This week, we exchanged questions and answers with Annie Heilbrunn, a lead writer for SDSuperChargers.com, San Diego's affiliate on the Scout network.
Here are my questions and her answers:
1. The Seahawks may have three "new" starters along the offensive line this year. Has San Diego's pass rush taken the next step? Who are some front seven defenders Seattle must account for in this game?
Pass rush has been a major point of emphasis for the Chargers this season. San Diego finished 29th in the league in sacks (26) in 2014, and they lost veteran outside linebackers Jarret Johnson and Dwight Freeney in the offseason. The responsibility is now on the sophomore and junior players to step up and finally reach the "potential" that's haunted them for the last few years. So far, the linebackers corps -- now under coach Mike Nolan -- look faster and stronger. You'll want to keep an eye on Melvin Ingram, the Chargers' 2012 first-round draft pick. He's been hampered by injuries since coming into the league, but when he's healthy, he's dangerous. This last offseason, he shed about twenty pounds and changed up his workouts. So far, it's paid off. He notched two sacks in Arizona in the second preseason game and has shown a quick first step and an effective spin move when getting to the quarterback.
Donald Butler, who received a hefty contract in 2014 and then followed it up with a sub-par, injury-riddled season, is another player who's had a good camp and is expected to make more of an impact this year.
One last note: The Chargers had six sacks in the first half last week against Arizona, with five of those coming from linebackers.
2. Has Melvin Gordon been as good as advertised thus far? Is he a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, in your opinion?
Gordon has shown flashes of excellence alongside typical rookie inconsistencies. It's just too early to tell. He finished the first preseason game with six carries for 11 yards -- (albeit behind an offensive line that is still learning to jell) -- and he sat out the second preseason game because of a minor ankle injury. He showed some hesitancy in the first game but also some power and burst. He's expected to play Saturday and should see more carries, as well as some pass-pro reps. He didn't have any in the first game.
Gordon is a fighter and a player who wants to contribute right away. He's been frustrated that he isn't farther along in his progress and that the game hasn't slowed down for him quite the way he'd expected yet. This matchup against the Seahawks will be a good test for the rookie running back and a good indication for the Chargers as to where this ground game stands. They were third-worst in the NFL last season in rushing, but now have the return of Danny Woodhead and the ongoing emergence of Branden Oliver, who stepped up big for San Diego last season and has had a good camp.
3. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates were unstoppable in the Chargers' win over Seattle a year ago. Has there been any change in Rivers' game over the preseason and how does San Diego distribute the ball while Gates is suspended?
Rivers has looked strong in camp. There hasn't been a change to his game that I can see (keep in mind he only played one series in the first preseason game and didn't play at all in the second) but he *should* have more weapons around him.
He did lose Gates for four games, and the importance of that can't be understated because he and Gates have such a strong, unspoken connection. Rivers trusts Gates to no end -- and Gates pretty much always comes through for his QB. So, it's not like you can replace Gates, but they feel pretty good about the rest of their offense. Danny Woodhead's return is HUGE. They feel as if their 2014 season would have been much different if Woodhead hadn't gotten injured in the third game. Woodhead is big on third-downs and on getting five, six yard chunks when they need it. They acquired Stevie Johnson in the offseason and so far, he and Rivers have had an excellent connection in camp. Keenan Allen looks like he's matured since his sophomore season and recently, Rivers said Allen had his "best camp" this year by far (although it should be noted he dropped two balls vs. Arizona). Malcom Floyd is back and healthy. Point is, Rivers should have lots of options and ways to spread the ball around.
And oh yeah, tight end Ladarius Green is no slouch either. We have yet to see him used in a consistent manner, but I'd have to think they give him some reps against Seattle as they prepare for Gates' departure.
Again, much thanks to Annie Heilbrunn and SDSuperChargers.com for their contribution.
Annie asked me three questions about the Seahawks, as well. Want to see her questions and my answers?