First things first. The best thing about this game is the victory. It wasn't just a victory, but a come from behind victory that saw the Houston Texans keep their starting units on the field well into the fourth quarter against Charger reserves. "Finishing" has been one of Marty Schottenheimer's themes throughout the preseason and finish they did.
Mackenzie Hoambrecker made the field goal kicking situation very interesting. He nailed a 53 yarder on his first attempt, then won the game with a 36 yarder. A bad performance from Hoambrecker may have sent him packing. Talk about pressure. You gotta like the way he responded. A tough decision will have to made here, as the veteran Steve Christie has been solid while showing improved leg strength. Christie was also 2 for 2 on the night. This battle continues, as perhaps the preseason finale holds the key to this one. The clutch veteran is almost a sure thing from 40 yards in, but may be a liability from 45+ out. The rookie Hoambrecker has the youth and leg strength and is probably brimming with confidence after his most recent performance. The Chargers would be taking a huge risk going with the unproven rookie. Kicking a field goal in Houston during a preseason game is like night and day compared to kicking one at the mighty Arrowhead stadium, when the game actually counts. A solid showing in the preseason finale may earn Mackenzie a spot on the practice squad if not the starting job.
The big question mark heading into the season for the Chargers is the revamped secondary. Everyone has predicted that this unit will struggle early and they did struggle against the Texans. The positive is that the Chargers strengths were enough to overcome the weakness. If that will continue into the season remains to be seen.
The offensive line got off too a slow start allowing Brees to be pressured on numerous occasions. Adjusting to a 3-4 defensive alignment was a problem early. They adjusted and eventually allowed the offense to mount some good drives. Filling in for Vaughn Parker was Phil Bogle at right tackle. Bogle played decent considering he was up against a 1st team defense that employs a complicated 3-4 scheme. Bogle had a holding penalty which is better than the alternative which was allowing the defender to put a good lick on Drew Brees.
The second team offensive line responded well after a shameful performance the week before. Left tackle Courtney Van Buren had a solid game, along with Mike Keathley who manned the right guard position.
Running back Dahrran Diedrick got the nod with Ladanian Tomlinson and Jesse Chatman taking the night off. Diedrick was productive with the first team offense rushing 7 times for 29 yards(4.1 avg) and led the team in receiving, catching 4 for 41 yards. He is still learning the nuances of a pro style offense but is ahead of the curve. Diedrick is a physical runner with a straight ahead style and does not shy away from contact.
Andrew Pinnock may have locked himself up a spot with his running. On short yardage situations Pinnock has proved almost impossible to stop. At 5'10 260, he possesses tremendous power along with quick feet. His stats on the night are misleading: 11 carries for 29 yards, much of his carries came on 3RD and 1 type situations. Andrew is a punishing runner who could be the compliment to Ladanian Tomlinson that the team is looking for. After chasing LT all over the field, tired defenses would not have a good time trying to stop this 260 pound bowling ball.
Ideally the Bolts would like to keep 5 backs. Here's some insight on the last three spots:
Starters: FB Lorenzo Neal, RB Ladanian Tomlinson.
1-RB Jesse Chatman is not as explosive as LT, but has good vision and can break tackles. Being a special teamer also increases his chances. However, at this point I would not consider this a lock.
2-RB Dahrran Diedrick . Possesses good upside and may be pushing Chatman.
3-FB/RB Andrew Pinnock. The versatile one.
That's five. Those choices are a bit risky as Pinnock is not a polished fullback. The Chargers could go with six backs and keep FB Joey Goodspeed as well. Another option is to stick with 5, keep FB's Goodspeed and Pinnock, releasing either Chatman or Diedrick. A dominant performance by Pinnock at RB could potentially cost Chatman or Diedrick a spot. What happens at other positions may also have an influence on how many they decide to keep.
Zeke Moreno not only has locked up the middle linebacker spot but has been impressive as well. Zeke possesses tremendous instincts which serve him very well at his spot. The 1st team's run defense has been pretty solid and a lot of that can be attributed to #57's play.
Jason Fisk has been one of the unsung heroes in preseason. He often will tie up blockers which allows Zeke to flow to the ball. On one play tonight he split a double team, got penetration and blew up the running back causing a fumble that was recovered by the Texans.
Donnie Edwards and Ben Leber are playing solid as well. Donnie had a nice play where he burst through the line to blow up a running play. When Donnie isn't busy lighting up running backs, he'll be back blanketing opponents on pass plays. Leber's strength on run plays has been obvious as well as his ability to get after the passer. Leber looks to build on his sack total from last year(5).
David Boston saw more playing time than expected and responded with a leaping touchdown grab. He may not be tearing up the preseason stat sheets but with him in the lineup the offense sees more down field opportunities.
Cam Cameron opened up the offense this time around, with Drew Brees attempting many down field passes. A downfield passing attack would be a welcomed addition by Charger fans. There were two touchdown passes that were dropped in the endzone. One by TE Justin Peelle, the other by TE Josh Norman. Meanwhile Antonio Gates caught every ball thrown his way and he continues to improve. A couple years down the road we could be looking at the teams best tight end since Kellen Winslow. Somehow this guy will make this team.
Reche Caldwell finally had a good game with two catches in limited duty. Reche is a smooth athlete whose gliding style makes his play look effortless. One thing about Reche that is never talked about is his blocking ability. He is willing blocker and this is one of the reasons he is one of Marty's favorites.
Erik Parker will return a punt for a touchdown this year. A bogus holding call on Quentin Jammer negated yet another dazzling return for a touchdown from the man with serious quickness and cutting ability. He is also dangerous as a receiver with his ability to run with the football. After every catch his thought process is to take it to the house.
Drayton Florence and the kick-return team were suspect this time around. Drayton is still learning so patience is required but don't expect many touchdown returns from the kick return team. Playing defense he gave up a touchdown to Jabbar Gaffney on a post route. To Drayton's credit he did have good coverage and David Carr threw a great pass to beat him. Welcome to the life of a defensive back in the NFL.
WR Terry Charles looked good catching two passes for 31 yards but also had a funky false start penalty. He has the size that the team is looking for and has taken advantage of his opportunities. As it stands right now I would say he is #5 on the depth chart. Remember this guy played at Portland St., not exactly a NFL factory, and sat out last season with the injury. What he has accomplished thus far in preseason is quite impressive.
QB Cleo Lemon all but sent Seth Burford out of town with his performance in the game. Cleo was 5 out of 9 for 70 yards with no turnovers. He engineered the drive that set up the game winning field goal. I wonder what Seth is thinking right now.
With the injury to Hanik Milligan the Chargers have only one healthy player at the strong safety position in Vernon Fox. Terrence Kiel may return soon, so that should help. Milligan's injury does not appear to be overly serious and he will be evaluated early this week.
Omari Hand had another good game at the defensive end position. He has good size and is not a speed rusher but possesses outstanding strength which he uses to stuff the run and rush the quarterback. On the last play of the game he notched a sack that prevented the Texans last ditch effort to win the game.
On Tuesday, the Chargers must reduce their roster to 65 players and then final cuts come on Sunday the 31st(53 man roster). That's about 30 players the team will have to let go. If you pick apart the possible cuts on the roster you'll notice that some talented individuals will make up the list. That is a tribute to the amount of talent that the late John Butler brought to the team. Credit must also go to AJ Smith and Marty Schottenheimer for the talent they have brought this offseason. The scouting department has also done a good job evaluating talent. Jason Ball and Ben Leber last year. Phil Bogle and Drayton Florence this year. More to follow soon?
With one more preseason game to go the Chargers are starting to get on track. The penalties were limited to five, the offense is starting to click and that's without LT. Ending the preseason with two consecutive wins would be a nice confidence booster heading into the opener at Arrowhead stadium. The Niners are up next...
Will Mortensen can be reached at email@example.com
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