Feel Free to Ignore These Sound Bites, after Day 1 of the NFL Draft

Malcolm Brown: “New England needed a power player in the middle, and this kid makes a ton of sense. He will take over for Vince Wilfork.” cbssports.com. (Mel Kuiper said something similar.)

Wilfork plays nose guard and tips the scales somewhere north of 8 Phillip Dorsetts. Malcolm Brown got trampled in the run game at the University of Texas. In what world does Brown slide into Wilfork’s spot?

Bud Dupree (who drew an “A+” grade): “The Steelers had to get a young pass rusher, and they had to be shocked to see this kid still available here.” cbssports.com.

And: “The Steelers had to be thrilled that a top pass rusher (Bud Dupree) fell to them.” Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com.

The Steelers probably should have picked someone with a history of pass rush success. Dupree will find a place for himself on the field because of his athleticism, size, and short area burst. But he’s a project as a pass rusher, make no mistake.

Melvin Gordon III: “On Thursday night the Chargers made sure they had a three-down running back ….” Gregg Rosenthal, NFL.com.

Gordon had about a trillion carries at Wisconsin. Know how many receptions he had? Twenty-two. Nineteen of those were this year. If he plays on third down in the NFL (over Danny Woodhead, an exceptional third-down option), it will be a total evolution for this player.

Chargers’ Surprises in Free Agency

After two weeks of free agency, more than one Chargers fan stands a bit baffled by the team’s approach. The biggest surprises to sportsthink thus far:

1. Outbidding Exactly No one for Donald Brown – I made the case for the Donald Brown signing last week: when Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead bolt (pun unintended, but still shameful) for more money next season, the Chargers can take comfort in having secured the services of a versatile, veteran running back at a modest cost. That said, I don’t love the move. Even in this year’s tepid running back market, there were better deals to be had: Toby Gerhart is probably Brown’s equal in the passing game and adds a whole different dimension than Brown with his punishing play. His deal was was almost identical to Brown’s, and Gerhart has less wear on his tires. Ben Tate and Knowshon Moreno may also produce better results for similar money. (Although, whether any of these players would have taken on a complimentary role this season is another matter.)

2. Pass Coverage for Penny Pinchers – The defensive backfield performed admirably down the stretch last year, especially once the Chargers mustered some semblance of a pass rush. A roster featuring players like Richard Marshall, Shareece Wright, and Jahleel Addae should come as no surprise, then. But the unit lacks both top-end talent and depth. Can’t every Chargers fan admit that they were secretly pining for the team to add Darrelle Revis?

That #90 jersey never really fit.

That #90 jersey never really fit.

3. Would Shaun Phillips look so bad in Powder Blue? – Jared Allen, Anthony Spencer, and Shaun Phillips are still on the market as this blog post goes to press. Combined, the three averaged nearly 11 sacks per 16 games played in 2012 and 2013. Allen would probably break the Bolts’ bank, but Spencer and Phillips could be had at a serious bargain. On a roster that features Thomas Keiser and Larry English, the Chargers can find room for a veteran pass rusher.

Another Tough Test for the Bolts – Preseason Week 2

The Chargers hopefuls are fresh off a serious spanking at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks. Yes, the score was close at halftime. But the Seahawks defensive line battered everyone not named Phillip Rivers, barely letting the Bolts get off a play at times.

Tonight marks the second tough matchup in a row. The Bears finished fifth in total defense last year, and seem to have added enough talent along the offensive line and at tight end to make a serious run at the playoffs in the nip-and-tuck NFC. Three things to watch for as the action kicks off at 5:00 Pacific Time:
• Keeping Rivers clean. Can Ken Wisenhunt’s combination of short passes, chip blocks and sheer mass at offensive tackle stave off a second wave of fierce pass rushers? We’ll see.
• Misdirection in the running / short-passing game. Even at their best, the Bolts O-line can’t keep the Bears at bay all night without some kind of ground game. Wisenhunt might prefer to power the ball downhill. But McCoy, always flexible in his approach, might try to implement more draws, screens, and even some wildcat with Ronnie Brown. My money is on the latter.
• Capitalizing on quarterback pressure. The Bolts didn’t lack completely for pass rush last week. Several times against the ‘Hawks starting until, Dwight Freeney, Larry English and Co. collapsed the pocket, only to watch Russell Wilson squirt out to one side or the other and convert a near-loss into positive yardage. A similar effort should light up the stat sheet against a rebuilding offensive line and the more stationary Jay Cutler.

As a bonus: With so many starters ailing, I’m betting Rivers gets a no-name receiver involved big in the action. The smart money is on Dan De Palma..

Back that Pass Up

Some thoughts on how the Chargers’ back-ups looked in Preseason Week 1

Highlights:
• The young defensive linemen stole the show: Damik Scafe, in particular, really pushed people around and got after the quarterback; Kwame Geathers looks like he has the functional strength to be an asset in a nose tackle rotation; Frank Beltre and Tourek Williams both made their share of plays.
• Steve Williams looks like he will play considerable downs for this team sooner rather than later. He can stick with NFL receivers and contests every pass that comes his way.
• Combine Fozzy Whittaker and Michael Hill, and you might have a decent, if undersized, “one-cut-and-go” back: Hill can make the cut, and Whittaker has the ‘go.’ (Both are probably destined for the practice squad once Danny Woodhead returns to health, though.)
• Brad Sorensen. ‘Nuff said.

*Max Starks would make the list, but he doesn’t qualify: he will be playing with the first team offensive line soon enough, I’m confident.

Lowlights:
• Charlie Whitehurst. Give him credit: he continued to get back under center after a number of tough licks. He also chewed out Robert Meachem for giving up on a ball when he could have prevented an interception. But Whitehurst caused some of his own pain: he holds onto the ball far too long.
• Offensive line. If the youngsters filling out the second-team O-line are ever pressed into service, it could spell bad things for Rivers. I fear the Bolts need a crafty waiver-wire pickup or a trade for a veteran.
• Manti Te’o had a rough night, even before he got hurt. He looked fooled on a play action and out of position on several other plays.

What we know about Chargers’ Telesco, after a week of General Manager-ing

Chargers fans looking for insight into the new regime have already gotten a few clues.

For one, Tolesco appears to mean it when he says he’ll build through the draft.  The only other options for adding to a roster are free agency and trades, and we’ve seen little of the former and none of the latter.

We also know that the newly-minted blue and gold brass — seeing Ken Whisenhunt sporting a Chargers polo shirt in a video feature on the team website, I did a double-take simply because he was not Norv Turner — shops at the outlet mall, not fashionable boutiques.  They’ve dipped into the lower-priced free agent pool repeatedly over the past week, and may have found a few bargains.  (Danny Woodhead? Chad Rinehart?)

tomtelesco

But the team seemed to find cash under the sofa cushions when it counted. The Chargers lumbered towards oft-injured cornerback Derek Cox, wallet in hand, like a bachelor party with too many episodes of “World Poker Tour” under its belt headed for the Vegas table games.  But inking the former-Jacksonville standout seems like a stroke of genius now, when the supply of good cornerbacks has expired, and teams are reluctantly entertaining over-the-hill veterans only to show them the door when it turns out, yes, their performance in recent seasons was no fluke.

Maybe the biggest revelation of Tolesco era, though, has been the team’s willingness to try to play the hand it has been dealt.  The Chargers are bloated with dead money, particularly on the offensive line.  Jared Gaither and Jeromey Clary will make a combined $12.2 million this year; one is a corpse, and the other seems intent on turning Phillip Rivers into one.  The team could survive the cap hit from waiving Clary, for example, but they seem to want to “coach him up.”  Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has a great track record, but this will put him to the test.

Some damage is unavoidable.  The Bolts need warm bodies for 2013, and they would take a massive hit against the cap by cutting underachievers like the aforementioned offensive linemen, Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal and — it hurts to say it — aging veterans like Jarret Johnson and Antonio Gates.  They may also want to extend young talents on the verge of free agency like Donald Butler, Cam Thomas, and Darrell Stuckey, which would require some cap commitment this year.  So there’s certainly no Sebastian Vollmer walking through the doors of Chargers Park.

But Tolesco’s refusal to take the scorched-earth route suggests that he doesn’t find the cupboard completely bare — and that he trusts Mike McCoy and crew to make chicken salad out of, well, some of the less-appetizing ingredients.

ADDENDUM: The NFL permits teams to designate players “post June 1 cuts”; apparently each team is limited to two such designations annually. Without this designation, a March-May release accelerated the entire signing bonus to the current year for the purposes of the cap; with such a designation, the player can be released in March, and the release designated until June 1 for the purposes of the cap. Some [uncited] sources claim that the designation does nothing to improve the team’s immediate cap situation. Rather, teams can simply escape paying roster bonuses that may accrue in the interim (and of course, the player benefits from an earlier release).

Some obvious candidates for post-June 1 designation/June 1 release seem to be Meachem, providing $5M in savings under the cap this year, by my count; Gaither ($4.5M); Clary ($4M); and Jarret Johnson ($3M).  Their release may yet be coming.  If, as mentioned above, the team gets no immediate cap flexibility from post-June-1 designation, the Chargers may prefer to see the players perform in OTAs in May, then make the cut and scour the market with renewed cap room.  (Or, in Gaither’s case, wait for him to miss a mandatory team activity or two before invoking some kind of escape clause in the contract..)  We’ll see.