The road to success in the NFL begins each year with the hard work and wide-open possibilities of training camp. As teams around the league gear up for the 2015 campaign, NFL Media reporters will be checking in from all 32 camps around the league. For our next stop, Matt Clarida visits the San Diego Chargers.
Where is NFL Media?
Fifteen minutes from downtown San Diego at sun-soaked Chargers Park, where the two main practice fields are protected by an overhanging cliff on one side and the Chargers' offices on the other. For fans, the bleachers near the 50-yard line offer an intimate look at favorite players, most of whom linger afterwards and sign dozens of autographs.
1) As NFL Media's Albert Breer wrote recently from Redskins' camp, it's difficult to give teams and players a fair evaluation when they're still not wearing pads. That said, our trip to San Diego wouldn't be worth the gas money if we didn't check in on first-round RB Melvin Gordon. The Chargers spent much of Friday's practice working from the shotgun and used Danny Woodhead in those sets almost exclusively (more on Woodhead below). Gordon thus worked with backup Kellen Clemens and the second offensive line. The unit showed some rust. Gordon was tripped up multiple times in the backfield and did not provide many doses of the backfield vision that got him drafted where he was. I can't restate this enough, though: Nobody was wearing pads, which among other things meant that Gordon didn't get to show off his tackle-breaking ability. Another note: Coming off a highly scrutinized drop (yes, just one drop) in Thursday's opening practice, Gordon showed solid hands on Friday in individual drills and made most of his catches away from his chest. During some breaks in the second hour, he worked on his catching mechanics with assistants. By my eye, no drops.
2) Woodhead is back after breaking his right ankle in Week 3 last season, and he looked sharp on Friday. The 5-foot-8 (generously listed) running back of Hard Knocks fame enters his eighth year in the league and is in position to be a frequent target of Philip Rivers out of the backfield, especially on third down. On Friday, Rivers looked Woodhead's way more than he did any other back or receiver, finding him on check-downs out of the shotgun and motioning him all around the formation. Woodhead showed steady hands and pulled in all but one ball thrown his way. However improbable it might sound (or have sounded), the pride of Chadron State College is now a solid veteran in this league and an important part of San Diego's plans.
3)D.J. Fluker played right tackle on Friday, which is only newsworthy because of some offseason buzz that the signing of former Rams RT Joe Barksdale might push Fluker inside to guard. It doesn't look like that is happening. The whispers around Chargers Park on Friday were that Fluker is staying put. All of that said, it still wasn't a highlight day for the third-year man out of Alabama. In most of his reps during the individual drill period he went up against LB Melvin Ingram, one of the least enviable assignments an offensive lineman can draw. Ingram got the better of Fluker at least twice, and quite badly in the last rep, but that shouldn't immediately worry Charger fans. Fluker needs to improve against speed rushers who go outside, but Ingram is a tough matchup for almost anybody.
Jacoby Jones, WR: One of the more entertaining practice drills in football simulates kick returns by pitting a return man against two cover guys sprinting toward him. Two Chargers returners -- the two you would expect -- shined in this setup on Friday: Keenan Allen (clad in yellow tights) and Jones, a newcomer to San Diego by way of Baltimore. Jones was shifty, changing direction on a dime and throwing in half-spins to make his guys miss. He essentially survived the drill unscathed. "It's really not easy because it's two on one and you've got no blocking," he said afterward. "It's fun when you get to be the rabbit ... and those guys have to chase you."
Stevie Johnson, WR: Johnson is another new arrival to a receiving corps that should shine this year. In his prime, Johnson was one of the only receivers in the league to hatch a successful escape plan from Revis Island, and he's already a fan favorite on Day 2 of camp. Though he lost a one-on-one battle with impressive corner Jason Verrett, Johnson had his share of targets with the first team and looked solid.
"Some players are figuring out that they've got to work a little harder to get in better football shape, but that's what training camp is for. And football is played in pads, so it's an exciting time tomorrow to put the pads on for the first time and for the fans to see our players in pads and see the physicalness and the type of style of play we're going to play this year."
--Chargers coach Mike McCoy, clearly looking forward to the team's first padded practice, scheduled for Saturday.
» Though he's probably a lock to be Rivers' backup again, Kellen Clemens was not sharp on Friday. He could be heard yelling at himself after completely missing a throw to the flat, and even on completions his ball placement wasn't stellar. Still, the former Ram/Jet/Oregon Duck needs to have a week of bad days to get beat out by Chase Rettig or Brad Sorensen. The Chargers only carried two quarterbacks last year.