Football season is finally upon us. For the Chargers and Cardinals it starts this Saturday in Glendale Stadium. The stadium is going to be electric, not because of the game, because football season is finally back. Now the hard part, getting through these games with no injuries to either team. Coaches have to be smart in the play calling, substitutions, and how much playing time they give the first team. With that being said, Philip Rivers and Sam Bradford don’t need to see any game action. Rivers because he’s got a consecutive games streak of over 200 straight games. Sam Bradford on the other hand is the exact opposite of Rivers. Loaded with talent, just can’t stay healthy. We’re going to look at the key players to focus on in week 1 of the preseason. The Cardinals also signed former Chargers Head Coach, Mike McCoy, who should be looking forward to this game, preseason or not.
Cardinals Storylines and Players to Watch
Rookie head coach Steve Wilks has a challenge with Bradford because he should be getting reps with the first team to learn a new offense. But how much do you play him in the preseason with his injury history? Word is that Wilkes plans to give Bradford some snaps this week. Steve Wilkes brought in the perfect offensive coordinator in Mike McCoy. McCoy’s biggest contribution is his ability to get the most out of every QB. He really focuses on the players strengths and calls plays accordingly. With Bradford he has him working on quicker drop backs to get the ball out quick. We’ll see if that holds true on Saturday. Wilkes is a defensive-minded coach, so bringing in former head coach McCoy was crucial. Most Cardinals fans want to see 1st round pick Josh Rosen, former 1st round pick Robert Nkemdiche, 2nd round pick and local boy Christian Kirk, rookie center Mason Cole and free agent Tre Boston.
Josh Rosen has impressed so far in camp, earning the respect of the huddle and the veterans on the team. The lineman and veterans on offense are very impressed with how he controls the huddle. As the QB, that is one of the most important aspects of your game. You need the other 10 to know you got this. He’s got the confidence to handle it so far in practice. Once the whistle blows on Saturday, we’ll get our first chance to see how the young signal caller handles the lights and speed of NFL defenses, even though he’ll be playing against mostly backups.
Second round pick Christian Kirk is coming home, what better feeling can a rookie have then being drafted by your home town team? Kirk was a standout at Saguaro High School then went on to be a standout at Texas A&M. In three years at A&M, Kirk had 2,856 yards, 26 Touchdowns, and mixed in 10 scrimmage touchdowns too as a returner. This was an outstanding pickup for the Cardinals, who lack wide receiver depth outside of Larry Fitzgerald, who will be in Canton soon. Kirk has blazing speed and has been getting first team reps. Kirk is slotted to take the punt returns this weekend as well. Kirk will be on full display this Saturday.
The former 1st round pick Robert Nkemdiche is a physical freak, but has been far from ‘freaky’ on the field in his first two seasons. Nkemdiche has 12 tackles and zero sacks. Going into his 3rd season, he is starting to look confident in his unique mix of strength and quickness up the middle. He has the ability to be a ‘star’ in the NFL, but we’ve yet to see any sort of consistency. Nkemdiche has all the potential in the world. Back in 2013, he was the number 1 overall recruit out of high school. Then went to Ole Miss and was a two-time second team All-American and 29th overall pick by the Cardinals. Now it’s in his court, we need to see how he comes out against two-time pro-bowler Mike Pouncey, if he plays. Year three is going to be a major year for Nkemdiche.
One of the biggest blows to any team is losing a starting center. The loss of A.Q Shipley is very significant, but rookie Mason Cole has been given a vote of confidence from coaches and teammates. He will be given the task of going up against run stuffer and former Super Bowl champ, Brandon Mebane. Although it is highly likely that Mebane plays many snaps in the preseason. Gus Bradley’s defenses have a lot of pre-snap movements and different blitz schemes. The Chargers get to the QB with the top pass rushing duo in the NFL a year ago — Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Cole will see plenty of snaps Saturday and will gain a lot of valuable information going up against a Gus Bradley defense.
Finally, the last person I want to talk about is former Charger, Tre Boston. Boston led the Chargers top pass defense in interceptions a year ago. He is a top 10 safety in the NFL, a ball hawk, not afraid of contact, and secures interceptions. Once free agency started, Tre Boston laughed at the Cardinals offer. Unfortunately, the offseason wasn’t very friendly to safeties. The market for safeties wasn’t very great having a few great safeties looking for work towards the beginning of camp. The Cardinals hit an absolute home run with the Boston signing.
Chargers Storylines and Players to Watch
Let’s take a look at Super Bowl favorites in the AFC, the LA Chargers. Ok, maybe that is a stretch. Chargers fans remember finishing last season 9-3 and missing out on the playoffs in the final week of the season. It left a very bitter taste in the mouth of Chargers fans. Still saddens me to say LA and not San Diego. Philip Rivers will probably only get one series tops. The backup QB battle is actually pretty exciting in LA. Cardale Jones and Geno Smith are battling it out to be River’s backup. The competition between Jones/Smith, the growth from year one to two for Mike Williams, 1st round pick Derwin James, and the Tight End Virgil Green are the players we’re going to focus on for the Chargers. Last year, special teams kept the Chargers from getting into the Playoffs without a reliable kicker. Caleb Sturgis and former first round pick Aguayo look to battle it out for the job in Preseason.
The most sure thing for the Chargers is that number 17 is the starter Week 1. After that, it’s a two-man competition between former top 10 pick Geno Smith and former National Champion at Ohio State, Cardale Jones. Right now Jones has the edge over Smith in knowing the play book. Jones was with Lynn in Buffalo and was here last year learning the plays. Geno Smith has more experience in the NFL though. This is a competition that is going to be won in the preseason. No real front-runner right now, Anthony Lynn has them both listed as number 2 on the depth chart.
As mentioned earlier, the Chargers took a risk last year on Younghoe Koo. Long story short, it didn’t work. The Chargers started out last season 0-4. Started off having a field goal blocked Week 1 on MNF against the rival Broncos to tie the game with 5 seconds left. Week 2, Chargers Dolphins, the Cutler-led Dolphins I might add, Koo missed a 44 yard field goal to win the game. Finally, Week 4 against the Super Bowl Champion Eagles, the Chargers lost by two points to the Eagles. In 2018, the Chargers bring in two new kickers. Former Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis and former first round pick Roberto Aguayo. Maybe a change of scene is just what Aguayo needs, he was a former All-American. Sturgis is in his 6th season in the NFL, so he brings a lot of experience to the table, something the Chargers need late in the season.
In 2017, the Chargers had very high hopes for the WR out of Clemson, coming of a National Championship performance in which he dominated the ‘nasty’ Alabama defense. He is big, strong, and fast. The issue in 2017 was that Williams started camp battling injury and attempted to play catch-up for most of the first half of the season. In 2018, he enters camp in great shape with no injuries to report. Together, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams look to be a very scary duo, toss in Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin, and Rivers has options all over the place. Williams looked unsure of himself at times last year, and that is mainly due to falling behind early in camp. With a full season under his belt and now that he has seen NFL action, look for Mike Williams to establish himself early in the Preseason.
Moving on to the Gem of 2018 for the Chargers. Safety from Florida State, Derwin James. A top 10 pick that fell down the board to the Chargers at 17. Mind blowing. The comparison I see with James is the late Sean Taylor, RIP. Taylor was an absolute beast. He looked like a DE playing safety. Derwin James has similar size, 6’2, 212 lbs, with the quickness to stay with receivers and the power to play with tight ends. He has a very unique skill set that will make him a starter from day 1 in Southern California. Saturday will be his first test against the receiving corps of Fitz and Kirk.
Plenty of solid storylines in this first preseason game against these squads. Highly talented draft picks, two newer head coaches, and plenty of veteran firepower makes this game one to keep an eye on in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, 4th quarter being uneventful.