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Branden Oliver breaks loose in Chargers' win over Cowboys

SAN DIEGO -- For the second straight season, the San Diego Chargers topped the Dallas Cowboys in the exhibition opener for both teams, earning a 17-7 win Thursday night at Qualcomm Stadium. Starters on both teams played sparingly, giving way to the reserves midway through the first quarter. And for the most part, the Chargers got out of the game relatively healthy.

QB Depth Chart: Nothing to write home about here. In his only drive of the game Philip Rivers was efficient, finishing 2-of-2 for 20 yards in leading the Chargers to a touchdown on the team’s first possession. Kellen Clemens played the rest of the first half, completing 5 of 10 passes for 31 yards. Clemens was sacked once and finished with a 56.7 passer rating.

Maybe That Dude Could Start: Branden Oliver started seven games and led the Chargers in rushing last year, so it’s no surprise he finished with 53 yards and a 10-yard touchdown working with the second-unit offense against the Cowboys. The second-year pro remains strong and shifty, but also looks like he’s a step faster than in his rookie season. Rookie Melvin Gordon was the every-down back, but Oliver could be stealing some carries from the Wisconsin product come the regular season.

Who Got Hurt? Projected starting right guard Johnnie Troutman suffered a right arm injury in the second quarter and could be out for an extended period of time. Troutman already was dealing with a balky knee heading into Thursday’s contest. Cornerback Chris Davis suffered an apparent concussion at the end of the first half. Outside linebacker Tourek Williams suffered a foot injury in third quarter and did not return.

A Surprise Performer Who Looks Amazing: Javontee Herndon spent all of last year on the practice squad, but flashed for the Chargers returning punts and could be competing for a back end roster spot at receiver. With regular returner Jacoby Jones resting, Herndon averaged 21 yards a punt return, including a long of 30 yards.

Rookie Watch: Melvin Gordon failed to break loose, finishing with just 11 yards on six carries, averaging 1.8 yards per carry. Middle linebacker Denzel Perryman played from the second series on, finishing with five combined tackles. Cornerback Craig Mager also played a lot, finishing with two tackles and a pass breakup. Fifth-round selection Kyle Emanuel notched his first sack in the first half, and also forced a fumble on a punt return in the second quarter recovered by Tourek Williams. Undrafted rookie free agent Jahwan Edwards finished with 53 rushing yards on 11 carries in the second half.

When It Was Starters vs. Starters, the Chargers Looked …: San Diego played well on offense. The Chargers took advantage of a bad snap by Dallas on the opening drive that was recovered by cornerback Patrick Robinson. San Diego marched 33 yards on six plays, with Danny Woodhead capping the drive on an 8-yard run for a score. San Diego’s defense faced a Dallas offense using only four projected starters, with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant watching from the sideline. But the Cowboys still drove to San Diego’s 32-yard line before a bad snap that backup Branden Weeden could not handle was recovered by Robinson. The Chargers allowed Dallas to convert two third downs and a fourth down before corralling the errant snap.

One Reason To Freak Out, Good: The Chargers struggled to create turnovers the past two seasons, but forced two against the Cowboys. A point of emphasis during the offseason and in training camp, defensive coordinator John Pagano’s turnover circuit at the beginning of practice appears to be paying some dividends.

D.J. Fluker Looked Solid: San Diego’s experiment in moving D.J. Fluker from right tackle to right guard went well, as the University of Alabama product looked more comfortable than expected. Good thing because the Chargers might need Fluker there to hold things down for the foreseeable future. Troutman, already dealing with a balky knee, suffered a right arm injury in the second quarter.

Novak Shows Improved Leg Strength: Chargers kicker Nick Novak finished last in the NFL in touchbacks last season, but boomed the opening kickoff into the back of the end zone for a touchback, and also made a 52-yard field goal. Novak is in a competition for the kicking job with Josh Lambo.