SAN DIEGO – Part of the residual effect of an injury-plagued 2015 season for cornerback Brandon Flowers -- in which he admitted to being out of shape -- was his to keep up with speedy wide receivers on the perimeter.
However, with Flowers reporting to training camp in better shape, the Chargers have turned a weakness into a strength by using the former Virginia Tech standout as a slot defender.
Flowers 25-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals on Friday came as a slot defender. Flowers blitzed off of the edge and quickly anticipated Carson Palmer throwing a bubble screen, smothering the ball and hauling it in for the turnover.
But the play was just the continuation of Flowers diagnosing the quick passing game as an interior defender. Two other times during the preseason, Flowers has been responsible for creating pressure on short passing plays, resulting in short gains for the opposition.
The Chargers’ first-unit defense ran personnel with at least five defensive backs on 11 of the 16 plays they were on the field in the first half against the Cardinals.
Flowers played 224 of his 575 snaps as a slot defender for the Chargers in 2015, so expect that trend to continue.
“I’ve been doing it for a while, playing inside and outside,” Flowers said. “We’re going to give the offense different looks. I might play outside some games. I might play inside some games.”
Another advantage for the Chargers is the team’s ability to still defend the run with smaller, quicker personnel on the field.
The Chargers were gashed for 288 rushing yards against the Tennessee Titans in the first preseason game, but held the Cardinals to just 63 rushing yards for the game.
Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said he counted 21 missed tackles against the Titans, so the Chargers did a much better job rallying to the football against Arizona.
“We are just trusting each other,” Flowers said. “I think last week we tried to make too many plays on our own and we paid for it. This time we trusted each other on the field and made it happen.”
Dzubnar quietly having a solid camp: Inside linebacker Nick Dzubnar earned a spot on the final roster last season as an undrafted rookie because of his play during the preseason. A cerebral player out of Cal-Poly, Dzubnar is having another impressive training camp this year. Dzubnar led the Chargers in tackles against the Cardinals with a combined seven. He also led the Chargers in special-teams tackles last season with 13. Dzubnar can play both inside linebacker positions, providing solid depth behind Manti Te'o and Denzel Perryman.
Bercovici moving up depth chart? Undrafted rookie Mike Bercovici played the entire second half Friday. After a couple hiccups early, the former Arizona State quarterback looked solid, finishing 9-of-13 for 108 yards. Bercovici was not sacked and had a 94.4 passer rating. Zach Mettenberger, who was in a competition for the No. 2 job with Kellen Clemens, did not play Friday. Clemens appears to be the clear No. 2 at this point, with Mettenberger now in a competition with Bercovici for the No. 3 job.
“Mike is a young player, a young quarterback that is going to make some mistakes -- miss some throws, make some plays -- a little bit up and down at times,” McCoy said. “But there’s nothing like experience, and that is why we really wanted to give him the work today and see what he could do.”