The San Diego Chargers had a lot of turnover on their roster this offseason. Letting go of some big names like safety Eric Weddle and tight end Ladarius Green and adding fresh talent in wideout Travis Benjamin and nose tackle Brandon Mebane. There are plenty of roster spots that are far from being decided and as OTAs and minicamp will be wrapping up in the coming weeks, training camp looms in the distance.
Once training camp hits, the battles for roster spots and starting roles will be heating up. On both sides of the ball the Chargers coaches will have to decide which player is the best fit at a slew of positions.
Kellen Clemens vs. Zach Mettenberger – Backup Quarterback
It goes without saying that Philip Rivers will be the starting quarterback for the Chargers next season. However, the one who backs him up is in question.
It’s more than likely that the Chargres only keep two quarterbacks on their roster. On one hand there’s Kellen Clemens, who has been on the team for a few years and is comfortable sitting behind Rivers. He is a veteran and if he came into a game, coaches knew what they were getting. On the other hand there’s Zach Mettenberger who is almost 10 years younger than Clemens and is a great player to develop. Rivers is getting up there in age and doesn’t have a lot of years left in him, there may be a chance to mold the Mettenberger into the next Chargers quarterback. With a strong arm that can stretch the field and a big frame, learning from Rivers is a great opportunity for the former LSU Tiger.
Down the road, there is a good chance Mettenberger isn’t the guy, but he does have more upside than Clemens and the coaches clearly feel he is valuable, because otherwise they would have passed on him during waivers. At the same time, Mike McCoy and his staff are very conservative and may stick with Clemens rather than take the risk on Mettenberger. Regardless of who gets the backup role, every Chargers fan has to hope that their backup quarterback doesn’t have to see the field this season.
Manti Te’o vs. Joshua Perry – Inside Linebacker
Denzel Perryman exploded onto the scene in 2015 and has secured his role as one starting inside linebacker. The same cannot be said for Manti Te’o. Te’o has been underwhelming so far in his career. Heading into year three, Te’o needs to prove he was worth a second-round pick by the Chargers. At the end of last year, Te’o played pretty well. He had the awful experience of playing next to Donald Butler the first half of 2015 and it was a mess, but once Perryman was starting alongside him, things got much better.
Although Te’o improved, there is still questions on whether he will be a starter come week one. The Chargers selected Joshua Perry in the 4th round of the 2016 draft and he will be looking to challenge Te’o for his role. Perry will have his work cut out for him though as Te’o has the experience and is very familiar with defensive coordinator John Pagano’s system. However, Perry was a tackling machine at Ohio State and has good coverage ability for a linebacker. Unless Perry blows the coaches away, Te’o will probably win the role but don’t be surprised if Perry is starting for the Chargers at some point in 2016.
Dexter McCoil vs. Adrian Phillips vs. Adrian McDonald – Safety
After the departure of former All-Pro safety Eric Weddle, the Chargers didn’t do much to replace him. They signed Dwight Lowery in free agency, but he hasn’t been anything more than a serviceable starter throughout his career. Now, Lowery will be the starter week one for the Chargers and Jahleel Addae will slide next to him at the other safety spot. The role of backup safety is up for grabs and it is a big role. Darrell Stuckey is also in the picture, but he is known for his outstanding special teams rather than his play at safety. Dexter McCoil, Adrian Phillips or Adrian McDonald may see a lot of time if one of the starters struggle this year.
To begin, Adrian Phillips has been on the Chargers the longest. McCoil came over as a free agent from the CFL this offseason, and McDonald was a UDFA out of Houston. Phillips has been with the Chargers since 2014. He has been released and re-signed numerous times but he familiar with the organization. McCoil has been brilliant so far in rookie minicamp and OTA’s. Lastly, there’s McDonald. A former captain during his college days, McDonald is the dark horse in this race. This should be the most hard-fought battle in training camp.
Derek Watt vs. Chris Swain – Fullback
JJ Watt’s younger brother, Derek, was a lead blocker for Melvin Gordon at the University of Wisconsin, and the Chargers selected him in the 6th round of the draft. He has familiarity with Gordon and should help him improve. In today’s NFL the fullback is rare. However, with the Chargers investing so much in Gordon, a fullback isn’t a bad idea. A challenger for Derek Watt’s fullback job in Chris Swain from the Naval Academy.
Watt has a lot on his side and the chemistry with Gordon is the biggest key. Watt is a sure blocker that will create holes for a running back to explode through. Watt is one-dimensional, but that may be all the Chargers want. Unlike Watt, Swain will need to work on his blocking. Playing for Navy, Swain would occasionally block for Keenan Reynolds, but overall he was a ballcarrier. Swain could have a similar role to former Charger Mike Tolbert. Tolbert was a player in a fullback’s body that could run the football effectively. If Swain can prove to the coaches he is a capable blocker, there is a good chance he gets the job over Watt.
Javontee Herndon vs. Tyrell Williams
The Chargers are set at the top of their depth chart at wide receiver. Keenan Allen, Travis Benjamin and Stevie Johnson are all going to get most of the catches throughout the season. Dontrelle Inman will probably be the fourth receiver on the roster but there is a battle for the last spot. There is a chance that the Chargers carry six receivers, but if they don’t then Javontee Herndon and Tyrell Williams will be fighting for that spot.
Last season, Herndon was the kick and punt returner for the Chargers. Now, Travis Benjamin will take his role as the returner and that lowers Herndon’s value. Williams is a big-bodied 6’3 receiver that can stretch the field. If he can take a few steps forward he could even fill Inman’s role. Both Herndon and Williams got time to play last season and played relatively well. This battle will probably come down to the later weeks in the pre-season and which player outplays the other.
On the surface, training camp battles for backup roles may not seem like a big deal. That hasn’t been the case for the Chargers. San Diego was decimated by injury last season and depth is one thing the Chargers have lacked for years. Fans should expect that these players may see some substantial playing time throughout the year. Pay close attention next month to these names because they will all play a key role into turning this Chargers team around in 2016.