Of all the key players the San Diego Chargers lost or don't currently have on their active roster -- Vincent Jackson, LaDainian Tomlinson, Marcus McNeill -- no larger void was left unfilled than the one by special teams ace Kassim Osgood. San Diego's kick/punt coverage teams have been abysmal and a big reason why the Chargers are 1-2.
Seattle's Leon Washington undressed them for two kickoff returns for touchdowns (101 and 99 yards) on Sunday and Chiefs rookie Dexter McCluster housed a 94-yard punt return in Week 1. Both teams beat San Diego, whose only victory came at home against Osgood's Jaguars. Osgood signed a free-agent deal with Jacksonville because the Jaguars were offering two things the Chargers weren't -- the most money and a shot to play wide receiver.
Osgood has just one special teams tackle with the Jaguars (he has two catches for 29 yards and a touchdown as a wideout) but the three-time Pro Bowl special teams player has to be accounted for the same way a top wide receiver or running back is. That can't be said about the Chargers' special teams thus far. Through three weeks, the Chargers have given up an average of 32.6 yards on kickoffs (31st in the NFL) and 25.5 yards on punts (also 31st).
Osgood isn't the only player to have switched teams in the offseason whose old team probably wishes they had back. Here are some others:
Leon Washington, RB/KR, Seahawks
If not for Michael Vick, the former Jets highlight-maker might be the comeback story of the year. Coming off a massive leg injury that threatened his effectiveness, Washington leads the NFL in kick-return average (46.3). Of course, he fattened those numbers by torching the Chargers. Washington has also worked his way into the running back rotation with the Seahawks.
The Jets haven't lost much in terms of kick returns without Washington; Brad Smith is averaging 30.6 yards per return (fifth in the NFL) and is tied with Washington with five returns of at least 20 yards. LaDainian Tomlinson also has been a good -- very good -- rotational backup to Shonn Greene.
Chester Taylor, RB, Bears
Though Taylor hasn't exactly provided a huge splash in Chicago (16 carries, 44 yards, five receptions, 53 yards), his absence is felt in Minnesota. Starter Adrian Peterson has had to shoulder a heavy early-season load, amassing 392 of the Vikings' 430 rushing yards. Peterson also leads the team with 13 receptions. That's 83 touches in three games, one behind league-leader Chris Johnson and a pace that would give him 443 over 16 games.
Albert Young and Toby Gerhart have been used to spell Peterson but neither is as reliable or productive as Taylor, whose role with the Bears could increase and prove more valuable as the season goes along, especially if he's needed to help in pass protection.
Dunta Robinson, CB, Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons' pass defense has improved but it still has a ways to go, as their No. 22 ranking would indicate. However, they are tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (six).
Robinson, who left Houston after signing a six-year, $57 million free agent deal with Atlanta, doesn't have any picks because teams aren't throwing his way very often. His presence has allowed the defense to be more aggressive and that's forced quarterbacks into mistakes. With 12 tackles, Robinson also has brought a physical presence to the Falcons' secondary.
Meanwhile in Houston, the Texans have the NFL's worst pass defense (368.7 yards per game) and are one of three teams without an interception. Rookie CB Kareem Jackson has shown flashes, but for the most part, he's played like a rookie.
Another slow start for Chargers
Osgood's absence is not the only reason San Diego's coverage teams have struggled. The Chargers have also been affected by inexperience and injuries on special teams. Outside linebackers Larry English (foot) and Jyles Tucker (personal reasons) were inactive against Seattle, costing the Chargers two key special teams players. Though it's not the sole reason why they were gashed by Seattle, it played a role.
"On coverage you have to diagnose what you have to do and everybody has to know what to do," coach Norv Turner said. "We had one guy voiding right, one guy voiding left. You do that against some teams, you get away with it. This guy (Washington) is awfully good and he made us pay. When you watch the film we have, the end-zone shot, you see a big canyon. It only takes one guy to run way out of his lane for things to break down."
English, who had surgery this week to repair a foot injury that has plagued him since training camp, won't be back for at least a month. Tucker is expected to return for Sunday's game against Arizona, Turner said. The Chargers on Tuesday added long-snapper Ethan Albright, cornerback Dante Hughes and safety Quinton Teal to help with special teams, but Turner said he is counting on everyone to step up their discipline and production.
On the issue of outside linebackers, Shawne Merriman has a strained calf and his availability is in question this week, Turner said. Depth is becoming an issue at linebacker.
On the offensive side of the ball, McNeill, who ended his holdout on Saturday, will get heavy reps on the scout team and in individual drills to be ready when he is eligible to return Oct. 17 against St. Louis. Turner said it's too soon to determine if McNeill would be thrust into the starting lineup right away.
Turner doesn't like what's gone on with ball security and how his team has done so much wrong on the road. San Diego has lost five fumbles. The two road losses doubled the total from last season.
"That catches up to you," said Turner, who believes the mistakes are fixable, and because San Diego has routinely gotten off to sluggish starts (1-3 in 2007, 2-2 in 2008 and 2009), nobody is panicked.
"We've been here before," he said. "I don't care if you start 3-0 or start 1-2, the whole key to this league is every team has issues that they're going to have to handle and those issues usually come in the first four to six games of season. We have to fix them. That's one thing we've been able to do. That's our approach now."
Bears' Harris expected back
"It's not something that is going to be for a long time," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said of Harris being kept off the 45-man game-day roster. "I wouldn't be surprised if he's not up and going this week, (but) he's got to earn it. He's got to earn it."
Matt Toeaina started in place of Harris and Marcus Harrison rotated in on Monday night. That could be the case again if Harris continues to be outplayed, which is the only reason he didn't see the field against the Packers.
"He can still play at a high level and we felt like, in fairness to them, to give them an opportunity," Angelo said of Toeaina and Harrison. "We expect Tommie to perform better. It's not a lack of work ethic. There are no off-field issues. There's nothing going on internally. He's healthy. It's about performance. We feel Tommie can play to a higher level. It's no more than that. We're still positive about Tommie. It's a young season."
Edwards welcomes change
Former Bills quarterback Trent Edwards never asked out of Buffalo, but he is very pleased to be elsewhere, according to a source close to Edwards. The quarterback-needy Jaguars claimed Edwards off waivers Tuesday, a day after he was cut by Buffalo following his demotion in favor of Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Once Edwards lost his starting job, his representatives pushed the team for a trade, but there were no takers. Edwards' release was not requested, the source said. Though Edwards would have been fine in any situation after being waived, landing with a team where he could find himself a starter is ideal. The Jaguars seem at wits' end with David Garrard, and Edwards could soon get another shot to prove himself.
Bucs' Williams credits lifestyle change
Tampa Bay rookie wide receiver Mike Williams is an early-season breakout player, hauling in 12 catches, two touchdowns and emerging as the Bucs' No. 1 wideout option. There weren't many doubts that he was capable of emerging as a potential star, but there were -- and maybe still are -- concerns about whether he'll be able to maintain focus and remain motivated.
Part of his early-season production stems from his eagerness to prove people wrong.
In case you don't know about Williams, he dropped to the fourth round of the draft because of character concerns. He quit/was kicked off the team at Syracuse last season after facing a suspension related to a traffic incident. That threat of discipline came after he was suspended by the school for the 2008 season for academic violations. He quit/was kicked off (interpretations differ but the end result was the same) instead of facing punishment.
I had one general manager tell me before the draft that he wouldn't draft Williams regardless of the round because history showed that players that achieve in the NFL tend to figure out ways to succeed, regardless of academic or behavioral issues, coaching or scheme changes. Williams didn't fit that bill.
To that point, the incredibly candid and genuine Williams offered up a unique -- and frank -- perspective during a lengthy chat last weekend, prior to the Buccaneers' game against Pittsburgh, which resulted in their first loss of the season.
"People always knew that I could play but people were saying off-the-field issues when it came to me," Williams said. "It was never off-the-field issues. It was always in-school issues. I was a guy who couldn't deal with the pressure of watching film, then going to class, then learning the game plan and then trying to study for class. I was never a school guy.
"I grew up in a neighborhood where a lot of people didn't go to school or take it seriously. I wasn't that school guy. Being in this situation, where school is taken out of it, I'm much more comfortable with doing the things I need to do. I can spend more time in the film room, learning the game and not stressing over so much. It's easier for me. I can't make this stuff up, man."
If nothing else, Williams keeps it real and probably speaks for a lot of other people who might not want to come so clean. To some, it could still prompt red flags because the majority of players in the NFL have managed to multi-task some aspects of academia in college while excelling on the field. The Bucs aren't worried about a thing, though.
Coach Raheem Morris and GM Mark Dominik told me Williams has surpassed expectations on and off the field to where he's making some of his teammates look bad. Fellow rookie wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who was selected in the second round, has barely registered (three catches, 33 yards), prompting a lot of criticism that Benn might not be NFL-ready.
Dominik told me that Benn is on the same learning curve and progression as most rookies but because Williams' approach has been so accelerated, Benn appears less-than-ordinary.
"I'm trying to prove people wrong," Williams said. "It's like a perfect situation with this team. We're out to prove people wrong and I'm out to prove people wrong. It's a perfect situation."