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Position battles key part of game

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Aug 15, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    Turner tells starters prepare to go a half

    By Kevin Acee
    Union-Tribune Staff Writer
    2:00 a.m. August 15, 2009

    Clinton Hart has been dissatisfied with his performance in many practices so far this training camp.

    The incumbent starter at strong safety, Hart is grading himself critically on every play, knowing he's in a fight for his job.

    But he knows that tonight at Qualcomm Stadium, he and many others can alter the course of their August and beyond as the Chargers' preseason play begins with a 7 p.m. game against the Seattle Seahawks.

    “Game time is when it counts,” Hart said. “I'd rather have an OK practice and then blow it up in a game.”

    The biggest question of the week has been whether LaDainian Tomlinson will play in a preseason game for the first time since 2005. Based on his stated optimism, it appears he will.

    But what Tomlinson does or does not do will not be the lasting impression of this exhibition. In fact, if he plays, don't blink or you'll miss it.

    On the other hand, there are plenty of spirited battles in camp that should move to another level tonight.

    Coach Norv Turner told his starters to be prepared to go the entire first half, which would be longer than he normally plays them in the preseason opener. But there is an emphasis this month on the slow-starting Chargers getting ready for next month, and some starters need more work than others.

    “That gives me the flexibility in making sure we get done everything we want to get done,” Turner said. “The biggest thing is that everyone on our team is at a different point in where they are as a player. . . . You want them to get the reps they need to do what they have to do to get ready for the season.”

    As expected, Turner confirmed yesterday that first-round pick Larry English (hamstring) and starting “Mike” linebacker Stephen Cooper (ankle) will not play tonight.

    Cooper's injury doesn't affect his status for the season. He is walking fine and will likely return to practice Monday. But it could have an impact on who plays next to him.

    At “Mo” (weakside) inside linebacker, Tim Dobbins has been working with the first team in the base defense. With Cooper out, Dobbins has been playing Cooper's “Mike” (strong-side) spot. That has moved Kevin Burnett into the “Mo” with the starters. Burnett, already a lock to play in the sub packages, has been physical and in all the right places, and a good showing tonight could help move him into the starting spot in base.

    Behind Dobbins at “Mike” will be Brandon Siler, a special teamer and goal-line specialist who would like to be more. There are only so many linebacker spots available, and Siler could help himself with strong preseason games.

    “I want to show I can play linebacker,” Siler said. “I want to get involved more on defense. I want to contribute on special teams, but I also want to contribute on defense as a linebacker.”

    Antwan Applewhite is another linebacker possibly on the bubble. He was a crucial part of the Chargers' 4-0 December in 2008, but the numbers could push him off the 53-man roster if he doesn't stand out in games.

    “Everyone thinks about it,” Applewhite said. “It's your livelihood. But I try not to think about it. If I play as hard as I can, they'll find a place for me.”

    That's what a bunch of rookies are hoping, too. Though it appears none besides the draft picks have a chance at making the 53-man roster, practice squad jobs are open.

    And how draft picks Vaughn Martin, Gartrell Johnson, Tyronne Green, Brandon Hughes and Kevin Ellison play tonight is of particular interest.

    “This is huge for my development,” Ellison said. “I've been pretty solid in practice, but this is a chance to showcase what you've been learning. Playing well is going to help me get out there (more).”

    Turner wants to see who the football players are.

    “We've got a lot of decisions we have to make over the next month with our young players,” Turner said. “We want to find guys who can transfer what we've been doing out here for three weeks over to the playing field. After that, you want to see who loves to play, who's going to fly around and make plays.”

    The first cuts, from 80 to 75, are Aug. 30. Final cuts, to 53, are Sept. 5.

    Ultimately, while there are numbers to be crunched on the offensive line and at linebacker, the final roster spot could come down to a back being axed.

    Fullbacks Mike Tolbert and Billy Latsko were on the 53-man roster last year (Tolbert as the starter much of the year and Latsko as a reserve the final half of '08). Both are in jeopardy of getting cut this year as the Chargers would like to be able to keep running back Michael Bennett. Bennett, coming through the preseason playing as well as he has practiced and free of injuries that have plagued his career, could virtually assure his spot provided injuries elsewhere don't require a refiguring of the plan.

    Regardless of how much Tomlinson and Darren Sproles play tonight, they will have given way to Bennett and Johnson by the second quarter. Starting fullback Jacob Hester, Tolbert and Latsko will likely get a chance to carry, too.

    By the preseason opener last year, Tolbert had asserted himself as a likely surprise. Undrafted out of Coastal Carolina, Tolbert shone in practice and then played well in the preseason.

    “It's going to be big for me this year too,” Tolbert said. “ . . . The NFL is the ultimate business. I've seen 10-year vets get cut. If you go out and have a good showing, you can make another ballclub.

    “Anybody can play hard and stand out in practice. If you can do it against somebody else, it only accelerates what the coaches think of you.”

  2. Bergo23

    Bergo23 BoltTalker

    Sep 28, 2006
    I dunno how he did in pass coverage but Ellison did have a nice tackle in the backfield. Gregory laid the wood...maybe they both found a way to get on the field more.

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