Behind Enemy Lines: Seahawks-Chargers, Pt 2

In Part Two of this two-part preseason preview, Michael Lombardo of SDBoltReport answers five questions from Doug Farrar of NorthwestFootball.net about the upcoming Seattle-San Diego game. Who will the Seahawks see a bit lower down on San Diego's depth chart, and who could surprise?

DF: Last year. Philip Rivers maintained his status as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. How much will we see of him, and who's behind him on the depth chart that the Seahawks should be worried about (and why)?

ML: Rivers will likely play two or three series, depending on how productive the Chargers are with those possessions. He'll be replaced by Billy Volek, who figures to finish out the first half. The Chargers aren't worried about getting Volek too many possessions, since he's an established veteran who's comfortable in Norv Turner's offense.

The most interesting QB to watch will be Charlie Whitehurst, a third-round pick from 2006 who oozes potential. Whitehurst, the son of former Green Bay Packers QB David Whitehurst, plays with moxie and loves to push the ball down the field. However, he has a tendency to be careless with the football, which has prevented him from moving up the depth chart.

DF: Has Darren Sproles gained an equal footing with LaDainian Tomlinson on the roster? How much do you think LT has left in the tank, and can Sproles handle the load of a full-time running back? Who else is in the mix?

ML: Sproles is absolutely not on equal footing with Tomlinson. LT is a featured back who led the NFL in rushing in 2006 and 2007. Sproles is a change-of-pace back who typically get no more than 10 touches per game from scrimmage. Coach Turner believes Sproles is most effective in small doses and will avoid the temptation to run his 5-foot-6, 180-pound frame into the ground.

Tomlinson should revert to form this season, although at 30 years old, it's safe to say he'll never regain his record-setting ways of 2006. Nonetheless, Turner has said he will give Tomlinson enough carries to compete for the rushing title, and if LT stays healthy, he should be in the mix.

Behind LT and Sproles are nine-year veteran Michael Bennett and rookie fourth-round pick Gartrell Johnson. Johnson figures to carry the heaviest load of all the backs on Saturday, as the Chargers are hopeful his bruising style can help restore a power element to the running game that's been absent since Michael Turner left town. Kestahn Moore, an undrafted rookie from Florida, will get some token carries. 

DF: Since we probably won't see much of the starters, which Chargers receivers do you expect to do some real damage in the preseason?

ML: The Chargers figure to give plenty of time to third-year players Buster Davis and Legedu Naanee. Davis, a first-round pick in 2007, has struggled to avoid nagging injuries and needs to prove he belongs in the rotation. San Diego will utilize him heavily out of the slot. Naanee is also a member of the 2007 draft class, and the Chargers want to give him more opportunities to showcase his rare combination of size (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) and athleticism.

Once those two go to the bench later in the contest, the go-to receiver will be Gary Banks. A former undrafted free agent from Troy, Banks spent last season on the practice squad. He runs sharp routes, has strong hands and knows how to find soft spots in the defense.  

DF: Is Shawne Merriman ready to go, and who on the defensive side will be fighting for reps and jobs in the first preseason game?

ML: Merriman is healthy and ready to go, but the Chargers will ease him back into game action. Look for him to play just one series on Saturday if he goes at all. His backup, first-round pick Larry English, is expected to miss the game with a hamstring injury, so Jyles Tucker (12 starts last season) figures to get a lot of run.

Some bubble players to watch on defense include DE Keith Grennan, OLB Eric Bakhtiari, ILB James Holt and FS C.J. Spillman. Grennan and Bakhtiari spent last season on the practice squad, while Holt and Spillman are undrafted rookies. Bakhtiari, in particular, has enjoyed a sensational training camp and is eager to make some noise during the preseason. 

DF: Is there anyone else that you've specifically seen or heard of that could blast up through the ranks of the unknown with a good preseason and surprise with starting time?

ML: Two players who could make surprise pushes for very significant minutes are WR Malcom Floyd and CB Cletis Gordon. Although neither player is an "unknown," as they were both part of the rotation last season, they seem primed to take the next step and move into more prominent roles. Floyd could even challenge Chris Chambers for the starting role opposite Vincent Jackson.

If I had to pick one real darkhorse who could be a significant contributor by season's end, it would be TE Kory Sperry, an undrafted rookie from Colorado State. He is a terrific pass-catcher who can make tough catches in traffic. He's the second-best receiving tight end on the roster, as top backups Brandon Manumaleuna and Kris Wilson are H-backs who lack Sperry's ability to stretch the field. 

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