Last Saturday, the Los Angeles Chargers and the Los Angeles Rams participated in a joint practice at the StubHub Center, the new home of the Chargers. This was billed as an important scrimmage between the two teams. So important that it was suggested that quarterback Philip Rivers, and tight-end Antonio Gates should skip the Hall of Fame (HOF) enshrinement ceremony of former teammate LaDainian Tomlinson (LT).
This event was also billed as a gift to the Chargers season ticket holders, a reward for their loyalty. Admission was free (unless you consider the high price of season tickets), parking was free and everyone got a 15% discount at the team store. Along with those incentives, in a further attempt to build the fan base, the Chargers gave four tickets to each season ticket holder, in hopes that they would bring more fans with them.
Overall, the idea was nice. Giving something back to loyal fans is always a good PR move. The execution, however, left a lot to be desired. You may have noticed that I am referring to this event as, “the weigh-in”. That is because I don’t think it was grand enough to be part of the actual fight for LA. I believe the Bolts missed an opportunity to land the first punch. Here is my take on the festivities.
Production: Honestly, it was kind of a mess. No, it was an actual mess. Do not get me wrong, I enjoyed myself. I went as a guest and had low expectations from the start. Even so, I did expect more of a football atmosphere and less of a glorified practice/party. Basically, both teams were on the field at the same time. The Chargers offense worked against the Rams defense in the North end of the field. The Rams offense worked against the Chargers defense in the South end of the field. They basically took turns running plays. That was alright, but instead of having an announcer help get the crowd fired up by calling out good plays and players names, the Chargers brass decided to play music on the loud-speaker and have no play-by-play. Occasionally, someone would get on the mic and tell you what each side is doing. Either it was a 7-on-7 drill, or Red Zone offense, or what have you. In my opinion, it was geared toward the novice fan who just wanted to be at an event, and not worry about football.
Perhaps it would have helped, since they weren’t announcing the play anyway, if they had shown LT’s speech on the large screen so the fans didn’t miss it. Just another detail that slipped by Dean Spanos and his brilliant PR department.
The Crowd: It was nice to see that the majority of the crowd was donned in Chargers gear. There were some Rams fans in attendance, but they were greatly outnumbered. That is only notable because that is not always the case at Chargers events. But let’s face it, if you can’t dominate the crowd at an event where you gave away tickets to your fans only, you really have problems.
It has been estimated that there were approximately 8,000 fans in all. I think that is a fair assessment. One side of the stands were full, while the other side was near empty. The entire venue holds around 30,000 fans and it was definitely less than half full. On the bright side, despite the lack of excitement on the field, most fans stayed to the end and seemed to have fun. I did hear from one long-time season ticket holder who was very angry and disappointed. The lack of announcer and giveaways seemed to be her biggest beef.
Some people, mainly internet trolls, are trying to downplay the size of the crowd by comparing it to practices in Green Bay or Philadelphia. To me, that seems a bit unfair. Those teams didn’t just move away from their loyal fans. Nor did they hold a practice while one of their all-time greats was entering the HOF.
Bolts Offense: It was difficult to tell from the seats (despite being in such a small venue), especially since there was no tackling allowed, which offense was impressive. It seemed both had quite a bit of work to do. I would say that the Chargers offensive line seemed to do a better job pass blocking than the Rams. That being said, I think the Rams O-line did a better job run blocking. That is not good news for Chargers fans, since it is believed that new Head Coach Anthony Lynn wants to increase the running game this year. But again, hard to say where plays really stopped when they are basically playing two hand touch.
There were some nice plays on both sides. Chargers tight-end Jeff Cumberland looked completely healthy as he streaked down the sideline and caught a deep ball from Rivers. Another tight-end, Hunter Henry, looked close to un-coverable. Rivers was head and shoulders above the remaining three QB’s on the roster; Clemons, Jones, and Bercovici. Of the backups, I personally thought Clemons was decent, but not a threat to go downfield. Jones obviously needs more time to work with the receivers. He did manage to bust off a nice looking run on a play where no receivers were open. Honestly, I was more impressed with Bercovici than the other two. Not that he was a stand out by any means. He threw a few nice balls and he also recognized an opening in the defense and ran for a score. Of course, the next play he rolled out and threw a terrible pick in the end zone.
Bolts Defense: It appeared that the Chargers defense was able to get fairly consistent pressure on the Rams quarterbacks. There would have been several sacks, if tackling were allowed. Star sophomore Joey Bosa got in the backfield on multiple occasions. Once causing a fumble as he batted the ball out of the QB’s hand. Again later, as he bull-rushed a double team, forcing the quarterback to rush his throw.
Recently wealthy Melvin Ingram also had a sack with a beautiful spin move through the middle of the line to stop a third down play. Ingram seemed to be one of a handful of players who played with a lot of passion.
During the first two-minute drill, Rams quarterback, Jared Goff was able to pick apart the Chargers defense with a quick passing attack. He was accurate on several five to ten yard outs that took the Rams 70 yards down the field, only to sputter out.
Bolts “Special” Teams: Oh, they were special alright. Let us just say that they have plenty of work to do. The problem is not knowing if they even have the personnel in camp to solve their problems. We will start with the punt team. More specifically, the punter. Yes, Drew Kaser is back. From what I saw yesterday, Kaser will put the excitement back into watching punts! No, I don’t mean that in a good way.
After watching the Rams punter boom beautiful spirals down field, around 50+ yards each time, I focused on Kaser. His first punt may have carried as far as 80 yards on the fly! He actually hit two or three like that. The problem was that they were so low that the coverage team was at least 30 to 40 yards away from the return man when he caught the ball. Other than those long-distance punts, Kaser gave us veritable smorgasbord of punts. Many of them end over end that bounced short of the return man.
Later came the kickers. This season, the Chargers have a competition for the kicking position. The incumbent, Josh Lambo did nothing to secure his spot on the roster. Rookie place kicker Younghoe Koo was decent, but not exactly mind-blowing. During the practice segment that was designed for the kickers, Lambo and Koo were each given three attempts. The first kick was from around 35-40 yards and the following two were from 48. Lambo missed his first two attempts and finally made the third. Koo made his first two and missed his third. It appeared that Lambo has the stronger leg, but lacked accuracy. Lambo was trotted out on the field during the 2-minute drill and made a field goal to end the day 2-4.
Opinion: I truly believe that there are many former Chargers fans who can be won back. The Los Angeles Chargers should do far more than they did Saturday, if they want to win them back. Face it, some fans will never come back. That is their right. Others are just looking for a reason to come back. If nothing else, the Chargers need to embrace their own history. There was no valid reason that this even had to be held at the same time as the HOF ceremonies. All that did was show San Diego that what happened down there means very little to the franchise. In my opinion, opportunity lost.
Now, the real fight for LA begins.
I hope you enjoyed this recap. Please leave your thoughts below.
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**featured image credit to thescore.com**