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Team Report - SAN DIEGO CHARGERS

The SportsXchange

INSIDE SLANT

Two memories from the San Diego Chargers' preseason trip to the San Francisco Bay Area: a 6.0 earthquake which awoke the players Sunday morning and a blast of air coming from Levi's Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The earthquake was centered in Napa, Calif.

The air was felt in San Diego.

The Chargers exhaled on Sunday, after playing well in a 21-7 loss to the 49ers.

As usual, the final score of a preseason game means little. As usual, how the first units performed means everything.

Entering the 49ers game, the Chargers were bewildered. They had their doors blown off in Seattle, by a Seahawks team which seems hell-bent on destroying everyone this summer.

The shellacking it gave the Chargers was a bit of an eye-opener. Not that the Chargers think they are quite in the Seahawks' class, but they at least thought they would be competitive before being dismantled, 41-14.

So that made Sunday a rebound game. And the Chargers bounced back in a way that removed the red faces from the previous game with a belief the Chargers are again on the right track.

"I never like to make too much of the preseason, or too little of it, but there is a value there," quarterback Philip Rivers said of the games that don't count "It was a rhythm where we were able to get first downs."

Rivers was Rivers, missing on but one of 10 passes for 85 yards and a score.

"Statistically, I don't think it means much in the preseason, but it is more about the communication, the rhythm and the little things," he said. "It is more about ironing out the kinks and I believe we had done that thus far."

The offense played three series, and while there was a fourth-down that wasn't converted, overall it was three series well-played.

None of the starters are expected to play in Thursday's preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals. But enough has been done leading up to it -- Rivers was 15 for 18 in the summer; Johnnie Troutman won the right guard spot -- that the team is getting its mojo back in time for the opener.

The defense played better as well, although the injuries continue to mount along the line. The game featured the summer debuts of outside linebacker Dwight Freeney and first-round pick cornerback Jason Verrett, two guys brought along slowly because of injuries.

There's still much work to be done. But the Chargers return to the practice field this week knowing summer is almost over and the Seattle shocker was more of an aberration than the start of a trend.

"It was a point of emphasis to go out, have fun and get back to realizing this game is the most fun game in the world," safety Eric Weddle said. "Our energy and excitement were up and we played like it."

The Chargers didn't quite make the earth move -- Mother Nature handle that. But they moved forward on Sunday after take a step back the previous game.

"I like where we are as a football team," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said.

NOTES, QUOTES

--The Chargers face the visiting Arizona Cardinals on Thursday.

The visiting Chargers face the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 8.

In the final preseason game, the Chargers will play a team they will turn around and play in the season opener.

Strange? You bet.

But with the starters not likely to see any action, the Chargers can't be too concerned about tipping their hand. It will be vanilla play-calling with many players not calling the Chargers their employer once the regular season starts.

"We're in a unique situation," defensive coordinator John Pagano said. "But it also gives a really good chance to prepare for an opponent.

--If the Chargers lose on Thursday, it will mark their first one-win preseason since 2010. Last year the team was 3-1 in the summer. The year it went to their only Super Bowl? They were 1-4, which included opening with four straight losses.

--With defensive tackle Kwame Geathers going to injured reserve with a knee injury, coach Mike McCoy's reaction was predictable: "Next man up," he said.

--The Chargers released 11 players on Monday. Among those released was tackle Nick Becton, who played one game with the Chargers last year. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Joe Kruger was claimed off waivers from the Philadelphia Eagles. Kruger was a seventh-round pick in 2013 who spent his rookie season on injured reserve and is the younger brother of Cleveland Browns linebacker Paul Kruger.

--Cornerback Jason Verrett, the team's first-round draft pick, saw his first action of the preseason against the 49ers. Verrett, who is rebounding from offseason shoulder surgery, played on the outside, with Brandon Flowers moving inside.

--Defensive end Corey Liuget was impressive on Sunday, making plays all over the field as he disrupted the 49ers on various level. Liuget had a four tackles, a sack which caused a fumble, a pass defensed and two tackles for a loss.

"We were motivated as a team and as a defense more than anything," Liuget said. "We always had the confidence, but it definitely hopes us understand that, 'Hey, we are a pretty good defense and let's continue to build on what we just did."'

--Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney saw his first game action against the 49ers since leaving the field last fall with a torn quad.

"It felt good," he said. "I hadn't been out there since September. So for me, it's good to go out there and feel how the body is against the other color. Hitting the same door is one thing, but to go out there and play against a red jersey or whatever it is, it feels great."

--Defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers, a fifth-round pick, picked up some additional snaps with Kwame Geathers leaving the 49ers game with a knee injury. "I think it went well," said Carrethers, who had a tackle. "I think that I am adjusting to the temp pretty well. I know there is definitely room for improvement but this is a good step."

--Tight end Antonio Gates put a bow on his preseason with a 10-yard touchdown reception from Philip Rivers against the 49ers. Gates said the starting offense is where it needs to be.

"The whole purpose is trying to build chemistry and get some repetition of that game-like speed," he said. "Going against a good defense in Seattle and then coming here to San Francisco gave us a glimpse on what we need to work on and things that we need to do better."

--Did Rivers feel the earthquake which rocked the Bay Area on Sunday morning? "Absolutely," he said. "I looked outside to make sure the whole city wasn't falling down first, before the Marriott did."

--The Chargers didn't work on Monday in a short week that has them ending the preseason with a game against the visiting Cardinals on Thursday night.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Running back -- Brendan Oliver and Marion Grice continue to provide one of the most spirited position battles of preseason.

Neither is expected to get a ton of playing time in the regular season, not with Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown ahead of them. But things can change fast and that's why the Chargers are considering carrying a fourth running back.

Although, that might be a stretch as well with fullback David Johnson all but locking down a roster spot.

So would the team really have five backs on its roster? Although technically, Johnson is listed as a tight end.

It's possible in that Oliver has been one of the real bright spots in the practices leading up to the opener. And Grice as well has shown the versatility which had the Chargers draft him in the sixth round.

Against the 49ers, it was Grice in the spotlight as he had a team-high seven carries. And he didn't disappoint with 36 yards for a nifty 5.1-yard average.

Oliver got but three carries and didn't hurt his cause with 12 yards.

Both got a chance fielding a kickoff and there's not much separation there with Oliver having a 26-yard return and Grice adding a 24-yarder.

Oliver has a team-high 90 yards on 19 carries. Grice is at 88 yards on a team-high 24 rushes.

It's possibly both players will end up on the practice squad; also possible they won't stay there long. With the starters getting the final preseason game off, it'll be the final time Oliver and Grice can make a lasting impression.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Philip Rivers will be comfortable in a baseball cap on Thursday. He won't play, content with going 15 of 18 for 166 yards and a score this summer.

--RG Johnnie Troutman has won the battle with Chris Watt for the starting spot.

--RG Jeromey Clary will start the season on PUP as he mends from hip and ankle surgery.

--RB Branden Oliver's bid for a roster spot remains alive and he'll get a chance to prove his worth with extended play on Thursday.

--RB Marion Grice will likely split carries with Branden Oliver. One or the other could make the team, but not both.

--DL Doug Worthington is making the most of his chance with the injuries along the defensive line. After being cut by the Redskins, he'll make this team.

--RB Ryan Mathews likely won't play on Thursday and he leaves the preseason with a sour taste in his mouth. In two games this summer he fumbled going into the end zone and was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 carry.

--OLB Jerry Attaochu was a bit of a project when he was drafted in the second round out of Georgia Tech. With the season opener closing in, he remains a project.

--WR Tevin Reese, a seventh-round pick, is likely headed to the practice squad. He's got speed, but hasn't shown it much in game situations.

--ILB Kavell Connor is worth watching. He's been pushing Manti Te'o for snaps and seems to be around the ball more than Te'o when he's in there.

--ILB Manti Te'o still has a sprained foot and won't play on Thursday.

--DE Lawrence Guy remains out with a shoulder injury.

--WR Vincent Brown won't play with a calf injury.

--DT Sean Lissemore won't play with a sprained ankle.

--DT Kwame Geathers was put on IR with a knee injury.

--CB Marcus Cromartie was put on IR with a leg injury.

--DE Ricky Tjong-A-Tjoe was placed on IR with a knee injury.

--CB Brandon Ghee was released.

--WR Vincent Brown (calf) hasn't practiced or played since camp's second workout.

--CB Marcus Cromartie is still not playing with a leg injury.

--S Jahleel Addae (ankle) didn't play on Sunday and could be down this week as well.

--OLB Jarret Johnson got his first preseason game action against the 49ers but didn't record a tackle. The Chargers are being very careful with this 12-year veteran.

--C Nick Hardwick exited early with an apparent stinger, something that plagued him last season.

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