<strong>July 26, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/07/26/news/columnists/steve_scholfield/20_46_437_25_05.txt">The North County Times</a>
SAN DIEGO ---- Marty Schottenheimer's "State of the Chargers" address to officially open the 2005 season was a whole lot different than the one he delivered last year.
Schottenheimer met with the media at Chargers Park on Monday in preparation for Friday's first full-squad workout.
Instead of going to Carson this year, the Chargers will train at home, something that is a relief for many fans who missed training camp a year ago because they chose not to be part of the freeway gridlock in the Los Angeles area.
That is not the only thing that has changed.
There's a winning attitude floating around the team and the city.
At this time last year the Chargers were coming off a 4-12 season. They were considered the laughingstock of the NFL.
I recall when Drew Brees was asked on a local radio show, "Do you think the Chargers could beat USC?"
For pro football players, it doesn't get much lower than being compared to amateurs. While Schottenheimer will never admit it publicly, human nature says the talk of his tenuous job security entering the season weighed on him as well.
Many thought Schottenheimer would be the first coach given his walking papers.
But all that speculation evaporated in a heartbeat after the Chargers breezed to a 12-4 record.
It must feel good not having to answer questions about your employment, right Marty?
"It is not really a whole lot different than the football team," Schottenheimer said. "Everybody said 'You couldn't do this' and 'You couldn't do that.' And you don't pay attention to that."
Now, the talk is about moving further into the playoffs.
"I think we will be better," Schottenheimer said. "As for our record, that's another issue."
The schedule is, in a word, brutal.
By winning the division, the Chargers received a first-place schedule that includes games on the road against New England, Philadelphia, the New York Jets, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, all playoff teams in 2004.
Schottenheimer welcomes the challenge.
"I've always felt comfortable playing the good teams because the good teams will make you better once the playoffs start," Schottenheimer said.
There's a reason Schottenheimer is confident. The club returns all of its starters from last season, a rarity in the NFL, where free agency jumbles rosters each year.
"There's no question we are a deeper team," Schottenheimer said.
Schottenheimer feels those core players and others will create the kind of competition that will make the team better.
Since his playing days with the Buffalo Bills, when he pushed middle linebacker Harry Jacobs for a starting spot, Schottenheimer has believed that no one should be promised a job.
That includes Brees, LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, all of whom were selected to the Pro Bowl last year. While these men are pretty much locks to start, Schottenheimer feels it would be a disservice to the other players if they were told from the onset that they will be second string.
"The competition raises the individual and the team," the coach said.
What Schottenheimer says is often overlooked is a group he calls his "young veterans," players who have been around for two, three or four years.
"Those are the guys you can count on because they have enough history to where they realize they can take their game to a higher level," he said.
Players who fit into that category include defensive end Dave Ball, offensive tackle Courtney Van Buren, strong safety Terrence Kiel, defensive end Igor Olshansky and wide receiver Eric Parker.
"The product for what we did last year is kind of a road map for you to go about what you are doing for this year," Schottenheimer said.
Many Chargers stayed in town during the offseason to work out together.
"I sense there is an excitement among our players and a sense of positive energy," Schottenheimer said.
The same could be said of Chargers fans. Like the players, they are raring to go.