The Dallas Cowboys will travel to San Diego for their first pre-season game of the 2014 season. They will battle the Chargers on Thursday night at 10 PM EST. With that, we bring back our "Five Questions" series. In this edition, we talk to John Gennaro of our SB Nation sister blog, Bolts From The Blue.
Blogging The Boys: What were the Chargers biggest challenges this offseason?
Bolts From The Blue: There were two, really. One was replacing Ken Whisenhunt, who came in and built one of the league's top offenses in his first year before taking a job as head coach of the Tennessee Titans. The other one was trying to find ways to rebuild a defensive secondary that was horrendous last season.
They're trying to ride the wave of last year's success and have promoted Frank Reich, who was the team's QB Coach last year, to Offensive Coordinator. It's basically the same offense from last year, with a few tweaks from Reich and some more control for Rivers. He'll be doing the old Peyton Manning-style of play-calling, going to the line with two plays and calling the right one (hopefully) at the line of scrimmage. Between that and Mike McCoy being involved with the offensive gameplanning, they're hoping there is no dropoff.
The cornerback position has been a bit more impressive. They drafted Jason Verrett out of TCU in the first round, and then were lucky enough to sign Brandon Flowers when he fell into their lap (after the Chiefs cut him). In addition, Steve Williams (who was drafted in the 5th round last year but missed the entire season with an injury) looks healthy and Chris Davis out of Auburn (this guy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GKmkD1pUG0) has been making waves as well. This group went from weak to strong this offseason.
BTB: Which newcomers to the team should we know about? Who left that could also impact the team?
BFTB: I believe the only player that left the team that could have a negative impact is Cam Thomas, who was allowed to sign with the Steelers after being a below-average Nose Tackle last year (his first year starting). Every other starter on the team has returned (even if some of them have been moved down the depth chart), unless you count Le'Ron McClain as the starting FB (a position the offense doesn't have any real use for).
As far as newcomers, I mentioned a handful of new CBs in the answer above, and you can add-in the team's top free agent signing, former Colts starting RB Donald Brown. He's expected to be the third RB on the Chargers depth chart and maybe return kicks, neither of which makes a ton of sense. Ryan Carrethers is a rookie NT that seems to have the physical gifts to replace Cam Thomas, but is very raw coming out of Arkansas State.
Maybe the most exciting group of newcomers are the Canadians. Dontrelle Inman (WR) and Cordarro Law (OLB/DE) are two guys the team signed out of the CFL and hopes are high for both of them. They'll need to make noise in camp and the preseason to make the team, but they each seem to have the size and skills to do so.
BTB: What have been the big storylines so far in training camp?
BFTB: Injuries! Remember the defensive backfield that is supposed to be greatly improved? It's been greatly injured. Brandon Flowers hasn't practiced much, but we're not certain what his injury is. Jason Verrett is recovering from shoulder surgery and hasn't been allowed to hit anyone yet.
Corey Liuget, who might be the most important player on the team behind Rivers because of what he does and the lack of depth behind him, has been going back and forth between getting injured and missing days while walking around in a protective boot.
However, there's a bright side to injuries as well. So far, things look pretty good for players that missed all or most of last season. Malcom Floyd is ready to be the #2 WR, Dwight Freeney is getting back to being a QB's worst nightmare, Manti Te'o seems much improved after getting his foot operated on in the offseason, and Steve Williams could be the most athletic player on the team coming back from a torn pectoral that put him on IR his rookie season.
Also, and this is maybe the sad storyline of training camp is Vincent Brown. Once a star WR at San Diego State, Vincent Brown looked promising in limited action in 2011. Then he missed 2012 with a broken foot and never really found his rhythm in the new offense in 2013. There's enough competition at the WR position in camp that Brown needs to earn his spot this year, and so far he's done nothing but miss practice with injuries.
BTB: For the Chargers to succeed in 2014, what needs to happen?
BFTB: They need to get out to a fast start. The first six weeks of their schedule are mostly a cakewalk, while the last five weeks of their schedule are mostly a nightmare. They're going to need to get off to a 4-2 or 5-1 start and stay healthy (they still don't have great depth) if they're going to make the playoffs in the AFC.
BTB: Who will not play in the game on Thursday?
BFTB: Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers are both out. Vincent Brown is out as well. DE Corey Liuget is out, and Chris Watt (who is trying to win the starting RG spot as a rookie with Jeromey Clary still recovering from surgery) is probably out after a head/neck injury at practice yesterday.
Thanks to John and Bolts From The Blue for the knowledge!