowl, he was one of the best pass-rusher among the big defensive linemen, and he's showing that same skill as a Charger. He could prove to be an absolute steal as a mid-round draft pick, much in the same way the previous #76 turned out to be.
BOLTS NEED TO CUT DOWN ON THE PENALTIES
Penalties killed the Chargers in the playoffs last season, and it will be an area of concern this year until they can show some more discipline. It's certainly worth noting that the Chargers have a relatively young team and this was only the first preseason game, but it's still a situation worth monitoring. Nine penalties in the first half alone is a pretty high number.
Coach Turner explained that things are going to be a little more complicated at the line of scrimmage this year.
"We're going to the line of scrimmage with three or four plays that we're going to call at the line. The quarterback is going to make the right call, he's going to make dummy calls and it's a little bit more than what we've done in the past. It's a start for for us. Hopefully we'll cut it done next week and by the time we get into the season it wont be an issue for us."
CLOSING THOUGHTS / YOUR TAKE
* What happens if Nick Novak keeps making field goals? I've got a feeling AJ Smith is going to stick by his guy Nate Kaeding, as he should. But there's a certain contingent of Chargers fans out there who blame Kaeding for the Chargers playoff woes.
* Tyronne Green is playing well at left tackle; now this wouldn't be a surprise if he was drafted as one, but Green came out of a college as a Center prospect. That's not a switch you see too often, right?
* Anything stand out to you about the Chargers and their first performance since their loss to the New York Jets this past January? What did you like, and what concerns do you have? Sound off below!
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