Chargers Look Good but Questions Remain
August 9, 2018
On Saturday, the Los Angeles Chargers held their first Blue-White scrimmage at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa. The offense seemed to be in mid-season form. Below is an early evaluation on the following position groups:
Quarterbacks: Charger starting quarterback Philip Rivers has 192 consecutive regular season starts and watching him on Saturday, he looked like he could play another five years. Watching Rivers in drills, his footwork in the pocket was very good.
His passing accuracy was excellent, and he can still throw a good deep ball. Rivers always seems to find the open receiver and just looks in command.
The battle for the backup quarterback position is a battle between Geno Smith and Cardale Jones. Smith, a former 2nd round pick of the New York Jets, has started 31 games in the NFL and has had some success in the league. He also has the ability to gain some yards on the ground when required. Smith looked good in the Blue-White scrimmage.
Jones has good size (6’5”, 250 pounds) and his arm strength is impressive. He moves well on the run. Unfortunately, he has very limited experience, having thrown 11 passes in the NFL in two seasons. His accuracy needs to improve, and he has a tendency to run too soon.
On Saturday, Jones looked good at times, but also threw an interception. It will be interesting to see what he does in the preseason games. He has so much upside potential, but he needs to show that he is making progress.
The 4th quarterback is undrafted rookie Nic Shimonek from Texas Tech. Shimonek did not see a lot of action, but he showed he could really spin the ball with some downfield accuracy. He looks like a practice team QB at this point, but it will be interesting to see how he performs in preseason games.
Running Backs: The Chargers have a very good group of running backs. Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson give the Chargers a very solid trio. Ekeler looked very good on Saturday. He caught everything coming out of the backfield on Saturday. In limited duty in 2017, Ekeler caught 27 passes, three for touchdowns. That role is certain to be expanded.
Fullback Derek Watt made a nice catch and run for 40 yards on a pass from Rivers. He is another player that could see an expanded role as a receiver out of the backfield.
Charger Head Coach Anthony Lynn seemed to endorse that idea: “Derek Watt has outstanding hands. He’s a fullback in this league, but he can also run and catch. We love his versatility, and we’re trying to take advantage of that a little more this year.”
Wide Receivers: This is the strongest position group on the Chargers and maybe the strongest in the NFL. Keenan Allen is the star, coming off a Pro Bowl season in 2017 with 102 receptions for 1,393 yards.
The other starter at wide receiver is Tyrell Williams. His size and speed are a matchup nightmare. Williams had a nice deep reception on a pass from Rivers that he took to the one-yard line on Saturday.
Travis Benjamin is another receiver with terrific deep speed. In 2017, Tyrell Williams was 5th in the NFL in yards per catch at 16.9. Benjamin was 6th in the NFL at 16.7 yards per catch. The Chargers were the only team in the NFL with two receivers in the top ten in this category in 2017.
Mike Williams, last year’s first round draft pick, is healthy and having an outstanding camp to this point. Williams may have been the star of Saturday’s Blue-White scrimmage. Williams caught two touchdown passes in the scrimmage and made some difficult catches over the middle.
If Mike Williams is the 4th best wide receiver on the Chargers, he is going to be a matchup nightmare for opponents. Dylan Cantrell, a 2018 6th round wide receiver from Texas Tech, was also having a good camp until he injured his knee. He is out indefinitely due to the bone bruise on his knee.
Tight Ends: The season ending injury to Hunter Henry has left the tight end group a little thin. The good news is that free agent acquisition is one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL and beginning to find a connection with Rivers. They connected on a 20-yard pass on Saturday. Green looked good on Saturday.
Sean Culkin is the backup tight end and undrafted rookie Ben Johnson has potential. But both backups are unproven. The Chargers have been talking to Antonio Gates but have not come to a contractual agreement. The Chargers may need to look to the waiver wire or find a trade that will add proven depth.
This was only a scrimmage, so while the offense looked good, there is still work to be done. As Philip Rivers added: “We did some good things. There are plenty of things to work on, coach on from — correct when we watch the tape this afternoon. We still have over a month until the opener. We just have to keep heading in the right direction."