Dan Feeney still in the mix to start on Chargers’ offensive line
COSTA MESA — Kenny Wiggins is the Chargers’ starting right guard. But how firm is his grip on the position?
“I think somebody’s got to beat him out,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said.
In other words, the job is his, unless he loses it. Such is the tautology of preseason depth charts.
Chargers coaches have expressed optimism about the state of their offensive line, which looks dramatically different to the unit that allowed Philip Rivers to take 76 sacks over the last two seasons.
Former Pro Bowler Russell Okung is the new, high-priced left tackle — one who Whisenhunt described as a consummate professional. Matt Slauson, the team’s best lineman last year, has moved from center to left guard. And Spencer Pulley, once an undrafted rookie, has snapped to Rivers on nearly every play in training camp.
Which leaves Wiggins, a 29-year-old journeyman, as the most vulnerable member of the team’s starting five. He entered the offseason at the top of the depth chart, but many expected second-round pick Forrest Lamp to eventually beat him out. The pair split first-team reps in training camp — until a torn ACL ended Lamp’s season.
Now nipping at Wiggins’ heels is Dan Feeney, drafted No. 71 overall this past spring. An All-American guard at Indiana, the 24-year-old has primarily practiced as the team’s second-string center — a position he never played in 46 collegiate starts.
On Wednesday, Feeney got a handful of first-team snaps at right guard. The trend will likely continue through the Chargers’ final week at Jack Hammett Sports Complex.
“He’s not out of the race for the starting job,” Coach Anthony Lynn said.
Still, the Chargers need Feeney to develop more versatility, thereby increasing his value if he starts the season as a backup. One challenge has been nailing down the quarterback-center exchange. One key? Keeping the wrist straight, preventing the excess movement that leads to high snaps.
“It’s a little bit new,” he said. “But you’ve got to do what the team needs. The team needs me at center. I’m a swing player, so that’s what I’m doing.”
Wiggins, who has experience at every position on the line, has helped ease his transition.
“He’s a savvy vet,” Feeney said. “Just him being around the league, seeing things that I don’t catch right off the bat. He helps me save time, just try to perfect my craft as fast as I can.”
“You’re always trying to get the team better,” Wiggins added. “That’s the goal. If they’re part of the best five out there, they’re part of the best five. Hopefully, I’m in the six, seven or eight.”
A NEW OPPONENT
After a pair of joint practices with the Rams, the Chargers will now host the Saints on Thursday and Friday in advance of this weekend’s preseason matchup.
That’s one reason the team has held lighter practices this week in Costa Mesa, even running a half-hour shorter than usual on Tuesday.
“I know that’s going to be a little more intense, those practices,” said Lynn, who added that Friday’s joint practice will not be padded. “So I wanted to take some off them of today.”
Lynn and New Orleans coach Sean Payton were both part of the Cowboys’ coaching staff in 2005.
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