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2005 preview: Bolts stand pat, seek repeat

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Aug 22, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    The Chargers might have been the biggest surprise of the 2004 season, finishing 12-4 and reaching the playoffs one year after finishing a league-worst 4-12. By their own admission, they won't be able to sneak up on opponents this season. With every starter back and both kickers returning, they're the favorite of many to repeat as AFC West champions for the first time since 1980-81.

    "Last year we were overlooked," says coach Marty Schottenheimer. "This year everybody's staring at us. ... The challenge this year is far greater, and I think there's a clear understanding we're going to have to take it to another level."

    On offense, the Chargers return Pro Bowl performers in quarterback Drew Brees, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates. To say they were outstanding last season would be an understatement.

    Brees threw 27 touchdown passes against only seven interceptions and ranked third in passer rating. Tomlinson, despite a season-long groin injury, led all players with 17 touchdowns. And Gates set a league record for tight ends with 13 touchdown receptions.

    Their success was due in large part to the solid play of the line, which featured five new starters, two of them rookies. That unit will receive greater scrutiny following the departure of line coach Hudson Houck, who signed a three-year deal with Miami.

    The defense should be even stouter with the additions of linebacker Shawne Merriman and end Luis Castillo, both rookie first-round draft choices. Merriman is expected to provide a pass rush off the edge, while Castillo should help anchor against the run.

    Punter Mike Scifres is among the league's best, and kicker Nate Kaeding has the potential to go to the Pro Bowl. However, Kaeding must show that he can rebound after missing a potential game-winning field goal in an overtime playoff loss to the Jets.
    Arrivals

    No team was less active in free agency. Management signed only one player during the free-agency period -- safety Bhawoh Jue -- opting instead to reward several of its own players with contract extensions. Jue will battle incumbent Jerry Wilson for the starting job. The former Green Bay draft pick has more athleticism than Wilson, but he is not as familiar with the defense.

    Merriman's physical style will complement that of fellow outside linebacker Steve Foley. However, the former Maryland product will take time to develop after skipping every offseason workout and strugging with a hamstring injury in training camp. Castillo is expected to step immediately into the starting lineup, ahead of incumbent Jacques Cesaire.

    Rookie fourth-round pick Darren Sproles has wowed coaches with his quickness and running ability and will be given a long look as the return specialist.
    Departures

    None of the departures were significant. Running back Jesse Chatman would have been pushed for the backup spot by Michael Turner, and Doug Flutie would have been the third quarterback at best. Wideout Tim Dwight and linebacker Zeke Moreno both were slowed or sidelined by injuries last season, and tackle Jason Fisk was not a good fit in the 3-4 defense.

    Quick counts

    All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates did not sign his exclusive-rights free-agent tender until Aug. 21. Gates wants a long-term deal that includes guarantees in the neighborhood of $10 million, which is what other top tight ends have received. Because of his late arrival, he was suspended for the first game of the regular season.

    Drayton Florence has made a strong push to start at right cornerback, ahead of 2003 first-round draft choice Sammy Davis. The coaches love his combination of size, speed and athleticism, as well as his playmaking abilities.

    From 1996-2003, the Chargers did not have a winning record or appear in the playoffs. In five of those seasons, they lost 11 or more games.

    On the record

    QB Drew Brees on the situation with him and backup Philip Rivers: "(The team) chose to franchise me and keep me for a year, I'm sure, to see what happens. Then either Philip or I will stay next year, and one of us will go."

    Schottenheimer: "I think we will be a better team. Record, that's another issue."

    Brees: "I'm sure there are people out there who think we're a one-year wonder."

    Schottenheimer: "I think what we have to do is get off to a good start. If we can do that, we will continue to fuel what took place a year ago. I've always felt comfortable playing the better teams. If you perform well enough against good teams and make it to the playoffs, then you can have some momentum going into the playoffs."
     

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