Six weeks after OTAs ended, Thursday’s informal press conference with Norv Turner represented a welcome break for those of us producing stories every day without fresh quotes.
The lunchtime chat provided plenty of interesting tidbits. I’ll get to more tomorrow, but Turner had some illuminating, if not surprising, things to say about the run game.
He acknowledged the coaching staff made a concerted effort this offseason to analyze and improve the team’s ground game. They concluded the team lacked the 10 and 20-yard bursts that loosened defenses and epitomized the nervousness induced by some of San Diego’s backs in 2006 and 2007.
First-round pick Ryan Mathews, he made it clear, mostly will play on first and second downs to start his career. While Mathews already has demonstrated that he understands the importance of pass protection, and his 6-foot, 218-pound frame seems tailored for the task, he’ll get time to develop the skill that’s often the hardest for rookie running backs to master. Darren Sproles will remain the primary third-down back for the Chargers.
“You stand behind (Mathews) and look at his calves and he is a big, solid guy. (Fresno State) teaches their players to play in a very physical manner, so he’s not shy about contact,” Turner said. “I can’t believe he won’t be an outstanding pass protector because he has the want-to and he has the physical stature to do it.
“The guy that’s really become a great pass protector is Darren Sproles. Ryan won’t have to play on third downs. Someday he will, because he’ll want to. I don’t think those linebackers like coming in there because (Sproles) is at the right level to hit them right in the thighs. He knifes them. He knocked down more blitzing linebackers last year than any back I’ve been around.”
It’s difficult to gauge the team’s thought process on the third running back, mainly because fullback Mike Tolbert will be the third guy to carry the football.
Turner gave him another endorsement Thursday and hinted he might get the ball even more than the 25 carries and 17 receptions he totaled last season.
Tolbert got about one-third of the repetitions carrying the ball during OTAs and Turner got a chuckle out of Tolbert’s appreciation, comparing the 5-foot-9, 243-pound man to a kid on Christmas morning.
The coach also said he’s considered tweaking a few schematic things to maximize the play action.
“We continue to look at how we can marry our running game with our passing game,” Turner said. “More shotgun type runs. We’ve worked at continuing to find ways to get the ball on the edge, get the ball on the perimeter. There aren’t very many teams that get the ball outside because the defenses are so fast in our league. We’ve looked hard at the teams that do. Most of them have a real fast back.”
San Diego has tried to get the ball outside in recent years but without great success, Turner said.
He also noted that members of the offensive line take exception when some pigeonhole them as finesse blockers and said he believes there are eight players worthy of starting on the line.
Stay true and keep pounding,
Tags: Darren Sproles, Norv Turner, Offensive Line, Pass Protection, Run, Ryan Mathews
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