NT Antonio Garay (Chris Graythen/Getty)
The Chargers are close to putting a cap on the preseason, and they couldn't be happier. Well, if unsigned Pro Bowlers Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson were on the roster, maybe the picture would be even rosier. But it's clear the Chargers are excited where they've been this summer and where they believe they could be headed.
"Each time I get more excited about where this group can go," coach Norv Turner said.
And those comments come after a loss in New Orleans -- albeit a preseason one.
Everyone knows it's not the score that counts but the evaluation of one's team which is paramount in the summer. And the Chargers went into their final preseason exercise at San Francisco feeling good about themselves.
The Chargers went toe-to-toe in their battle with the defending Super Bowl champion Saints last week. Before both teams cleared the bench midway through the third quarter, the Chargers were giving the Saints everything they could handle.
"We're not ready to go, but that was a good example of what we can be," Turner said, noting the Chargers trailed by just three when quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Drew Brees were removed. "That was as close to a regular-season game as you can get through two and a half quarters, but I thought we were sharp."
Rivers nearly matched Brees in every passing category. What was clear was that neither team blinked.
"It's kind of hard to say 'it is over', but that is the beauty of preseason I guess," Rivers said about leaving the field trailing 17-14.
The Chargers seem to be ahead of the game as they aim for their fifth straight AFC West title. There are some new faces in some new spots and so far, new is good.
"We've got some highly motivated guys in all areas," Turner said. "I don't think there was anything vanilla about that (Saints) game. Both teams went after it pretty good. I thought the first half was back and forth like a regular season game with two good teams going at it."
A slight negative was the running of Ryan Mathews. After two preseason games of encouraging results, Mathews was badgered by a Saints defense which was determined it would stop the run. With numerous run blitzes and a concerted effort to rough up the rookie at every chance, Mathews was limited to a 3.3-yard average, gaining 43 yards on 13 carries.
But one has to look past the final numbers. While Mathews didn't produce jaw-dropping numbers he showed flashes of why the Chargers are so high on their first-round pick.
Mathews took a pitch to the left and looked to be cornered by Saints defenders on the third-and-1 play and headed for a significant loss. Instead the speedy Mathews got to the edge and wasn't tackled until he gained 16 yards.
"The linebacker had a great angle," Turner said. "I think the linebacker expected to make a tackle for a two or three-yard loss. Ryan turned those jets on and it turned into a (big) play."
Mathews is learning and that means taking some lumps along the way. But he remains determined and dedicated to being the best player he can be.
--WR Vincent Jackson's agent, Neil Schwartz, said the Chargers are taking a curious route if they're truly interested in trading the unsigned restricted free agent.
"After media reports surfaced last week about us talking with Seattle, we had half-a-dozen teams contact us about acquiring Vincent," Schwartz said. "We instructed them to talk to the Chargers because we didn't have permission to speak to any team other than Seattle. That's why we asked the Chargers if we could talk to other teams. Before that, we had never asked the Chargers for a trade."
According to Schwartz, the Chargers said there are certain teams to which they won't trade Jackson. Schwartz asked for a list, and the Chargers declined. Schwartz then asked what compensation the Chargers would want for Jackson. Again, the Chargers wouldn't say.
"That led me to believe that the Chargers are not inclined to trade Vincent," Schwartz said.
Schwartz believed that being granted permission to speak with other teams would help a trade happen.
"I thought helping facilitate a trade would create a win-win situation," Schwartz said. "Vincent would get what he's looking for, and the Chargers would get something in exchange for Vincent."
Jackson was unwilling to play for the $3.268 million contract tender offered this offseason. He has not participated in the team's offseason activities or in training camp in protest of his contract status. The team decreased that offer to $583,000 on June 15.
--There is also no movement in the stalemate regarding left tackle Marcus McNeill, a restricted free agent adamant he deserves a long-term extension, and the club.
--LT Brandyn Dombrowski continues to play well while replacing Marcus McNeill. Dombrowski had never started a game at left tackle before this summer. He held up well in the Superdome, a tough place for blockers on the edge because of the difficulty in hearing the snap count.
"It felt good," Dombrowski said. "I still have stuff to work on but I'm just trying to get better. At first it was a little hard to hear."
--Philip Rivers and Drew Brees, former teammates with the Chargers, had a warm meeting after the game at midfield. Despite once battling for the starting job, there is no animosity between the two -- then or now.
"Drew was great," Rivers said of their visit. "I enjoyed those two years with him and always try to keep somewhat in touch," Rivers said. "It's tough because we are both busy and on different sides of the country."
Brees shared with Rivers his second son is due in October. Rivers, on the offspring count, leads Brees 5-1.
"I told him he still has a ways to go," Rivers said.
--Coach Norv Turner was upbeat about his team's trip to New Orleans. "I thought in the first half we played the best we've played to this point in the preseason, he said.
--WR Josh Reed is in a fight for a roster spot and he didn't help his cause in New Orleans. He did not have a reception.
--Rookie SS Darrell Stuckey was out of position on one play but coach Norv Turner said overall he had a good game playing with the second-string defense against the Saints.
--OLB Shawne Merriman was late to camp and has yet to play in a preseason game because of an Achilles injury. It's possible he will start for the Chargers in the regular-season opener without taking a summertime snap.
--OL Scott Mruczkowski is out of his walking boot after an ankle injury and could be close to returning. He is a key player for the Chargers' depth along the line.
--RB Darren Sproles' ailing shoulder has healed and he looked good against the Saints. Sproles will be part of the team's four-headed running attack, along with rookie Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert and Jacob Hester.
--WR Buster Davis continues his quest to gain the coaches' confidence after an up-and-down stint with the Chargers. The team's former first-round pick had three catches for 41 yards against the Saints, including a long of 21. This is a make-or-break summer for Davis.
--DL Ryon Bingham is battling to make the team and a balky back isn't aiding his chances. He hopes to return to practice this week; he spent last year on IR with an arm injury.
--OL Tyronne Green continues to back up Brandyn Dombrowski at left tackle; like Dombrowski, Green has never played the position.
--OL Nick Richmond, the team's third-string tackle who didn't start last year at TCU, has been out with a knee injury.
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