The Cutting Block

The first round of cuts is almost upon us. As explained yesterday, the San Diego Chargers may only take 84 players to training camp. This number includes signed Draft picks and the four roster exemptions from players allocated to NFL Europe. Five players must go, barring a trade, which is likely in its own right.

Taking the trade out of the equation and implying the Chargers sign their seven remaining unsigned picks, five players face elimination. Whoever said OTA's and Mini Camp had no meaning better be ready to explain this to the guys who get the early axe.

The fact is rookies must continually show something to their respective position coach and ultimately Marty Schottenheimer who has the final say. A player may not be the best on the field but if he shows he is trying with all his might, he may get the benefit of the doubt. Conversely a guy may take the team drills seriously, but during individual drills he slacks off. Either way it gets back to the coaches. One is positive showing good work ethic, the other shows a lack of commitment to the organization and bettering one self.

Rookies must try hard all the time.

With that said it should be easy to cut five players going into training camp. Each position is ultimately a numbers game. You cannot have "X" number of players at a particular position and expect everyone to get solid reps in. It is just not possible.

That said there are a few positions that figure to get trimmed. One offensive lineman, one running back, one wide receiver, one linebacker and one quarterback should do the trick.

Simple, right?

We eliminated the defensive line from the equation since there should be some healthy competition there and it was widely considered our weakest spot heading into the draft.

The same can be said for cornerback. Too many teams are looking for corners, so why not hold our own cards a little longer.

The easiest pick of the litter is along the offensive line. When I look through my notes there is one player who got absolutely no good print. None. Not a bite, not a nibble, not a sniff of the paper. In fact, I rarely remember seeing his number on the field. His one time in the spotlight wasn't pretty. He was running drills with the rest of the offensive line and got blown off the line by fellow lineman Cory Raymer. That's it. Not much to work with. If you cannot impress me, how will you impress the coaches?

The point is he is on the block and the executioners axe is on the way down. Kevin Breedlove, despite playing 47 consecutive games at guard for the Georgia Bulldogs, was not the nasty player we thought we were getting. Instead we got the full academic scholarship to Harvard guy from four years ago when he turned that down to attend Georgia who gave him the same offer.

At 6-4, 315 pounds Breedlove was a member of what was widely considered the best offensive line in college football. This is not college anymore and he will be hard pressed to make training camp. Looking at the unofficial depth chart shows Tony Terrell and Phil Bogle ahead of him at guard, and it will be hard work getting a spot on the final team with Fonoti, Garmon, Hallen (?), Keathley and possibly Page already well entrenched.

Ok I may have been rash when I said the offensive line would be the easiest. Looking at the running backs I am shocked to see one guy still there. He got bottled up more than Pepsi. Not once did I see the guy bounce through a hole. The only bouncing he did was as a pinball at the line of scrimmage.

Little vision and less talent, or at least that is his track record up to this point. DeMarco McCleskey, the team MVP at Cincinnati, ended his college career ranked second in school history with 3,487 rushing yards while setting school and C-USA standards for rushing touchdowns (37) and total touchdowns (41) in a career. Considering off the field troubles cost him the 1999 season, and the lack of explosion from him during drills the ‘Four Rooms' has come.

Three running backs are already fighting it out for the possibility of a third down back and one of those backs has some skills playing special teams. McCleskey has not even been out running with the kickoff coverage team, a must if you are an undrafted rookie with dreams of making the team.

There is a glut of receivers who are vying for what looks to be one, maybe two spots. It seems well documented that they would like some height at that position from the fifth wide receiver.

The funny part is two of the best receivers in camp are two of the shortest receivers in the battle for the fifth spot. Using mathematical calculations that would make a physicist stutter over, we conclude that one player who falls smack dab in the middle of the pack in terms of height is the one to go.

The problem is he is a local kid who may actually bring some fans out to Carson but this is football and the best team must be fielded at all times.

The former USC backup receiver has seen the end of the world and will be swallowed up by it. Grant Mattos, after a senior season that saw him catch just five passes, has not separated himself from the pack or defenders. The lack of explosion and separation has led him to minimal chances.

At 6-2 Mattos has some size but as evidenced by his lack of production in college the Chargers were hoping for a late bloomer and instead have to let Mattos feel the sharp edges of the cut that ends his attempt at making an NFL team.

With five receivers taller than 6-2 on the current roster it makes little sense to keep anyone who has not shone during camp.

The Chargers brought a host of linebackers in to battle it out for what appears to be one spot on defense and perhaps a practice squad spot.

There is one guy I considered cutting but when I realized he had 26 tackles for a loss during his senior season in college despite being only a one year starter, he is worth a second look. Add in that he was a special teams standout at Kansas and we can see the upside. So Greg Cole gets a stay of execution despite looking awkward out there.

The one guy who looks a bit overwhelmed and has been getting flattened by Andrew Pinnock any time he sent in on a blitz has to go. During some individual drills he appeared to be behind a step and his play on the field was the same. He has had problems in coverage and as a journeyman linebacker with fresh young blood eager to show what they have to offer, it does not make sense to keep Jude Waddy.

The Chargers were his fifth team Waddy has seen since 1998 and he could be looking for number six shortly. The duck has been lame and it could very well be roasted.

The last spot is at quarterback. Quarterback you clamor? Well yes. Currently only eight of the 32 teams have five quarterbacks on their roster. The Chargers are one of them. Unfortunately a third quarterback needs his reps in preseason. How will we ever know if that third stringer will develop if he is not getting quality reps?

Just like a battle for the starting spot it must come down to two players.

So do we penalize a guy who has not gotten as many reps as the other guys or do we learn from that and figure there must be a reason?

The inherent problem is investment. NFL Europe was an investment. In fact it is such a big investment the NFL is considering pulling the plug. Of course what does that say about the players in the league?

Cleo Lemon has benefited from being in camp early and has taken a good amount of snaps. That means more familiarity with receivers and a budding confidence.

Rob Adamson has seen his time being limited during practice. Behind the eight ball with a late start on the playbook he was relegated to handoffs much of camp. When he did get in he was not nearly as impressive as the other guys in the mix.

Burford as a sixth round pick last season holds some promise. With a shaky line in Europe he still managed to do well. Sure he had way too many rushing yards, but he was getting killed back there. I would have run as much as I could with that pathetic excuse for a line. He has the size and does not shy away from contact.

Adding up the intangibles and upside leave me to question if Adamson can get it done. Maybe he is not the bookworm we envisioned as his playbook took time to commit to memory. He has to go; there is no room for the lack of production and shaky balls. The wide receivers need this too. Familiarity will breed success among the wideouts.

Despite an impressive track record with Mount Union, it is a case of what have you done for me lately. Talking with people back near his school I learned he would often try and do too much. In this case he did too little.

A case can be made for a few more players to get the axe. Certainly more will as we draw near the start of the season. One thing is certain. Over 30 players will eventually be subject to the cutting block and the pink slips will mark the end of many a career.

If these guys do manage to make it to camp, they have a chance to surprise and impress all over again. If I have so eloquently put them on the block, you better believe someone else is close behind with a one way ticket out of town. Heed my warning; you have very few chances to redeem yourselves if you make it through this first wave when you possibly shouldn't have.

Up tomorrow: The Practice Squad

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net or via the following link: Denis Savage


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