All Three Phases: Preseason Week 1

The time that many thought may never actually arrive in 2011 was finally upon us with the opening week of preseason games getting started Thursday night and it just so happened that the Bolts were a part of those festivities. Clearly the first preseason game isn’t really a large enough sample to establish whether or not a team has all of the correct pieces in place to make that coveted championship run, but it did address several key question marks for the club as we look ahead into 2011.

This coming season without former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera was assumed to be a difficult adjustment for the Chargers unit as Greg Manusky took over on that side of the ball. That question was given a reinforcing answer in Thursday night’s game against the Seattle Seahawks as Manusky’s defense looked awesome in its debut. Several tacklers were swarming to the ball on nearly every play including one of the newest Bolts Takeo Spikes who looked to fit in quite nicely.

The signing of Travis LaBoy was thought to be the team’s biggest addition as a pass rusher, but no one knew what kind of desire and want to undrafted free agent Darryl Gamble out of Georgia had inside of him. He definitely took a great first step toward landing himself a roster spot with his relentless energy and ability to come off of the edge as a dynamic outside linebacker as well as getting in on a key third down stop early in the game. It was also nice to see some positive signs of development from Cam Thomas on the nose who looked powerful at the point of attack and flashed the ability to penetrate and disrupt in the backfield on one occasion.

Along with the positives also come some concerns and one of the leading issues was the fact that the Bolts surrendered first downs on 12 of Seattle’s 21 third down attempts. That conversion percentage of 57 is not a very good number defensively and needs to be rectified as the preseason progresses. San Diego also looked a bit vulnerable to the skill set of a mobile quarterback as both Tarvaris Jackson who started the game and Josh Portis who performed mop up duty were each successful using their legs to extend plays against the Bolts defense.

On offense, Philip Rivers was ridiculously good in his one series of action completing 5 of 6 passes including a gorgeous rainbow hookup with Vincent Jackson in the early going. The pass protection for all three quarterbacks throughout the game was commendable which shows that the team’s offensive line could become a strength for this upcoming year. Billy Volek was good in the second QB role, but Scott Tolzien as the third stringer really impressed given his steep learning curve. His development process seems to be a focus of the coaching staff and rightfully so given Billy Volek’s age. He looked outstanding in the two minute drill during the fourth quarter even though his final prayer thrown into coverage at the end fell harmlessly to the turf, it was a successful debut for the former Wisconsin Badger.

The running game saw perhaps the emergence of Darren Sproles 2.0 in Jordan Todman who has some quick feet, great hands as a receiver, and has a sprinter-like initial burst with the football in his hands. He also runs with a low pad level which allows him to squirt through the smallest of holes and get deeper into opposing defenses. In a complementary role during his first year, Todman could see some significant snaps as a third down back.

There’s no denying that the unit most in need of improvement during 2011 is special teams and the debut of Rich Bissacia’s group was solid. The return game will miss the explosive nature of Sproles, but it seems the team may have found a hidden replacement from the Ivy League in Bryan Walters of Cornell fame. His 103-yard kickoff return for a touchdown late in the third quarter had to give him some possible momentum on becoming the new starting return man. On the coverage side, moving the kickoffs up to the 35 yard line should really benefit the Bolts lackluster coverage unit with more touchbacks inherently meaning less ridiculous kick returns allowed. The attention to detail in protecting punter Mike Scifres made an immediate impact as no one got near him on any kicks and his new directional kicking that he has been working on over the offseason will only make him a more dangerous weapon for the Bolts in winning the field position war.

Overall, the game may have been sloppy in the penalty department, but zero turnovers is quite an achievement for both sides through sixty full minutes of action. Even though the Bolts came up on the short end of the scoreboard, the progress of seeing how their current assembly of talent works together as a cohesive unit is definitely a big step and getting some film to look at and breakdown is always helpful for the coaching staff. There are plenty of things to build on as the preseason progresses with the Bolts scheduled to visit the Dallas Cowboys one week from Sunday.

Now it’s your turn. What did you think of Manusky’s debut as the defensive coordinator and the look of the D as a whole? Was Darryl Gamble the biggest surprise for you from the first week of preseason football or was there another standout that you saw have a bigger impact? What were your general impressions of the team’s three quarterbacks in action? Do you see Jordan Todman as a similar style back to Sproles as he continues to develop? Will Bryan Walters become the Bolts’ new return specialist or will someone else emerge? Please leave your input in the comments section below!

August 12, 2011

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