NFL San Diego Chargers

San Diego Chargers 2013 Training Camp Preview

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Previewing the San Diego Chargers’ 2013 Training Camp

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason has featured plenty of change for the San Diego Chargers. For the first time in a long time there is a fresh feeling of optimism surrounding the team. From the new coaching staff and front office to what has been widely considered one of the top draft classes in the league, the Bolts appear ready to regain their clout as a legit contender in the AFC West.

Norv Turner and A.J. Smith are finally gone and their reign of mediocrity on the organization hopes to follow them out the door. Both coach and GM outstayed their welcomes in San Diego as the talent on the roster eroded and left the team a shell of its former Pro Bowl laden self.

But now Mike McCoy is in town to roam the sidelines while Tom Telesco calls the shots from the GM post. This duo of 40 year-olds has brought a real sense of starting over to the organization despite there still being several veteran pieces in place.

Philip Rivers will still be under center for the Bolts in 2013. As the only member of the three elite quarterbacks drafted in the top half of the 2004 NFL Draft without a Super Bowl ring, Rivers is running out of time to bring the Lombardi Trophy to San Diego.

Three years without a trip to the postseason has many snickering at the proposition of the Chargers making a return trip to the playoffs in year one under the new regime. While the AFC West won’t be easy with Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos as heavy favorites, San Diego could find a way to sneak into the postseason if training camp goes as planned.

There will several battles at key positions and plenty of questions that need answered as camp unfolds. Here are some things to keep an eye on as the Chargers prepare for training camp to open up on July 24.

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Philip Rivers is still the unquestioned leader under center for the Bolts heading into 2013, but there is some serious concern about his ability to protect the pigskin given his 55 turnovers in the past two seasons combined. There won’t be any quarterback controversy with Charlie Whitehurst and his Jesus beard backing Rivers up yet again. The team did add the 6-foot-4 229 pounder Brad Sorensen in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft, and he presents some developmental tools worth watching.

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Running Backs

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This is a make-or-break year for former first round pick Ryan Mathews. The writing is on the wall with the team adding Danny Woodhead via free agency, and the competition for touches figures to be fierce in camp. Veteran Ronnie Brown was brought back for his prowess as a pass protector and value as a receiver out of the backfield on third down. Edwin Baker is still hanging on by a thread due to his speed and upside potential while Fozzy Whittaker and Michael Hill will really have to surprise some folks to earn a roster spot.

Le’Ron McClain remains on the team at fullback, but Chris Gronkowski could provide a younger and cheaper replacement should the team decide to cut some costs prior to the regular season.

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Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

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Believe it or not, this could be the strength of the Chargers roster. It’s certainly one of the deepest positions with Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd figuring in as the top two receivers at the moment. Vincent Brown returns from a broken ankle that cost him all of 2012, and he could really make an instant impact for this team. Rookie Keenan Allen offers some reliable hands as a plug-and-play third down receiver. Go figure the two highest priced players, Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, haven’t even been mentioned yet. Meachem could find himself again with Ken Whisenhunt as the offensive coordinator and Royal could be looking for a new job when the final roster cuts are made. The fight for a roster spot at the back of the receiver list will feature special teamer Richard Goodman along with Deon Butler, Mike Willie, Dan DePalma, and Luke Tasker.

Antonio Gates is another year older at tight end, but Ladarius Green is still a work in progress behind him. The team did add some depth in John Phillips in the offseason, but he is more of a blocking threat than a pass-catcher. Dallas Walker, Ben Cotton, and David Rolf will have their work cut out for them if they are to make a surprise appearance on the final 53-man roster.

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Offensive Line

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This group was atrocious last season, but that wouldn’t exactly be accurate given all of the change the Bolts have seen in the trenches. Nick Hardwick remains as the lone constant at center with Max Starks likely to man left tackle, Chad Rinehart at left guard, Jeromey Clary kicking inside to right guard, and first rounder D.J. Fluker playing right tackle. There isn’t much depth along the line so the Bolts had better stay relatively injury-free this season.

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Defensive Line

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There’s no doubt this is the strength of the Chargers right now. Cam Thomas is the eldest member of the defensive front at 26 years of age at nose tackle. Both Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes could see breakout seasons this year after flashing serious potential a year ago. The depth isn’t plentiful behind them, but rookie project Kwame Geathers has serious potential at nose tackle. Jarius Wynn is also a capable body at defensive end.

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Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The veteran purge at linebacker will hurt, but there are several new faces to make up for it. Obviously Donald Butler is the most dominant player at this level of defense, but rookie Manti Te’o should prove to be a steal alongside him. Veterans Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson will rush the passer on the edge after Melvin Ingram tore his ACL during minicamp a few months ago. Larry English is on his last chance to perform for the team as a pass rusher, and waiver claim D.J. Smith could prove to be a valuable pick-up for depth purposes inside.

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Defensive Backs

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Fans won’t recognize many members of their secondary in 2013 with Eric Weddle as the only returning starter at safety. Marcus Gilchrist made a position change from corner to safety to pair with Weddle while cornerbacks Shareece Wright and newly signed Derek Cox will replace the departed Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason. Rookie Steve Williams could figure heavily in the battle for the nickel corner spot and Brandon Taylor may push Gilchrist for a starting safety role if his ACL recovers fully from offseason surgery. Darrell Stuckey and Johnny Patrick will also provide depth in the secondary.

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Special Teams

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If you want some consistency year-over-year from the Chargers, this is really the only place to find it. Both kicker Nick Novak and longtime punter Mike Scifres return in 2013. Mike Windt will handle the long snapping role in San Diego. Richard Goodman figures to return kicks if he makes the final roster, and the same goes for Eddie Royal with the punt returning duties.