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Chargers Elevate Their Passing Game

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by sdbound, Dec 19, 2009.

  1. sdbound

    sdbound Well-Known Member

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    Antonio Gates as a power forward for Kent State University in 2002, and as a tight end for the San Diego Chargers.

    By BILLY WITZ
    Published: December 18, 2009

    SAN DIEGO — The San Diego Chargers receivers are, for the most part, able to contain their inner divas. Touchdown celebrations are modest, moping about catch totals is frowned upon, and, to date, there have been no pronouncements to the masses to get their popcorn ready.

    In short, any ideas of calling attention to oneself are quickly 86’ed. Or is that Ochoseised?

    Until, that is, the subject of basketball comes up. Then conversations, once conducted in businesslike tones, change as quickly as a crossover dribble.

    “Gates has been dodging me,” receiver Vincent Jackson, who was a two-year starter at small forward at Northern Colorado, said of tight end Antonio Gates.

    “He tried me one time,” replied Gates, a power forward who led Kent State to the Round of 8 in the 2002 N.C.A.A. tournament. “He knows better.”

    Basketball, though it may not be their profession, remains a passion and an off-season indulgence for many of the Chargers’ pass catchers. It also provides a hint as to why they have quietly become one of the best receiving corps in the N.F.L.

    For starters, many of them look like basketball players. Receivers Malcom Floyd and Jackson are 6 feet 5 inches, and Gates is 6-4. Legedu Naanee, the third receiver, could pass for a Smurf in this bunch. At 6-2, 220 pounds, he is the shortest and the lightest.

    In the football sense, as well, they can all play above the rim.

    “The average corner is 5-11,” said Floyd, who like Naanee was an all-league basketball player in high school. “It’s kind of a mismatch.”

    It is not just their height and athletic ability that they put to use, but the skills they first picked up on the basketball court: boxing out, catching the ball at its highest point, changing direction and employing nimble footwork.

    “Everybody’s basketball game is like their football game,” Naanee said. “Vincent plays big, around the basket. Malcom’s quick, an off-the-dribble type of guy. That’s how they play on the field, too.”

    Naanee could not recall playing against Gates.

    “If he had, he’d have known it,” Gates said.

    The same can be said these days for playing against the Chargers’ receivers, who have had a key role in the team’s eight-game winning streak. The Chargers (10-3) can clinch a first-round bye in the American Football Conference playoffs with a win at home Sunday against Cincinnati.

    Since Norv Turner replaced Marty Schottenheimer as coach three years ago, the Chargers have moved away from tailback LaDainian Tomlinson and toward quarterback Philip Rivers as their offensive cornerstone.

    The Chargers have hardly abandoned the run — Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have thrown at least 84 more passes than Rivers — but they are now able to hit big plays in their passing game. The Chargers’ 13.7 yards per reception is the league’s highest average since the 2000 St. Louis Rams.

    The difference is notable to Gates, a five-time Pro Bowler who, with 71 catches and 1,038 yards, is closing in on career highs. In his eyes, the season he is having is not a coincidence. It is due in part to the emergence of Jackson, who is 11 yards short of becoming the first Chargers’ wideout to post consecutive 1,000-yard seasons since Tony Martin in 1995 and 1996, and of Floyd, who last month took over the starting job from the veteran Chris Chambers, who was subsequently released.

    “Early in my career we needed to get a guy in here who could present that deep threat, a guy you had to back off 10 yards because he could run by you,” Gates said. “I compare it to my basketball years. I was like a low-post guy that got some jump shooters. Now I’ve got more room to work in the post because you’ve got to cover those jump shooters on the wing.”

    One of the Chargers’ most effective plays has its roots in basketball: the jump ball. When Rivers spots single coverage, he is not shy about lofting the ball high in the air and letting a receiver go after it. He did so last week against Dallas, throwing a jump ball to Floyd on a flea flicker, and the result was a 53-yard pass-interference call that put the ball at the Cowboys’ 1-yard line. The Chargers scored on the next play.

    “When you’ve got big, tall receivers like that, why not just throw it up?” the Cowboys’ 6-0 safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who was victimized on the play, said afterward.

    That phrase drew a wince from Turner.

    “Those terms don’t come out of my mouth: just throw it up,” Turner said. “Sometimes it appears that way. The unique thing about these guys is they’re such good athletes they can run the routes that smaller guys run, and Philip is great at taking advantage of it.”

    To the receivers, it is a point of pride that they are not simply jump-ball artists. Gates is occasionally split wide and runs slants like a receiver, and Jackson and Floyd sometimes are set in the slot to run a quick third-down route, the type that would normally be run by the Wes Welkers of the league. Naanee lines up all over the field.

    “I don’t think our size plays as big a role as people think,” said Jackson, who turned Giants cornerback Corey Webster inside out on a last-minute touchdown pass in the Chargers’ 21-20 victory last month. “People must say, ‘Oh, 6-5 and 6-5, you must be throwing it up.’ We do have some big plays, but it’s not just going up over guys. What we really base our offense on is running precise routes, timing the quarterback and that separation from the defensive back.”

    What these receivers have in common is that nobody arrived at his station by acclamation. Gates did not play college football, and Jackson played in Division II, unable to draw interest from nearby Colorado or Colorado State. Floyd played at Wyoming, and Naanee at Boise State instead of a Pac-10 college because he could go there as a quarterback.

    Only Jackson, the 61st overall pick in 2005, was a high draft pick. Gates and Floyd were undrafted and Naanee was a fifth-round pick.

    “When you come in as a free agent, you come in with the mind-set that working hard is the only chance you’ve got,” Gates said. “That doesn’t guarantee anything, but without it you’ve got no chance. Once you have success, you’ve established something which is a habit. Those habits will last a lifetime. That’s what carried me to being an All-Pro. Had I not been a free agent would I still be the same person? You see some of these first- and second-round players, they get chances and they’re still good players, but they don’t become All-Pros.”

    Put another way, in football, there’s no such thing as a slam dunk.
     
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  2. Nomadic Bolt Fan

    Nomadic Bolt Fan Well-Known Member

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    Nice read, thanks! :tup:
     

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