By Dave Thomas
All the pre-season hype is just that: pre-season. Starting this Sunday, the wins and losses are for real.
Add in the factor that the San Diego Chargers may be playing their final season in San Diego, and you have all the makings of a potentially drama-filled few months ahead. Ask the Chargers, however, and they will tell you the focus is right where it should be, on winning football games.
Following a pair of 9-7 seasons (one was good enough to make the playoffs in 2013, one was not in 2014), the Bolts are hoping to improve on the last few campaigns. With both Denver and Kansas City expected to be right there in the AFC West Division mix once again, San Diego knows that winning the division title will certainly not be easy.
Part of getting where they want to go is making sure they have the best 53-man roster not only on paper, but also on the field each week.
For the Chargers, some tough decisions had to be made leading up to the final week of preparations before hosting the Detroit Lions this Sunday. According to a report from Chargers.com, GM Tom Telesco noted that getting down to the final 53 was certainly not easy.
Novak Gets The Boot
Among the tough decisions that management had to make was cutting veteran placekicker Nick Novak (who had been with the team since 2011 after replacing Nick Kaeding), meaning the Bolts would rest their hopes on the leg of Texas A&M rookie Josh Lambo.
Novak, who has connected on 120-of-147 field goal attempts in his eight years in the league (Washington, Arizona, Kansas City, Chargers), will certainly have some big shoes (specifically one) to fill. Given how tight the AFC West contests oftentimes are, a kick here or a kick there can oftentimes be the difference between a win and a loss.
Telesco commented to Chargers.com that the choice between the two kickers was one that did not happen on the spur of the moment.
According to Telesco, management looked at the overall big picture for both Novak and Lambo, ultimately making what it felt was the best choice for the franchise over time.
Yes, Lambo comes in at a smaller price tag for the Bolts (one factor that oftentimes is not talked about in public), but can he handle the pressure of a potentially close game against the Packers at Lambeau Field? In Denver or at home against Peyton Manning and the Broncos? Or a raucous Arrowhead Stadium against the Chiefs? Remember, those are just some of the potential scenarios he could face over a 16-game season and maybe even the post-season.
Like any roster move, be it pre-season or during the regular campaign, the Monday morning quarterbacks will undoubtedly have much to say.
With a history of solid kickers like Rolf Benirschke, John Carney, Kaeding and Novak, the bar has been set rather high in San Diego.
Time will tell if taking Lambo over Novak will in time give San Diego the kick it needed to get back to the post-season.
Lions On The Prowl
After starting the regular season last year on the road against the Arizona Cardinals, the Bolts open with another NFC foe, Matthew Stafford and the Detroit Lions.
Finishing 11-5 (2nd in the NFC North, lost to Dallas in a wildcard game) a season ago, the Lions are on the prowl in hopes of overtaking long-time division foe Green Bay.
While San Diego had a rather low-scoring affair in its opener last year in Glendale (Cardinals won 18-17), opening with the Lions has the potential for a good old-fashioned shootout, though defenses are typically ahead of offenses to start the season.
A year ago, San Diego (21.8 ppg) and Detroit (20.1 ppg) finished 18th and 19th, respectively in points per game.
Much of the focus for Charger fans offensively will be on rookie running back Melvin Gordon. The Wisconsin product rushed for a stellar 2,587 yards and 29 TDs a season ago for the Badgers. Even though Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead are likely to get their share of touches this Sunday, Charger fans are hoping to see a great start from the man taken 15th overall in the draft out of Madison, Wisconsin.
So buckle up those seat belts and sit back Sunday afternoon for what has the potential to be one of the better games to kick-off the first full weekend of regular season play. If things go the way the Chargers and their fans are hoping, the Lions will be nothing more than pussycats when all is said and done.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.