1. Welcome to San Diego Chargers NFL Football Podcast and Forum!

    Bolt Talk is one of the largest online communities for the San Diego Chargers. We host a regular Chargers podcast during the season. You are currently viewing our community forums as a guest user.

    Create an Account or

    Having an account grants you additional privileges, such as creating and participating in discussions. Furthermore, we hide most of the ads once you register as a member!
    Dismiss Notice

Chargers Position By Position Analysis

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Feb 2, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2009
    Messages:
    5,085
    Ratings:
    +268
    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.nfldraftblitz.com/ChargersColumn.htm">NFL Draft Blitz</a>

    By Loren S. Casuto

    Well, now that the season's over its time to run down the positions and players, how they did and whether that area is going to be a need in the upcoming off-season & draft.

    Quarterbacks - 2005
    Drew Brees was under center 98% of the season and posted a respectable year, albeit it was a step back from last year's amazing pro-bowl season. He ended up 3,576 yds on the season, a 65% completion percentage and 24 TDs to 15 INTs. Those are very respectable numbers, not a huge letdown from 2004 when he threw for 3,159yds with a 65.5% completion percentage and 27 TDs to 7 INTs. The big difference came down to sacks; in 2004, with a completely healthy line, he was sacked 17 times in 16 games. In 2005 he was sacked 27 times, and a lot of that game from blitzes and from his blind side. You could make a perfectly valid argument that Brees's decline in production was from a weaker offensive line, but it's not just that. Brees did make bad decisions; he didn't throw the ball as well as last year, he did miss open receivers or lock his eyes on certain receivers which led to picks. But by the same token his receivers did drop a fair amount of catch able balls (especially Gates) and Brees did not have as much time to throw as last year. Mercifully we haven't been subjected to hearing this from the players and this will continue to be debated by the critics and pundits.
    Philip Rivers came in on the last game in the second half and showed-..that he had not played much. Against the Broncos he was panicked at times (but then again with Leander Jordan protecting your left side and John Lynch blitzing, I'd be scared too) and did throw some poor passes, including one
    that was intercepted. But by the same token he did drive the Chargers down the field with accurate passes and decent long range balls. He does have talent, no questioning it, and he knows the plays and the system, all he needs now is to get on the field and actually play. Whether that happens or not is anyone's guess.
    AJ Feeley was acquired with a 6th round pick for Cleo Lemon from Miami. Feeley never saw the field as the third QB.

    Quarterbacks – The future
    This is the biggest question of the Chargers offseason; with Brees's shoulder injury there is a much stronger possibility that both Rivers and Brees will be in Chargers uniforms and that there could be a REAL (not like 2005) competition for the starting job. Both Brees and Rivers do have market value; Brees's has gone down a bit with his injury but it remains he's a stable starting QB who is very capable of managing an offense. Rivers' flashes of brilliance show his ‘potential' but that word is the most dangerous to any NFL coach and general manager. My guess is that unless AJ Smith gets knocked out by an offer, which COULD happen with teams like Baltimore, Arizona, Detroit and the Jets that need stability at the QB position, neither Brees nor Rivers will go anywhere and this issue will drive Charger fans bonkers for one more year. If the Chargers are looking for any QBs in FA or the Draft its strictly at the 3rd QB spot as Feeley has an average base salary of $4.5 million for three more years; that's way too high for a third QB.

    Backfield – 2005
    Ladanian Tomlinson remains the heart and soul of the San Diego Chargers and this year had a number of highs and lows. He ran for almost 1,500 yds, broke the Chargers career yards record, ran for a touchdown in a record-tying eighteen straight games, threw three touchdowns (including one game where he ran, caught and threw for a TD, the first player since David Patten in 2001), is going to his third pro bowl and was dominating on the field. But there were lows; he was held without a touchdown for three weeks, partially because of an injury to his ribs suffered from a cheap shot by some punk Raider player in early December. He was held to a career low eight yards against the Eagles and come December, when the team needed him, he had a hard time delivering. This is also the second year that LT has been hampered by some kind of an injury and it affects the team as a whole. Nevertheless he remains the feature Chargers player. Michael "The Burner" Turner shows why he was an absolute steal as a fifth round selection in 2004 filing in beautifully for LT. He finished with 335yds and three touchdowns, including the memorable eighty yard run that finished the Colts' perfect season. Beyond that he showed amazing toughness as he bounced off would be tacklers showing a ‘never say die' attitude. 4th round rookie Darren Sproles played more on special teams but contributed with eight runs for fifty yards. FB Lorenzo Neal was rewarded for his toughness, durability and blocking ability with a two year extension and a trip to the Pro Bowl (his second).

    Backfield – The future
    The Chargers are set at least for one more year when Turner becomes a free agent; beyond a late round pick at fullback there is NO chance the Chargers will add another back as they are stacked.

    Receivers – 2005
    This was a group that performed very well in 2005. Keenan McCardell was around for the entire year and had 70 catches, 917yds and 9 touchdowns, showing that he isn't over the hill just yet. While he was never a deep threat, you felt very comfortable throwing to KM anywhere on the field. Eric Parker's numbers, though impressive at 57 catches, 725yds and 3 TDs, do not tell the entire story. Parker earned the nickname "The Bondsman" as he became a great safety valve on third and fourth down, second only to Antonio Gates. The 2002 Undrafted Free Agent has silenced most talk about him being too small or fragile to be a full time #2 receiver. Reche Caldwell had his moments, good and bad. Good in some very athletic and acrobatic catches, including a beautiful diving touchdown, his only of the year, against the
    Patriots. Unfortunately there were plenty of negatives as he fumbled regularly, including on some key plays such as against the Eagles, and because of such he will most likely not return. Kassim Osgood only collected two catches all year but his play on special teams more then made up for it. He is a FA this year and will look to test the waters as he wants to play more. Rookie Vincent Jackson played sparingly but he has good hands and at 6'5 241lbs he is a massive target that will get more playing time next year. TE Antonio Gates had an interesting double edged season; on one hand he became the first Chargers tight end to collect over 1,000 yards since Kellen Winslow, is going to his second pro-bowl in two years, collected 10 TDs, second only to LT, and remained an almost impossible weapon to cover. On the other hand, he definitely dropped more passes and was out of position more often then last year. But when combined with his numbers, those mistakes are easily overlooked. TE Justin Peele had only one touchdown (from LT) but as Gates's backup he didn't see the field much and when he did it was as a blocker. TE Ryan Krause had high hopes but was injured all year long.

    Receivers – The future
    A true #1 receiver could be addressed in the off-season or the draft as there are some candidates, but that is likely low on the Chargers' list of priorities. Reche Caldwell and Kassim Osgood are both FAs with the former almost assuredly and the latter likely to leave San Diego. Another tight end could be a pick up, maybe someone with better hands and blocking then Peele, but that's, again, low on the list of priorities. While pundits and columnists like myself think this is an issue to be addressed, with Eric Moulds name continuously popping up, all signs out of Mission Valley suggest the Chargers will not deal with this area now.

    Offensive Line – 2005
    What many consider the worst part of the team, the Chargers OL was not as good as many expected it to be. LT Roman Oben was out half the year and with him went a savvy veteran, OL leader and solid pass blocker. His replacement, OT Leander Jordan, had his moments but could not pass block long term or pick up a blitz. While he's not solely to blame, he is the scapegoat for much of the trouble the offense had. LG Kris Dielman stepped in for Toniu Fonoti and played very well; while still raw, he plays with a lot of aggression and has improved his pass and run blocking skills a great deal. Look for him to be a long term solution for the Chargers. C Nick Hardwick was injured from time to time and when he was out it showed; Hardwick is neither the biggest center nor the most powerful, but he is excellent at
    making line calls and is a solidifying presence. Nevertheless the lack of push up the middle in both running and passing games was blamed on him. RG Mike Goff is another double edged sword; on one hand he was the only Charger OL to start every game, is a solid veteran leader, especially when Oben went down, and received critical acclaim as a great trap and pass blocker. On the other hand he didn't get the push a right guard should get and couldn't pull well. RT Shane Olivea was beaten on pass coverage and the questions remain about whether he should be a guard but he did improve immensely in both pass and run blocking. OT Cory Lekkerkerker, OG Wes Sims & C Scott Mrzucowski did not play this year while OG-C Bob Hallen started only two games, much to the relief of Charger fans.

    Offensive Line – The future
    It is well known that the Chargers will go into the draft looking to upgrade a line that cost OL Coach Carl Mauck his job. Rumors are coming out of Miami that former Charger OL Coach Hudson Houck wants to bring Hardwick and Olivea to Miami and both are interested in joining with their former coach. Leander Jordan is a UFA and he's gone as will Bob Hallen. Kris Dielman is an RFA and looks to be brought back. The Chargers will likely be in the market for a pair of tackles, maybe a guard if there's any truth to the rumors about Olivea and Hardwick, and some depth. There isn't much in the free agent market but there are three prizes; OT Bob Whitfield from the Falcons (a good backup and a solid pass blocker), OG Steve Hutchinson from the Seahawks (the pro bowl Left guard is a free agent but could be
    franchised and subjected to a price war) and C LeCharles Bentley (another pro bowler but could return home to Ohio, also could look at C Kevin Mawae).

    Defensive Line – 2005
    This is an area of great improvement over the last year and the Chargers couldn't be happier. NT Jamal Williams did not have the statistical year he did in 2004 (59 tackles, 0 sacks in 05 compared with 32 tackles and 4 sacks in 04) but remained a cornerstone of the 3-4, collapsing the pocket and constantly stopping the run. And because of that Williams finally earned the trip to the pro-bowl he had earned for three years. DE Igor Olshansky showed distinct improvement over his rookie year with 29 tackles and three sacks (including one of Peyton Manning). Run stopping remains his bread and butter
    but his pass rushing skills have improved and he is very good at pushing around tackles. Rookie DE Luis Castillo came on like a house of fire once he was in the lineup and had a very impressive rookie year collecting 49 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He has very impressive pass rush skills and made big hits in the running game. The second team Defensive Ends did well for themselves with Dequincy Scott becoming a vocal team leader and picking up 4.5 sacks (including a two sack performance against the Raiders), his highest since 2003, and Jacques Cesaire contributing with 25 tackles and a sack. NT Ryon Bingham and DE Derrick Robinson didn't see the field

    Defensive Line – The future
    AJ Smith has made it clear that he is in the market for a backup to Jamal Williams which should have been addressed over the last two years. Gabe Watson, Rodrique Wright and Steve Fifita are good late first day selections but NTs Ted Washington and Kimo Von Oelhoffen should be on the market and though both are old, both would be a great presence for the second team. Both Scott and Cesaire are Free Agents and both are likely to re-up with the Chargers. Beyond the NT, however, don't expect any moves.

    Linebackers – 2005
    If the defensive line was an area of improvement, then the Linebackers were an area of domination. You can start with the outside linebackers' corps in Steve Foley, Shawn Phillips and Shawne Merriman. Foley was bothered by an abdominal injury all year and it showed in his numbers (38 tackles, 4.5 sacks) but he still was a powerful threat from the outside, as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning can both attest. Shawn Phillips did not suffer from any sophomore slump, as he stepped in for Foley admirably and collected 20 tackles and seven sacks, second on the team. Nicknamed "The Sidewinder" he was a force on third down passing situations and almost impossible to block. That leads us to "Lights Out" Shawne Merriman. Merriman dominated offensive tackles all year long leading the team with 10 sacks and showing signs of being the most dominating pass rushing LB since Derrick Thomas. Merriman became the first Chargers rookie since 1979 to go to the pro bowl and looks to be a force on the Chargers for years to come. The inside linebackers were not slouches either. ILB Randall Godfrey, in what could be his final year, played through the most emotional year of his career after his sister was murdered in November, and had an outstanding year with 77 tackles (second on the team) and a sack. ILB Donnie Edwards played most of the year with an injury but led the team in tackles yet again with 154 and added three sacks. Third year ILBs Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm played well with their limited time and UDFA LB Marques Harris played outside and inside and added a sack of Eli Manning to the cause.

    Linebackers – The future
    ILB Randall Godfrey, as of now, is still planning on retiring but has recently had second thoughts. If he does retire, Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm will compete for the starting job and both are starting material. Wilhelm is a free agent however, and there are rumors that the Browns are interested in the Ohio State Alumni. Other then a rumor that the Chargers might add Lavar Arrington to replace Godfrey, if he can be had at the right amount, the Chargers will not add any linebackers to the best corps in the league.

    Secondary – 2005
    Even the offensive line did not cause as much annoyance as the secondary did, but at least with the offensive line they still performed. The secondary almost never did. Quentin Jammer has been anything but a shut down corner and though he did show improvement at locating the ball he was still penalized constantly and was beaten fairly often. Drayton Florence faired little better as he was often beat for deep passes and was injured at numerous points during the season. To show how bad it is, neither Jammer nor Florence had an interception going into December and both got their only ones off tipped passes. Sammy Davis should have been cut at training camp and did little to prove that he should remain on this team. Nevertheless Davis played more time then did Jamar Fletcher whom many thought was the best corner on the team and who almost never saw the field. The safety position was little better; Terrance Kiel regressed after a solid second year, was injured in December and couldn't recover. Free Agent Bwahoh Jue led the team with three interceptions but was also injured and didn't show good cover speed to help either Florence or Jammer over the top. Backup Clinton Hart had probably the best season with a great nose for the ball (two fumble recoveries, two defensive touchdowns and an interception) and played both safety positions, but isn't consistent enough to start at either. Jerry Wilson barely got any playing time, much to the joy of the fans.

    Secondary – The future
    AJ and Marty have made no secret of their desire to fix the secondary and will go looking in both the draft and FA to fix the cornerback position. Jamar Fletcher is a free agent and has tired of the politics that keep him behind Sammy Davis, so he's gone. But though they want to change the corner position, AJ and Marty remain confident that Jue can be a leader and a solid FS. Clinton Hart is a free agent whom the Chargers want to keep and Jerry Wilson has one more year left on his contract. This will be the most intriguing position to watch so stay tuned Charger fans.

    Special Teams
    Darren Sproles didn't become the KO/PR dynamo everyone expected of him and the response of many fans is to draft someone else to handle the duties. My only response to this is; how long did it take Dante Hall to become the dynamic ‘X-Factor'? He was drafted the same year as LT and didn't really
    take off since 2003. Though he was replaced by Eric Parker in PR duties and made some costly mistakes, Sproles is going to stick around. Nate Kaeding did not improve much on his kick offs but was 21 of 24 including four important field goals against the Colts. Mike Scifres was signed to a multi-year deal and became a deadly weapon with his amazing punts, including a record tying 71 yard kick against the Raiders. Hannik Milligan and Kassim Osgood, both free agents, were special teams' aces making big plays all over the field. Osgood actually earned a trip to the pro-bowl for his work, but his votes were carried over to Hannik Milligan who got the trip. The coverage itself though was lousy for the second year in a row as Charger opponents on kick offs often had field position at the thirty yard line or better. Steve Crosby, the coach in charge of Special Teams, should lose his job.

    Chargers News
    Carl Mauck got the axe after one year as did assistant secondary coach Albert Lewis. Why the two of them got it is still heavily debated amongst fans and pundits; was in Mauck's fault that his OL was constantly injured? Heck, you probably could blame Marty over Mauck because the former kept Leander Jordan over 5th round pick Wesley Britt who was a left tackle in college. Reports are that the OL did not like Mauck's yelling, drill sergeant like style of coaching which contributed to his firing. Albert Lewis, the former Kansas City corner, getting fired was even more confusing because he got the axe but secondary coach Brian Stewart didn't, and Stewart could be blamed more for the secondary's trouble then Lewis could be. No reports as to who would replace the two assistant coaches. Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips, both early favorites to earn head coaching jobs, look to be coming back, much to the relief of some fans and the annoyance of others. The vast majority think the world of Wade Phillips as the genius who brought the Chargers defense back to glory while half the populace love Cameron's game plans and the other think he's horrible. The Chargers also signed twelve free agents at the end of the year; the most notable include Mitch Meeuwsen, a free safety/cornerback who was graded high in the 2005 draft and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, the little brother of the Packers' KGB and a pass rushing LB/DE.

    1/6/06

    First of all I hope everyone had a pleasant New Year's and holiday season.

    For the Charger fans the end of the season combined getting a really great gift but ending up with a lot of coal in your stocking. The victory over the Raiders at home and ending the Colts undefeated season were both wonderful and showed the Chargers as a team on the verge of becoming dominant. And then the Chargers lost to Miami and Denver at home and were pushed around by the Chiefs at Arrowhead. In the end the Chargers acted like the same team that I have described basically all year long; confusing, frustrating but oh so wonderful to be around. The Chargers ended 9-7, which is a disappointment considering we were supposed to go to the playoffs with ease and maybe go to the Conference championship. And while I do agree that there were at least four games that we could have and should have won, I am savoring the fact that to a Charger fan, 9-7 is a disappointment. I think the last time I thought that way was in 1995, after the Super Bowl year, when the Chargers went 9-7 and only made it as the wild-card. Three years ago, 9-7 would have had Charger fans dancing up and down Friars Rd. I still marvel at how Charger fans can be so upset at another winning year when we had gone nearly a decade without one; maybe, finally, Charger fans are getting used to winning. I savor this, our second straight winning season (something we haven't had since 1994-1995) but this will be the last year I do so. From here on in, its playoffs or we are unhappy. And next year, with an easier schedule and some general improvements, we should be.

    Early off-season overview
    This off-season is shaping up to be the most important in Charger history. The injury to Brees' throwing shoulder most likely means that neither QB will be traded, but you never know, AJ has worked magic before. Many people say the Chargers are on the cusp of becoming Super Bowl contenders and in my humble journalistic opinion there are only three things the Chargers need.

    1. Deep Threat Wide Reciever: I like Keenan McCardell, he's done an outstanding job bringing stability and a veteran presence to the WR corps. Having said that, he's a possession receiver, not a deep threat. What the Chargers need is someone that can stretch the field to keep defenses from cramming nine defenders in the box for Ladanian Tomlinson. Now some of you might wonder about Gates; Gates is the best safety valve a QB could ask for and while he can keep defenses honest, he isn't a real deep threat. You need someone that can challenge the safeties in deep coverage and is a threat to score.
    Possible Solutions (FA): Eric Moulds (he hates his situation in Buffalo and is friendly with GM AJ Smith)
    Possible Solutions (Draft): Demitrius Williams (Oregon), Steve Smith (USC) & Martin Nance (Miami OH)

    2. A TRUE Left Tackle: This could be named "OL improvement" but I think what we really need is a left tackle. I like Roman Oben, he's very much like Keenan McCardell as a stabilizing factor with a group of young guys. But Oben is coming back from a nasty foot injury that put him on IR for half the year. On top of which he'll be in his 11th season, so finding another tackle would be in the team's interest. There's similar concern with Mike Goff, though he was the team's most consistent player starting every game, he seems to be getting beat on a number of plays and can't run block as well. That might be solved with moving Shane Olivea to RG but then what do you do about right tackle? Roman Oben isn't a right tackle so that's something that might ALSO have to be addressed.
    Possible Solutions (FA): OG Steve Hutchinson (Seattle) and C Kevin Mawae (Jets- likely to be cut). As far as tackles are concerned, I don't see anyone.
    Possible Solutions (Draft): Jon Scott (Texas – LT), Marcus McNeil (Auburn – OT), Daryn Coledige (Boise State – LT), Jeremy Trublood (BC – RT).

    3. Safety: Half of this position should have been taken care of last year; there were some good free safeties in Free Agency like Darren Sharper who was spectacular with the Vikings, Dwight Smith who, along with most of New Orleans, was in muck all season and Lance Schulters who played well with the Dolphins. Who did we get? Bwahoh Jue. Don't get me wrong, Jue was better then Jerry Wilson but let's face it, you could go from a Pinto to an old beat up VW Bug and it would be an improvement. Jue isn't a good centerfielder because he doesn't have the speed to play deep threats. As far as Kiel is concerned, I just don't see him as that fearsome SS like a Harrison or a Roy Williams. I'll admit it's unfair at best to compare Harrison to Kiel, namely because Kiel was in his third season, but I just don't see Kiel as having the great hitting ability or speed that an SS is supposed to have. We still have Hannik Milligan though he's more of a special teams' specialist and Clinton Hart, who's a FA but has made big plays all year long, but neither are starting material in my book.

    Possible Solutions (FA): Lance Schulters (might be released), beyond that NOTHING
    Possible Solutions (Draft): Laron Landry (LSU – Either), Greg Blue (Georgia – SS), Bernard Pollard (Purdue – SS), Pat Watkins (Florida St. – FS)

    What we DON'T NEED
    LB: To all who make mock drafts: For the love of heaven STOP PICKING ILBs IN THE FIRST ROUND! For that matter, stop picking LBs PERIOD! The San Diego Chargers have THE best LB corps in the entire NFL (hands down!) with Merriman, Foley, Edwards and Godfrey. Yes Godfrey will be retiring, but the Chargers have two young 3rd year ILBs in Stephen Cooper (reminds me of Donnie Edwards in his pass coverage, though he's a little light) and Matt Wilhelm (smart, decent speed and stout against the run). There's UDFA Marques Harris who can play outside and inside and played well in limited time (including a sack on Eli Manning) and on the outside there's a good rotation working with Foley, Merriman and Shawn "Sidewinder" Phillips (this trio had 4.5, 10 and 7 sacks respectively) with Harris also filling in from time to time.
    CB: If this position is addressed then it will be in free agency. I am in the minority in thinking that Quentin Jammer and Drayton Florence actually progressed this year even if their numbers don't show it. But with fans and coaches angry with Jammer and Florence as well as Sammy Davis on the way out (management has had it with him) and Jamar Fletcher angry and in FA, the CB corps could be decimated. Ty Law and Nate Clements could be in and there could be a young CB brought in day 2 as a nickel/dime/both CB but the Chargers WILL NOT pick any CBs on the first day. As mentioned before, safety's another issue.

    Review of the Draft Class:
    AJ Smith out did even the draft class of 2004 which was pretty spectacular. Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo were outstanding once they were thrust into the starting line up, giving the Chargers solid run stopping and even better pass rushing. Merriman ended the year with 10 sacks, something no rookie has done since Chris Mims in 1992 and the first rookie to lead the team in sacks since Leslie O'Neal in 1986. Merriman was the first Chargers rookie to be selected to the Pro Bowl since John Jefferson in 1979 and the first rookie LB since Kendrick Bell in 2001. Castillo put to rest almost all the questions about steroids and his ability with outstanding play from the LDE position, collecting 3 "½ sacks and 45 tackles. WR Vincent Jackson didn't play as much as Castillo and Merriman but when he came in he made an impact. This included two crucial catches against the Colts for first downs and another one against the Broncos in the last week. Jackson has spent the majority of the year learning from WR Coach James Lofton and the improvements have been noticeable as he will make a bigger impact next year. RB/RS Darren Sproles never really broke out like he was supposed to; he averaged 24.4 yds/KO but never was comfortable returning punts and made a number of rookie mistakes including a fumbled KO vs. Miami which he returned from the back of his endzone. UDFA Marques Harris rotated in at both OLB and ILB showing some great pass rush moves collecting two sacks. OG Wes Sims, C Scott Mrzucowski, OT Cory Lekkerkerker and DE Derrick Robinson did not play.
    Grade: A+ (mostly from Merriman who will win DROY and Castillo)

    Next article will have a full in depth analysis, position by position, of the team's performance.

    12/1/05

    And here they come, down the stretch! It's getting exciting! GO BABY GO!
    Why do I open with the standard call from a horse race? Because that is very much what it feels like to Charger fans as we roll into the final month of the season tied with Kansas City for second place in the AFC West behind Denver and still on the outside looking in at a wild card spot behind Jacksonville and Cincinnati/Pittsburgh. With five games to play the Chargers have to basically win them all out in order to secure a playoff spot and still get help from a Jacksonville and/or Denver collapse. The five games are home games against the Raiders, Dolphins and Broncos and two back-to-back road games in Kansas City and Indianapolis. It's conceivable that the Chargers could win all five as Indianapolis has basically secured home field and a bye and the rumor is that Tony Dungy wants to rest the majority of his starters much like the Eagles did last year. The same might be applicable to Denver who could clinch the AFC West and the #2 spot with two more wins, making the new year's eve showdown in San Diego rather anti-climatical. With those two scenarios in mind the Chargers could run the table and end up 12-4, and with a Jacksonville/Cincinnati collapse, could sneak into one of those two wild card spots and make the playoffs. With Byron Leftwich out for a month plus, Jacksonville could falter and fall out of contention but that rests on the shoulders of backup QB David Garrard. Denver is known for their late season collapses but it's looking more and more unlikely as they are playing at a very high level. Cincinnati has way too easy of a schedule and Pittsburgh is playing too well for a collapse. Charger fans might have to prepare for a 12-4/11-5 club that doesn't make the playoffs.
    If that happens, would that make this year a failure? Well
    in a sense yes because after winning the AFC West we would then not make the playoffs and have done so in heart breaking fashion after losing so many close games. But even after that, and especially considering the recent Thanksgiving weekend, there is a lot on the Chargers that we could be thankful for. This team has made such amazing strides in so short a time and, as the games against the Jets and Redskins have shown, can hang in there or come back from behind to win tough games. The secondary is playing better then it has, partially from the pass rush and partially from improvements made by the corners themselves. With Castillo, Merriman and the growth of Shawn Phillips, this team has one heck of a pass rush and is in the top 5 in sacks in the entire NFL. The run defense remains solid with Igor Olshansky and Jamal Williams anchoring the line. The offensive line has taken the injuries in stride and backups Leander Jordan and Bob Hallen have played well, with one former backup, Kris Dielman, becoming the new starting Left Guard. Darren Sproles has become the first real special teams' threat since Ronnie Jenkins left the team. Yes the Chargers might not make the playoffs with a record of 11-5 (mind boggling considering the bloody NFC) but does all those improvements mean nothing at all when considering the success of this team?

    Game Recaps
    On the day the Chargers retired Lance "Bambi" Alworth's #19, the Chargers absolutely demolished the Bills in all aspects of the game. The defense was outstanding as they ran after JP Losman all day sacking him six times and stuffing Willis "I'm the best back in the NFL" McGahee. Tomlinson had a somewhat quiet day as Drew Brees took center stage and took apart a very good Buffalo secondary throwing for four TDs to four different receivers in the first half! To his credit Marty Schottenheimer did not go conservative in the second half and the lack of points is more due to simple lack of execution then poor play calling. Michael Turner really opened some eyes as he rumbled for an 8yd touchdown run, pounding through the Bills defenders like a combination of a bowling ball and a pinball. This was a nearly perfect game played on all fronts as Buffalo never had a prayer from the opening gun.
    The next week against Washington the Chargers played almost the opposite; a mistake riddled game with errors and bad plays coming from every facet. Antonio Gates dropped passes all over the place, the pass/run blocking was substandard most of the game, Drew Brees had one of his worst games all year, Kaeding missed two important field goals and the Chargers couldn't get to Mark Brunell. With all that said the Chargers came from behind in the fourth quarter to win it in overtime with solid defensive play and Gates and LT making big plays when they were needed. The Chargers kept their playoff dreams alive with that win and even though it was a horribly ugly game the Chargers learnt to come from behind and win those big games. That in itself was an important lesson that the Chargers had not internalized until that Sunday.

    11/12/05

    Well the Chargers managed to limp into the bye week with a win over the Jets and a solid showing over the Chiefs. That bye couldn't have come at a better time, the team is being held together with duct-tape, glue and prayer; seven major players are suffering injuries and have been held out of a number of games. The Jets game saw the Chargers missing their starting left tackle, center, strong safety, #2 cornerback, #2 receiver, as well as one inside and outside linebacker. And most of those were out for the Chiefs game too. Still, the Chargers managed to hold out on both wins despite strong second half showings by both opposing teams.
    With the first half of the season over the Chargers are 5-4 in a quasi-second place tie with the 5-3 Chiefs and trailing the Broncos. The AFC West is the toughest division in the NFL, without a doubt, and the Chargers have a tough road to go to make up lost ground. The Chargers can make a late season run, they went on a great winning streak last year, but the Broncos need to have a late season collapse, which they have done, however the Broncos are playing at a much higher level then I have ever seen them. The Chargers are also entering an easier stretch of their schedule as they will face only three teams with winning records the rest of the season (Washington, Indianapolis and Denver) and Denver's gets a little tougher with trips to Dallas, Kansas City, Buffalo and finally a New Year's Eve showdown in San Diego. There's a chance that the Chargers can win the division based on a toughening schedule for the Broncos and history, but acquiring it or the wild card is a very difficult task with so many competitive teams chasing after so few spots. If only the Chargers played in the NFC West . And the pre-bye week schedule was not kind to the Bolts as only the Patriots had a tougher schedule. Indy, Cincinnati and other play off contenders have had easier schedules against less difficult teams, but you have to take what the schedule gives you. I will say that being the ‘best 5-4 team around' is nice but I'd much rather be the best team in the league period.

    Anyway time for some midseason grades on the Bolts:

    Quarterback: B+
    Drew Brees has played solid football. He's making more mistakes then last year but I think that's him cooling off. He's a consistent game manager and makes good throws more times then not. Neither of his backups has seen the field.
    Running Back: A+
    LT is making a serious case for MVP as he has been a touchdown machine scoring by running, passing and receiving. Michael Turner has provided solid relief for LT and Darren Sproles has contributed whenever he's been in.
    Receivers: B+
    McCardell has played fairly well but his production has gone down recently. Parker's numbers are down but he makes tough catches whenever he goes in. Reche has been in the doghouse and rotates between making people happy and pissed off. Antonio Gates has dropped more passes this year but still is a third down converting machine and leads the team in catches.
    Offensive Line: B
    They're hurting badly but props have to be paid to backups Leander Jordan (who shut down John Abraham almost all game and has played both tackle spots), Bob Hallen (who came off a bad Philly game and has played solid football) and Kris Dielman (who won the starting job and has been consistent all year long). Goff and Oben are playing very well and Olivea is making strides at right tackle.
    Defensive Line: B
    They're eating running backs alive and showed it by shutting down the Chiefs double RB attack. Jamal has been a force in the middle, Luis Castillo and Igor Olshansky are making strides in both run stopping and pass rushing. Backups Jacques Cesaire and Dequincy Scott are solid contributors but the Bolts must find a backup NT and have more pass rush.
    Linebackers: A
    Shawne Merriman has come on like a hurricane, making hard hits, big plays and sacking QBs everywhere. Shawn Phillips, who I have nicknamed "the Sidewinder" because he's a QB seeking missile, has been playing extremely well giving the Chargers a solid pass rush. Foley has been hampered by injuries but he should have 7 sacks, he's near missed a lot of QBs. Godfrey and Edwards have been solid in the middle and ILBs Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm have played outstanding football in their playing time. UDFA Marques Harris has also played very well including a sack on Eli Manning.
    Secondary: C+
    I do see improvement but they are allowing way too much in yards and penalties. Jammer made a game saving play against NY but still has his one-a-day penalty. Davis has made major strides in coverage and hitting but is still being burnt. Florence has been out a lot but was also getting burnt. The biggest improvement is from Jamar Fletcher who has been making big plays left and right whenever he gets in. Bwahoh Jue has nicely filled the hole that Jerry Wilson left and Terrance Kiel has played solid football, but improvement on their coverage has got to be made.
    Special Teams: C
    Darren Sproles, Nate Kaeding, Kassim Osgood and Mike Scifres are the only reason this group gets a passing grade. Sproles has almost broken five kick offs for touchdowns and is becoming an amazing force. Kaeding should be perfect minus that blocked kick and Scifres is having a pro bowl year. Osgood has been a special teams' dynamo and there is talk he could make the pro-bowl. The coverage on punts and kickoffs has been absolutely atrocious and the Special teams coach needs to be held accountable as there have been seven near touchdowns on punt/kick off returns.

    The Chargers must learn to win the close games and must learn to stay aggressive and make adjustments in the second half. The reason the Chargers have so many losses is that they got soft or conservative in the second half and let the opposing teams walk all over them. Games that we're blowouts in the first half became nail biters in the second and that can not happen to playoff teams. They have improved with wins against Kansas City, Oakland and the Jets but those games should never have been close in the first place. I don't know if it's Marty-ball or Cam Cameron or the players but the team must go for the jugular every time and beat their opponents into submission. Good teams do not let their opponents climb back into the game.

    ROOKIE REPORT
    1a. Shawne Merriman: He got into the starting lineup against Philly and has done little to relinquish that position. He's been a real spark to the Chargers pass rush and leads the team in sacks with five. While he has been stiff in coverage and has gotten out of position on a number of plays, a lot of that can be chalked up to rookie mistakes. This guy is going to be a new Junior Seau!
    1b. Luis Castillo: Also hampered by injuries early on he's now well cemented at Left Defensive End. He started on week 4 and, like Merriman, has left his competition in the dust with twenty tackles and one and a half sacks. He should have more but he was charged with ‘hitting the QB in the head' penalties' early on crucial plays but to his credit he hasn't had any since week three.
    2. Vincent Jackson: He collected his first catch against the Jets. He's been really hampered by injuries and by how raw he is so a real grade on him is unavailable.
    4. Darren Sproles: Has become the biggest spark on special teams since Ronnie Jenkins and Andre Coleman. He's come within a hair's breath of scoring on five kick off returns and his speed and elusiveness are impressive. He is fielding punts better but it is still somewhat awkward and he needs to learn to let lanes open up better, but a lot of those are rookie
    mistakes.
    5. Wesley Britt: Cut and on the Patriots practice squad
    6. Wes Sims: Signed to the regular squad after spending most of the year on the practice squad
    7. Scott Mrzucowski: Been on the team but his only claim to fame was not blocking on the field goal attempt against the Eagles.
    UDFAs:
    Cory Lekkerkerker was on the practice squad and has recently made the team. Marques Harris, an ILB from Southern Utah State, has two sacks and has given the team a great set of fresh legs. DE Derrick Robinson, who I was high on, hasn't played much and recently had a DUI conviction. CB Marcus Curry, WR Greg Camarillo and RB Ray Perkins are on the practice squad.

    Positions of Interest in the Draft:
    OT: Roman Oben was given a two year extension prior to the Chiefs game so he's a lock for a little while longer, but the team will likely add another tackle in such a tackle-heavy draft. If they go with a more left tackle (Scott, Ferguson, Coledige) then it would imply Oben moving to right tackle, not a position he's familiar with. If they pick up a right tackle (a'la Whitworth, Trueblood, McNeil) then Oben will stay at his normal position. Either way it would imply a move of Olivea to right guard and Goff moving either to the bench or being waived.
    OG/C: Depth might be needed but that depends with how confident the Chargers are in Mrzucowski and Sims.
    NT: Unless Ryon Bingham on the practice squad really improves and bulks up, look for the Chargers to add someone like Gabe Watson to give Jamal Williams
    a breather.
    CB: None of the corners have performed up to standard but I imagine this is a position to be improved in FA, not the draft.
    WR: Never hurts to add another.

    That's it folks! Half the season down, half the season to go. Here's hoping we make a great second half push and end up in the playoffs!

    10/25/05

    So we have now played three games against Pittsburgh on Monday night, at Oakland and at Philadelphia. I wish I could say that these three games has simplified my understanding of the Chargers but I swear I'm more confused now then I was last time I wrote. The team has the ability to be one of the elite teams in football, and they're performance against the Steelers, Giants, Eagles and Patriots proved it. Having said that, in a number of cases there is something that seems to cause the Chargers to not play up to their ability. They have lost four games by a combined twelve points. The defense couldn't stop Ben Rothlesburger from driving down the field one last time Monday night, they couldn't put the ball in the end zone from within the red zone against the Cowboys, had a field goal blocked at Philly (something I haven't seen from the Chargers in many years) and couldn't move the ball at all at Denver. And almost every time the Chargers come out the next game and play correctly as they did when they crushed the Raiders, Patriots and Giants. The Chargers have Dr. Jekkyl/Mr. Hyde syndrome and it's
    very annoying. No one doubts the Chargers talent and ability (besides delusional and drunk Raider/Bronco fans), but they just can't put it all together on a regular basis and if they want to go to the Super Bowl this year or next year, they need to be consistent.

    There are some big positives over the past few weeks, its not all doom and gloom. Against the Steelers and the Eagles the Chargers showed they could go toe-to-toe with the best teams in the league and play them down to the wire. There is a qualitative difference between going toe-to-toe and winning but lets not forget that this is still a young team and pre 2004 had a losing tradition. It's very difficult to go from long time losing to winning big games on a regular basis; in 2004 the Chargers had three big games (and big games have one or more of the following characteristics: games everyone is watching, games on national TV or being the featured game for the timeslot, must win games and games against top notch opponents); against Denver, at Indianapolis and the playoff Jets game. Of those three, we won one game but the other two we lost by a field goal each. In the four games we've lost, it has been by three points a game. This team is young, it is acquiring big game experience and it will pay off if not at the end of the year then next year for sure.

    Another positive is the defense; outside of the Cowboys and the Steelers early on, no team has moved against the Chargers at will. Against the Raiders and Philly the defense really stepped it up shutting down Kerry Collins and holding the great Donovan McNabb to under 300yds with little screen passes to Brian Westbrook making up the majority of his completions. Merriman has been making an impact with constant pressure, Castillo and Olshansky have stepped it up on the line and, surprisingly, Bwahoh Jue has led a renewed but banged up secondary which has been making plays everywhere. Though Sammy Davis, Drayton Florence and Jamar Fletcher are all injured, they all have made solid plays against the Eagles and Raiders. Reche Caldwell has stepped it up in the WR corps making big catches all over the place and becoming a go to guy when McCardell is covered.

    But with every positive comes a negative and in this case it's the OL. I know they're beaten up, sore and tired but they're playing horribly. Bob Hallen had an atrocious game stepping in for injured center Nick Hardwick, OG Kris Dielman has recessed in his progress, OG Mike Goff has not been playing up to his ability and the tackles have been getting beaten by blitzes and edge rushers. This is a unit with talent but they need upgrades in depth and at the tackles and should look for one, if not two, in the draft.

    The trade deadline passed by and the Chargers were players for the second year in a row. There was no big blockbuster a la acquiring Keenan McCardell but one nonchalant and one surprising move. The nonchalant move was trading OG Toniu Fonoti to the Minnesota Vikings for a conditional 6th round draft pick. I was a big Fonoti fan and was expecting him to become a dominant guard in the league. Instead he was unimpressive, got injured, and became a real annoyance to the front office. And, with the play of OG Kris Dielman, became expendable. Fonoti has a world of talent but his attitude, his constant weight problems, and lack of consistency meant he was too much trouble. The only problem with this move is at a time when most of the Chargers OL is hurting badly, trading away a guard, and a good one at that, is not the smartest move. Wes Sims has been added to the regular team with OT Ben Johnson leaving the Lions practice squad for the Chargers'. The surprising move was the acquisition of QB A.J. Feeley from the Miami Dolphins for QB Cleo Lemon and a 6th round pick. Cleo had a lot of fans amongst Charger faithful for his fantastic preseason performances and we were looking forward to seeing him become the main backup next year. A.J. Feeley, on the other hand, is a backup who couldn't pan out as a starter and drove the Dolphins out of their mind with his poor play. I don't understand why AJ would do this, but the rumor mills are going crazy. The current theory is that you acquire a veteran (albeit incompetent) backup only if your going to play a young (read Rivers) QB. I don't want to get started in this because frankly, this is speculating and guess work at best. I personally believe AJ made a major mistake acquiring a really poor backup QB for a really impressive young backup QB. I don't see how Feeley is better then Lemon; the former has more experience but since leaving Philly and Donovan McNabb he's been atrocious, and that experience is right up there with Ryan Leaf and Jeff George's experience. About the only positive from these two trades are that the Chargers acquired an extra 6th for Lemon (a UDFA) and either another 6th or a 7th for Fonoti, and AJ and Buddy Nix have a great talent for turning those late picks into great players.

    Oh and before I leave you all; Steeler fans, chill out! Castillo didn't do it intentionally. I received half a dozen hate messages calling the Chargers the next ‘Raiders'. That was not planned or wanted; Castillo is a fantastic guy and does not make cheap shots like that. And as to blaming us for your loss to Jacksonville, get over it. You played like crap and you lost, live with it.

    That's it for now Charger fans, I'll write again with a midseason report card in my next article. Don't forget to email me with comments, opinions, dirty remarks or glowing reviews. Until next time, let the thunder roll.

    10/5/05

    We're at the "¼ mark in the season and the state of the Chargers is strong. Dallas and Denver were games the Chargers should have won but did not because some part of the team fell apart. At the Giants game the Chargers finally put it all together and annihilate Eli Manning. And finally there was the Patriots game, where the Chargers were absolutely dominating. Before the Patriots game I believed the Chargers were just confusing; they had the talent and the ability but just didn't seem to have the drive and desire. Now the Chargers would now appear to be contenders; I see the first two games as a malaise that the Chargers are finally waking up from. They are entering the toughest part of the schedule as they now face Pittsburgh at home, Oakland and Philadelphia on the road, Kansas City at home and the Jets in New York before getting a bye week. This will truly test the mettle of this entire team and prove once and for all if they are for real. If they can walk into the bye week having won three of the games they would be in solid position for a late season push for the playoffs. The competition is
    fierce in the division with the Broncos improving and Kansas City staying strong. It won't be easy but I am looking forward to seeing what this team can do when pushed to the limits. On that note here are my grades and opinions from the last three weeks.

    @ Denver Broncos game (9/18/05)

    Quarterback: C-
    Only reason he gets a passing grade is for the first half

    Running Back: B
    No touches in the second half but sets an NFL record along the way

    Wide Receivers: C-
    Same as Quarterback, Gates made a few big plays

    Offensive Line: F-
    Couldn't pick up a blitz or protect Brees from the Cleveland Brown rejects

    Defensive Line: C+
    Played a solid game with good pressure and stopped the Broncos run cold

    Linebackers: B+
    One of their best games

    Secondary: B
    Even with little pressure they did a marvelous job and ran with Smith/Lelie
    all day

    Special Teams: D+
    Gave up a touchdown but got it back on stupidity. Beyond that, fine.

    Coaching: G
    Lower then an F, it was THAT bad and then some!

    Half way through the game I was drinking a beer on the couch, smiling happily as I watched the cascade of catcalls and boos rain on Jake Plummer. I basked in the glow of LT scoring twice, setting an NFL record, Brees moving the ball at will and the defense pitching a shutout. By the end of the game I was imitating John Belushi; trying to chug down a bottle of Jack Daniels, intermittently mixed with drinks of Pepto-Bismol. WHAT HAPPENED?! I've never see the Chargers try so hard to give a game away. The
    interception to Champ Bailey was bad, I admit, but the Chargers acted like it was the end of the game when it wasn't. From that point they averaged -0.5 yards a play; roll that around your brain for a little bit-. NEGATIVE HALF A YARD! They did a marvelous job for half a game then turned into the 2003 Chargers and I'm yet to understand how that happened. This was infinitely more painful then the Dallas game. Having said that, I want to give the defense a major pat on the back; they got after Jake Plummer all day, they shut down both Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell and ran with Rod Smith and Ashley Lelie. In other words, they did the job they didn't last week. They finally collapsed after shutting down the Broncos three times which is more then enough. The offense could not do anything correctly, and half the blame goes to the offenses but half the fault lies with the coaches. They did not pass the ball to LT when a simple screen pass would have deflated the blitzes that were killing Brees and the OL. I know this is Monday morning Quarterbacking but by the same token there's no other way to see it. I don't know if this was Marty, Cam Cameron or anyone else but it was infuriating and really tested my faith in the new Chargers.

    vs the New York Giants (9/25/05)

    Quarterback: A
    Brees had a marvelous game and controlled the tempo beautifully. 19-22 and two TDs.

    Running Backs: A++
    LT is a football GOD! Running, passing, catching, you can't stop him! Giants were ducking for cover as Neal went rumbling through the holes

    Wide Recievers: A
    Gates, McCardell with touchdowns, got open frequently and made tough catches. Parker had a great run on a reverse. All in all a very solid game, got a number of 1st downs.

    Offensive Line: A
    No sacks and big holes against a pretty good DL. Dielman took over for Fonoti without a hitch. Olivea limited Strahan to one tackle only.

    Defensive Line: B
    Tiki had nothing except one big run, and the line had a big 3rd & 1 stop vs Brandon Jacobs. Castillo must stop hitting QBs in the head. Jamal had pressure and Cesaire/Igor played well.

    Linebackers: B+
    Donnie was everywhere, Godfrey and Leber made big stops. Foley was a bit quiet but still had some good stops. Backup Marques Harris and Donnie with the sacks on Manning to the joys of Charger fans everywhere.

    Secondary: B-
    Had some great plays but have to catch those big interceptions (and were four opportunities). Ran with the receivers all day and minus a breakdown late in the 2nd quarter, they were solid. Reason it isn't lower is a lot can
    be attributed to no pass rush.

    Special Teams: A
    Ponder didn't score, Sproles almost did, Scifres kicked the ball only twice and Kaeding knocked in a field goal. I'm happy.

    This was beautiful. I've never walked into work the next morning with a sore throat but such a big a smile on my face. Finally the Chargers looked like they did in 2004. The play calling was beautiful, keeping the Giants on their heels with reverses, play actions and HB passes. LT had a game for the record books, totaling almost 200yds, three rushing TDs and a passing TD (his second in his career). Gates made big catches on third down with little trouble from the Giant defenders. Keenan McCardell took CBs Will Allen and Will Peterson to school picking up two receiving TDs (including the one from LT). Lorenzo Neal had a good game as well; he was literally so feared by the Giant linebackers I saw one hit the deck as Lo-Lo came running through. The offensive line finally learned to pick up a blitz giving Brees time for

    screen passes and bombs and opened massive holes for LT. Special props to OT Shane Olivea for shutting down All-Pro DE Michael Strahan and OG Kris Dielman who filled in for Toniu Fonoti's without a problem. The defense did very well despite Eli having his best game as a pro. Tiki Barber, with the
    exception of one long run, was shut down all day. The pass rush was pretty poor against a solid offensive line and it showed as Eli often had 6-8 seconds per throw. Having said that Drayton Florence had one possible interception and an INT TD taken back because of Castillo's penalty. I was still very impressed with the secondary as they were stride for stride with the receivers all day. The problem last year was that the secondary was being beaten like an egg all game and this was not the case now. Give more pass rush and I know for a fact you will see the secondary play well. The Charger fans showed up in force with anti-Eli signs, dummies dressed up as Eli and proceeded to give the little brat all kinds of hell. There were some Giant fans but they did not come in large numbers and were often drowned out
    by the Charger fans. Whenever the announcer would announce that Eli Manning was at quarterback, Eli would be drowned in chants of "Eli Sucks" and a chorus of boos. I couldn't have been prouder to be a Charger fan!

    @ New England Patriots (10/2/05)

    Quarterback: A
    Brees was more Brady then Tom was

    Running Back: A
    LT ground out tough yards against a fantastic front four and made their LBs look like rookies. Turner was marvelous in spot duty. Lorenzo Neal continues to make the big hits

    Wide Receivers: A
    Gates was a first down machine, Caldwell makes a fantastic touchdown catch. McCardell caught one ball but it was a nice touchdown and Parker made good catches and pushed hard for the first downs.

    Offensive Line: A+
    Walk into Foxboro; leave without a sack on your QB and LT with over 100yds. This line showed heart and desire. Dielman played superb all game and might have secured a starting job for him.

    Defensive Line: B
    Minus a big run they held Dillon to around 2yds/carry. Did ok pressuring Brady all game and did well swallowing up blockers.

    Linebackers: B+
    Foley was a hair away from 5 sacks in the first half, Donnie made a big interception. Leber got a sack and Wilhelm, Godfrey, Cooper and Merriman all made big contributions.

    Secondary: B-
    Jammer had his one a day penalty and the rest of the DBs were toast all first half. Second half everyone stepped up. Florence looks to be the #1 CB on the team, Jue with another pick, Hart with a touchdown. Even Sammy Davis got some pass deflections.

    Special Teams: A
    Sproles had solid returns all day, Kaeding made good kick offs and Scifres barely punted.

    WOW! What more can you say? They took down the Patriots on their home field and did it in very convincing fashion. The first half the Chargers played well against the defending champions answering them tit-for-tat on every play. The second half, the time the Patriots really get cooking, the Chargers were on fire. The Patriots only had 63 total yards of offense and three first downs in the second half; the Chargers finally figured out that the best way to beat the Patriots is to keep Brady and that potent offense off the field. And even when Brady got on the field in the second half the Chargers shut him down taking away the running game and pressuring Brady all day. Some of you out there might ask if the Chargers would have a victory if the Patriots weren't so banged up. The truth is that the Bolts walked into Foxboro expecting to match the Pats play for play and to beat them, and the Chargers did dominate in all three aspects of the game. That patent front three of the Patriots wasn't banged up, nor was their linebacking Corps. Nevertheless Brees was barely pressured and never touched by any Patriot. That is saying something. This win couldn't have been bigger for the Chargers as they show their not flukes and ride momentum into a Monday night home showdown with the Pittsburg Steelers. And the Steelers, coming off a really tough loss to the Patriots, are looking for blood.

    CHARGERS WHO HAVE IMPRESSED ME:

    1. Darren Sproles: I am eating my words as I see this guy on the field. He's almost broken four kickoff returns and he's so close to scoring you can taste it. He has given the Chargers great field position making the offense's job infinitely easier. This man will be the next Dante Hall and a real consistent X-Factor.

    2. Luis Castillo: He started two games and did so well he has pushed Olshansky out of the starting lineup. He's got good agility and quickness and is a better pass rusher then either Olshansky or Cesaire. He has to stop putting his hands on the QB's helmet but I see nothing but positive things coming from this guy.

    3. Ben Leber: Drafting Shawne Merriman must have woken something up because he's been playing very solid. He had a fantastic game against the Cowboys and has made big stops and hits at almost every game. His technique has improved in pass rushing and run stopping and might have solidified his position for the rest of the year.

    4. Drayton Florence: For two years I was told that this guy was the best CB on our team. I didn't believe it but I do now, and the Patriot game helped prove it. Drayton was breaking up passes all over the place. He has really improved his ball recognition skills and knows how to use his hands better. He still gets beaten but he has improved the most in all facets of his game.

    CHARGERS THAT HAVE INFURIATED ME

    1. Sammy Davis: Why is he playing over Jamar Fletcher? He gets toasted for a TD EVERY game, its clockwork. And then the coaching staff mans him off against good receivers like Plaxico Burress and Keyshawn Johnson and wonders why Sammy gets beat. Jamar's in the doghouse but why should that mean we give up an easy TD a game?

    2. Bwahoh Jue: He did have a solid game against Dallas, an ok one in Denver and a good one against the Patriots, but he is yet to impress me. He's out of position, has apparent difficulty covering the tight end or the running back and can't catch up when out of position. In other words, he's Jerry Wilson with a harder name to curse at. He might be better if he was more aggressive but that's a rare occurrence.

    3. Toniu Fonoti: In the first two games I didn't see anything to show he deserves a long term contract. Even before breaking his hand he wasn't pancaking people like last year. And if Kris Dielman continues to hold the LG position down well, Fonoti might be sent packing in favor of a more consistent guard.

    4. Justin Peele: As a backup to Antonio Gates he doesn't get a whole lot of time in the game but what little he has, he's been unimpressive. He doesn't get open well, he can't escape tackles and his blocking has been sub par. He has five catches for around five yards and walking into the Pats game he had
    negative yards. I suppose Peele is better then TE Ryan Krause who has yet to see the PRACTICE field all year. Heck, give Landon Trusty some time, how much worse could he be?

    COLLEGE PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

    1. D'Brickshaw Ferguson OT Virginia: I never would have added him to this list if he wasn't injured. It could be a boom though as if it's serious he could drop down the draft boards quickly. I don't like to benefit from another player's misfortune but if he is injured and drops, he could end up in the Chargers laps. And regardless of injury, he's an unbelievable tackle.

    2. Jon Scott OT Texas: I like him better then Eric Winston from Miami. Scott's pass protection is solid as is his run blocking. He would be, at this point, available late in round 1 and would be another good pickup. Davin Joseph of Oklahoma, who can play OG/OT is another intriguing option.

    3. Gabe Watson NT Michigan: We're still short a backup NT. Watson is mammoth and can easily take up 2-3 OL in a play. He can rotate in effectively with Jamal without taking time away from Castillo/Olshansky and looks to be a 2nd-3rd rounder. Halota Ngata from Oregon would be nice but he's rising really fast.

    4. Jason Allen FS Tennessee: If Jue continues to play as he is and management doesn't want to give Milligan or Hart a shot at FS, Allen is a solid DB who spent time both at FS and CB. Give him a permanent home at FS and the position should be solidified. Jimmy Williams also has talent but is more of a CB/WR then an FS.

    5. Martin Nance WR Miami (OH): We got Vincent Jackson last year but he's very raw and saw the practice field for the first time on September 28th. Nance is big and fast with good hands and comes from the MAC which produces very solid players. Since I'm dreaming I'll also mention Steve Smith who's lightning fast with good hands.

    Positions we don't need:
    CB: Baring Jammer screwing up the rest of his year, this position is set for at least one more year. We might need a nickel if this drama with Fletcher and Davis's poor play continues but not another number 1 corner.
    LB: I can't imagine getting an ILB even with Godfrey's retirement at the end of the year; Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm are both capable replacements.
    DE: Again we're overstocked here, no real point in getting more baring someone screwing up badly. NT is more important in the hear and now.

    Rumors
    I have it on a good source that the Chargers have been contacted by the Jets and the Ravens about possibly acquiring Philip Rivers. I can't give you details as to what the teams are offering and the Chargers response but Rivers is becoming a hot commodity as many supposed playoff contenders are
    faltering because of instability at the QB position. Rivers has recently complained about his lack of playing time and confidently asserted that he will start in '06 despite Brees having a very solid year. The better Brees does, the more it looks like Rivers will be sent out of town. There is, however, the possibility that the Chargers could keep both players for one more year as the Bolts are so far under the cap that its conceivable. Having said that, that seems unlikely considering how many important cogs
    the Chargers have to resign. An equally pleasant, but seemingly unlikely, scenario is that Lavar Arrington, the Redskins star LB, is at the end of his rope in Washington and the Chargers are amongst the teams he's looking at. Marty Schottenheimer was a very big Arrington fan and let him roam, much
    like Seau did in the past, and Arrington had his best year in 2001. Charger fans, myself included, are drooling about what it would mean to put Arrington in the middle (outside seems unlikely) with Donnie Edwards and let Foley and Merriman run wild on the outside. Having said that, his cap numbers plus his agents (the dreadedly annoying Poston brothers) and the price the Redskins are said to be looking for (a first rounder) might eliminate this fantasy. But, you never know, and AJ has shown that he can acquire the big names at the trading deadline (ask Keenan McCardell).

    That concludes the 4 game wrap up of the Chargers. I'll write again soon and here's hoping that the Chargers continue their winning streak. Until next time my fellow Bolt heads: LET THE THUNDER ROLL!

    9/13/05

    Hello Mr. and Mrs. Lightning Bolt and Charger fans around the world, let's light it up!

    Finally! It's time for the regular season! The preseason is over, the cream and settled at the top of the milk and the best the Chargers have are ready to defend their AFC West championship against the Chiefs, Raiders and Broncos. The Chargers have the toughest schedule of the past decade with games at Philadelphia, Washington, the Jets, Indianapolis and New England along with facing Buffalo, Pittsburgh and their perennial AFC rivals at home. This will be the litmus test if this team really is as good as we Charger fans think they are or if last year really was lucky. But this harkens back to a time when I was a young Charger fan, and a sense of worry.
    In 1994 the Chargers went to the Super Bowl but were crushed by the San Francisco 49ers. Their two playoff games were more luck then skill; Olindo Mare missed a field goal that he normally would make and Dennis Gibson knocked a Neil O'Donnel pass down in the endzone to send the Chargers to the big game. After that, GM Bobby Beathard and owner Dean Spanos decided to change the entire team because it became clear that the current Chargers couldn't compete with the big boys on a regular basis. It's debated if the Chargers could have stayed in contention, but we all know what happened; after 1995 the entire team fell apart as Beathard thought he would be a draft guru trading first round picks for second and thirds which he spent on players from universities like Smart Moss, Tahiti Tech and the perennial powerhouse Stephen F. Austin University (which produced Mikhail Ricks and Terrance "Toast" Shaw, of Chargers infamy).
    Why do I bring up history that all of us Charger fans would rather forget? Because those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it; if the Chargers can't compete with the teams on their schedule this year, then it bears questioning whether this current Chargers team is really the long term playoff contenders we hope they are. There has been no shortage of articles that gleefully mention how the Chargers were 1-5 versus playoff teams in 2004 (beating only Denver in San Diego, which I don't consider luck, but we lost to the Jets (twice at home), Denver away, Indianapolis and Atlanta). While the Chargers made all of them close contests, the fact remains we lost. That has to change because we get to face the Super Bowl & NFC Champions along with three playoff teams and a number of close contenders. We not only have to beat those teams but we can't luck out on every single game.
    We have a better all around team now then we did in 1994 in almost every area (I still like Stan Humphries, Tony Martin and John Carney, thank you very much) with more talent, skill and a better mixture of youth and veterans. I think we had a better head coach (I still love Boss Ross) but we have a better GM and scouting staff now. We thought in 1994, however, that we had finally re-achieved the dominance of the Air Coryell days. 2004's recent success harkens the same comparisons especially considering Drew Brees and Antonio Gates. All I worry about is the same thing that Charger fans have worried about for years, that we might not be as good as we think we are and that we are ready for a fall. I have the utmost faith in this team, but I know that every single Charger fan, including all of you reading this, have similar worries considering the past Decades of Decline (80s) and Disaster (late 90s).
    OK, I have gotten rid of my pessimism thankfully. Now I can be cheerful about a really great Charger team. Since my last article, Antonio Gates signed a six year deal giving him top 10 TE money (he's just under Kellen Winslow II who is fourth or fifth on the money list) and it was rumored that Gates pushed to get the deal done, not his agent. It confirms the opinion of a lot of Charger fans that Gates' agent was jerking his client around by being stalwart when Gates was willing to negotiate to stay in San Diego. To all of us Charger fans this was a huge relief that we have locked up the best Tight End in the game long term, and all my worries were proven false by AJ's Jedi powers. Is there anything that AJ does that turns out to bite him in the butt? God I hope not! I'm enjoying the ride!
    The last two preseason games went by quickly enough with a tough loss to Minnesota and a thrilling victory over the 49ers at the last minute. Both games showed that the first team offense is fired up and ready to go, but the first string defense still needs to improve their pass rush. Culpepper was able to evade pass rush, Rattay didn't feel that much at all. If the Chargers want to really thrive then I look to Igor Olshansky, Jacques Cesaire and Ben Leber to do more on their pass rush. I know a 3-4's Defensive Ends are there more to occupy blockers then get the QB, but the New England Patriots front three combined for 10.5 sacks (Seymour 5, Warren 3.5, Wilfork 2). By contrast the front three of the Chargers combined for 5.5 (Olshansky 1, Cesaire 0.5, Williams 4). Is it an unfair comparison; the champs to the Chargers? Well those comparisons should be made if we are considered to be a top 5 team. Phillips and Merriman should help provide more pass rush from the linebacker position but the defensive end position must step it up.
    The Chargers also did the mandatory cuts in their roster; for the most part they were expected but there were some big surprises. DE Adrian Dingle, the Chargers' sack leader in 2003 and a solid end, was cut due to his big salary, his injuries and because he couldn't be a 3-4 End. It was somewhat expected, he gave great years to the Chargers but just wasn't able to fit well in this new scheme. WR Malcolm Floyd, whom the coaching staff was raving about with his size and speed, was cut more due to lack of space and his inability to get on the field then anything else. T Wesley Britt, the Chargers 5th rounder this year, and T Carlos Joseph, the Chargers 7th rounder last year, were cut. Britt never seemed to pan out into what the Chargers wanted him to be, Joseph never showed anything at all, even on the practice squad. RB Ray Perkins, S Robb Butler and WR Carl Morris all played well during the preseason and looked good in camp but space limitations prevented them from being kept. More surprising were the players not cut as OT Courtney van Buren (who went on IR for the third year in a row), CB Sammy Davis, TE Ryan Krause and FS Jerry Wilson were all kept on the roster when many thought they should be cut.
    That's it for the news, and since the roster has been trimmed down to 53, I am going to go over the depth chart of the Chargers position by position.

    Depth Chart
    Starter, Primary Backup(s), Third String etc

    QB: Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Cleo Lemon

    No surprises here. Craig Ochs, a UDFA from Montana, was in camp for a little bit but was cut in the first set. Brees was never really in danger of losing his job so he remains where he was. Rivers rotated from looking good to looking like a rookie in preseason and hopefully he will get better as time goes by. Lemon was the big surprise as he rallied the Chargers over the 49ers throwing two touchdowns which were works of art to see (one was a tribute to Doug Flutie, evading three linemen to find TE Landon Trusty in the endzone, the other was a toss up to WR Ruvell Martin with less then a minute to go). This quarterback issue will be settled by the end of this year; either Brees or Rivers goes and Lemon will then assume the #2 role.

    BACKFIELD
    RB: Ladanian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, Darren Sproles
    FB: Lorenzo Neal, Andrew Pinnock

    Again no surprises; LT had one carry for 55yds and a touchdown all preseason. Michael "The Burner" Turner had the majority of reps with the first team and showed good speed and tackle breaking ability, solidifying himself as LT's primary backup. Sproles got better and showed more elusiveness in the preseason including a touchdown against the 49ers where he faked three people out of their jockstraps. Lorenzo Neal remains the primary fullback and though he showed improvement on his catching and running ability, he's primarily a sledgehammer against LBs. Pinnock had some flashes but he's the opposite of Neal; a big running back like Jerome Bettis more then a real blocking fullback. It's unknown whether Pinnock will see any real playing time this year as he spent most of the last two years on the inactive list.

    RECIEVERS
    WR: Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker, Reche Caldwell, Kassim Osgood, Vincent Jackson
    TE: Antonio Gates, Justin Peele, Ryan Krause, Landon Trusty

    The WRs are the same group from last year with the inclusion of Vincent Jackson, who has been hobbled with an Achilles Tendon problem all preseason. Though Caldwell recovered fully from his injury he remains in the slot role, though it's not fully understood why. Parker looks sharp and sure of himself catching a number of passes from Brees and getting geared up for another big season. McCardell was Brees's favorite target and provided steady, sure finale but was very unimpressive throughout the rest of it. Look for Caldwell, Osgood and Jackson (assuming he gets over this injury) to see the field quite a bit as Cam Cameron likes to rotate his receivers in and out.

    TE Antonio Gates signed a six year extension shortly after I sent in my previous article once again showing just how strong the Force is in AJ Smith. He'll be out for the Dallas game but should light it up again. Peele played well in preseason but he's primarily a blocking TE and doesn't have the best hands. He will start week 1 versus Dallas and from there he should be in a lot during twin TE sets. Ryan Krause was out all preseason with an injury; he has a lot of talent but I honestly thought he would be cut because of his injury. Landon Trusty is a second year UDFA out of Central Arkansas who spent all last year on the Cowboys' practice squad. He's HUGE (6'7 260), has great hands and great blocking ability. I'm calling it here; I think he will become the Chargers #2 TE. He has Krause's hands and Peele's blocking ability in one big package. I really like this guy as does most of the coaching staff.

    OFFENSIVE LINE
    Tackle: Roman Oben (LT), Shane Olivea (RT), Leander Jordan
    Guard: Toniu Fonoti (LG), Mike Goff (RG), Kris Dielman (LG), Scott Mrzucowski (RG)
    Center: Nick Hardwick, Bob Hallen, Scott Mrzucowski

    The starting five was set in stone and has looked outstanding in the preseason. They rolled over the Packers, Vikings and Rams starting defense. The young guys have especially improved; Hardwick got bigger and stronger handling big tackles like Jimmy Kennedy and Pat Williams without trouble, Shane Olivea looks fired up and has improved his quickness, Toniu Fonoti is smashing through DL without trouble and has reportedly been in negotiations with Aunt Jemima to sponsor his "NFL Pancake Tour 2005" (just kidding). Apparently the original backups have improved as well since Leander Jordan, Kris Dielman and Bob Hallen all beat out their younger opponents for the backup roles. OT Wesley Britt (who I was really high on) was cut and signed with the Patriots' practice squad and OG Wes Sims made it to the Chargers' practice squad. Mrzucowski has been the real surprise as the 7th rounder made the team and is secure as the backup RG. He might also break Hallen's hold on the main backup job as well.

    DEFENSIVE LINE
    End: Igor Olshansky, Jacques Cesaire, Luis Castillo, Derrick Robinson, Dave Ball
    Nose Tackle: Jamal Williams

    Igor was always guaranteed a starting job and though he did a solid job stopping the run, he did not seem to improve on his pass rushing ability. Jacques Cesaire holds onto his job more because Castillo was injured most of the preseason then that Cesaire was impressive. Castillo looked impressive against San Francisco making three big stops. Dave Ball did not have a good preseason and didn't show the pass rushing ability he was thought to bring in. Derrick Robinson is a UDFA from Iowa who made the team with a solid showing in the preseason. Jamal Williams looked dominating in the middle but his backup, Ryon Bingham, was sent to the practice squad. Unless the Chargers pick up someone, they will go into the season with Castillo and Olshansky getting reps from time to time to give Jamal a break. That is a boon to Robinson and Ball. There is also a rumor that Jacques Cesaire might get worked into the middle, but why should he be there at 295lbs?

    LINEBACKERS
    Outside LBs: Steve Foley, Ben Leber, Shaun Phillips, Marques Harris, Shawne Merriman
    Inside LBs: Randal Godfrey, Donnie Edwards, Stephen Cooper, Matt Wilhelm

    Again this was pretty well set in stone at the beginning of camp. The starting four remain the same; Steve Foley is fired up and ready to lead the team in sacks again. He looks even more aggressive and effective in pass rush then he did last year. Ben Leber returned from offseason surgery looking well but remains the same Leber, all run stopping and little to no pass rush. Shaun Phillips has looked amazing in preseason leading the team in sacks, he will fight hard for playing time and should be in on almost all passing downs. Marques Harris is another UDFA who made the team with an outstanding performance; though it remains a question how much time he'll receive with this much talent. Shawne Merriman was injured in the third game on kickoff coverage, missing the final preseason game, but he looks to get in against Dallas and showed his traditional aggressiveness all training camp. He will also fight hard to get playing time. Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey were solid in the middle as the latter begins his final season in the NFL. Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm both played well all preseason and will serve as solid backups who would start on other teams. This is, by far, the strongest part of the team.

    DEFENSIVE BACKS
    CB: Quentin Jammer, Drayton Florence, Jamar Fletcher, Sammy Davis
    FS: Jerry Wilson, Bwahoh Jue
    SS: Terrance Kiel, Clinton Hart, Hannik Milligan

    The weakest part of the team didn't appear to be much better in preseason. Quentin Jammer, I think, has turned the corner and is ready to start shutting down opposing receivers. He got burnt by Torry Holt and somewhat by Nate Burleson, still he showed better awareness and coverage skills then ever before. Drayton Florence solidified his hold on the #2 spot, fans and coaches are talking about him being the top defensive back on the team over Jammer. He's very athletic and talented but must get better and recognition and not thinking so much. Jamar Fletcher played inspired football earning the nickel job, though that's about it for his talent level. He'll never crack the starting lineup and if he does, watch out! Sammy Davis was toasted all preseason (minus a few positive plays) and drops from #2 to dime back. I don't expect him to be with the team next year. SS Terrance Kiel was not in danger of losing his job and played well, with Clinton Hart backing him up with hard hits, including one that knocked the ball from Marshall Faulk and into Drayton Florence's hands. Hannik Milligan is a special teams dynamo and will be counted on heavily with ILB Carlos Polk out for the year. Jerry Wilson apparently beat out Bwahoh Jue for the starting FS job despite looking out of position and burnt on a number of occasions. However, Jue ran with the first team in their first game. Unfortunately he didn't look any better then Wilson; Jue was out of position on a number of occasions, didn't cover well or make tackles well.

    SPECIAL TEAMS
    Kicker: Nate Kaeding
    Punter: Mike Scifres
    PR: Eric Parker
    KR: Darren Sproles

    Kaeding had a rough preseason and I'm very worried he will go through a big sophomore slump. Scifres has been kicking the living heck out of the ball all preseason and will be the next Charger punter to go to the pro bowl. Sproles has looked good on a number of kick returns almost breaking the big one three times. Parker retains his punt return duties though he's never been a real homerun threat. Sproles has been rumored to take over the PR duties as well but he never did that well in the preseason.

    WEEK 1 GRADES

    Quarterbacks: B+
    Brees played solid and did the best he could

    Running Backs: B
    LT got his touchdown for the streak, but was not a big deal

    Wide Receivers: A
    McCardell and Parker were outstanding all game

    Offensive Line: B-
    Bad run blocking, so-so pass blocking. Inability to handle big blitzes

    Defensive Line: C-
    No run stopping, little pass rush

    Linebackers: B
    Godfrey played well, Foley got a sack, Leber had his best game

    Secondary: D
    Jammer did ok as did Florence, but both were out of position many times, were burnt and didn't cover well. Jue did nothing to show why he should start.

    Special Teams: B+
    Kaeding did his job, Sproles looked outstanding, Scifres first muffed punt costs us.

    That covers it Chargers fans! It's time for the regular season and it's time to defend our crown. Hold your heads high Charger fans, sneer proudly at Raider, Bronco and Chief fans as you are no longer the bottom feeders you were most of the last decade but instead a fan of the team that kicked their AFC West's collective butts last year and will do so again. Wear those jerseys with pride and yes, you can even sing that damn disco "San Diego Super Chargers" song (just please not around me!). Until next time Charger fans, LET THE THUNDER ROLL!

    8/26/05

    Hello Mr. and Mrs. Lightning Bolt and all the Charger fans around the world
    LET'S LIGHT IT UP!

    Preseason and Training Camp have begun, thank goodness! Sure they don't mean anything at all but it's great to see real football on the field again after such a long absence. The Chargers got all their guys in, more or less, without a major problem. Darren Sproles, Luis Castillo and Vincent Jackson were all signed either on time or the day camp began and Shawne Merriman joined after a little over a week of holding out. That is fantastic news and was very well received by the Charger fateful who are used to seeing long, protracted holdouts with much needed players (Rivers, LT, Jammer). Many Charger fans here and abroad wrote me about what to expect from the Merriman
    situation and I told them get ready for a holdout that might be longer then Jammer's which lasted past the first week of the regular season. Boy I am glad to be wrong! Merriman was in camp the day after he signed and was fired up, running around the practice field with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. But in the joy of training camp and the first two preseason games there was another hold out for Charger fans to be worried about, TE Antonio Gates. Gates sat out most of training camp because he wants a new multi year deal that would have made him one of the highest paid tight ends in the game. Gates' agent did not demand as much money as Tony Gonzalez got (a major
    sticking point in negotiations) but wanted only a three year deal (something the Chargers will not accept). Ergo, they were in deadlock without an end in right to a bigger contract (he was scheduled to make $380,000 as an Exclusive Rights Free Agent) after he set records and became the main aerial weapon for Drew Brees. But the Chargers had a point; many players were one year flash-in-the-pans and they do not want to throw a lot of money into someone who has only had one good year (granted he's only a third year and that NO ONE thinks he's going to become a massive bust, and the front office admitted publicly that Gates was vastly underpaid). On top of which Gates had received a lot of public support amongst his teammates (including the
    big names, LT and Brees) and unlike Merriman, Gates was instrumental in the Bolts Cinderella season.
    The holdout came to its conclusion August 20, 2005 when Gates flew to San Diego and signed his one year $380,000 tender after the Rams game. But because it came one day after the Chargers' deadline, it look likes Gates will miss the last two preseason games and the opener against Dallas. AJ won the battle by getting the star tight end to consent to the Exclusive Rights Free Agent contract, but he might have lost the war. At the end of the season Gates will be a restricted free agent and if he is soured by this situation with management, then he could very well tell the Chargers to
    shove off and sign with another team. The Chargers would receive the maximum from Gates' new team (a first and a third rounder in the 2006 draft) but would lose their star playmaker. Also if Gates has another big year then the Chargers will have to pay him big money at the same time three other major playmakers, in Drew Brees, Reche Caldwell and Toniu Fonoti, become free agents. I think it was a dumb move by AJ to force the ultimatum on Gates, but by the end of the season we will find out whether that is true or not. If Gates remains a Charger at the start of the 2006 season, it was another brilliant AJ Jedi-mind trick move. If not, then regardless of how good a draft the Chargers has in 2006, AJ will have made the first huge mistake of his GM career, and it would be a doozy.

    Impressions from Training Camp

    • The Charger faithful deserve a lot of credit, there were always a lot of people at practices even the afternoon ones where people should be working. On the two evening practices there were well over two thousand people at EACH practice. This entire town is fired up for their lightning bolts.
    • QBs Drew Brees and Philip Rivers have looked very sharp in practice, each throwing strong spirals accurately. Brees has more velocity on his throws; he was always an accurate QB but if he learns how to throw with more power he really could be special. Rivers is looking more confident, more sure of himself and more sure of his receivers. The only bad thing is that he shaved his head which makes him look ridiculous.
    • New OL Coach Carl Mauck is the easiest person to hear on the field, maybe easier then even Coach Schottenheimer. He bellows, yells, gets in peoples' faces but the OL really seems to like the energy he brings. OT Shane Olivea looks quicker on his feet, C Nick Hardwick is a bit bigger and stronger so that he can handle the big defensive tackles easier. OG Toniu Fonoti is tossing people around like toys and is gearing up for his "Pancake Tour 2005". All three rookies (OT Britt, OG Sims and C Mruzcowski) look capable and fired up.
    • I know I bad mouthed the decision to pick RB/RS Darren Sproles when we could have used more help on the defensive side of the ball, but I might just have to eat those words. Watching him in practice I swear you couldn't catch this guy with super glue and a butterfly net. He makes cuts and swerves that not even LT can make (probably because of how small he is).
    • If there's one person I've been impressed with its WR Vincent Jackson. The second round draft pick has come a long way in a short while. In Mini Camp he dropped some easy balls in the endzone infuriating both the fans and Coach Schottenheimer. He made some drops early in the camp but since then has become much more sure handed. With his speed, separation ability and size, I am excited that the Chargers might just have found the #1 receiver they have been without since Tony Martin left. Jackson still has a lot of development left though.
    • CB Quentin Jammer has come on strong; he's breaking quicker to the ball, using his eyes and not overshooting his receiver on coverage, something that has plagued him since the beginning. He finally is playing with confidence and not thinking or playing defensively; he needs to keep that aggression because with Randy Moss jumping into the league, Jammer and the rest of the DBs better be ready. Part of that is the need for pass rush, which looks improved from last year.
    • I'm really disappointed in FS Bwahoh Jue and Clinton Hart; neither of whom have been able to break into Jerry Wilson's job. Jue was brought in specifically to compete with Wilson while Hart had made some great strides last year and Charger fans were hoping one of these two would beat out Wilson. Both have been running with the second/third teams; when you can't beat the weakest link on the Chargers secondary then I have to wonder why you should even be on this team. Both could be cut in favor of S Robb Butler and S Hannik Milligan.
    • Both OLB Shawne Merriman and DE Luis Castillo have not been that exciting on the field; Castillo was on early in the camp but has been out with foot ailments while Merriman got in late, played with energy but is still raw at the LB position.
    Impressions from Preseason game at Green Bay
    • Was it really necessary to have the ESPN commentators spend the entire game kissing up to Brett Favre and the Packer fans? You would have thought this was the Packers vs. Amsterdam Admirals instead of the AFC West Champs who had a better record then the beloved Pack. They spent a few minutes talking about LT but 95% of was Packers and Favre talk.
    • RB Michael Turner looked really impressive. He tore apart the Packers front on 8 carries for 70yds, many of them coming from huge holes opened up by the OL which manhandled the Packers. More running like that and Turner will secure the main backup job.
    • Game ball goes ILB Matt Wilhelm. I was unsure about his future with the Chargers but he played well in the season finale against the Chiefs and was a one man wrecking crew. 8 tackles, 2 forced fumbles replacing Donnie Edwards, he earned a lot of respect and props from Charger fans.
    • Rivers had his jitters early on but made a great read and pass to WR Willie Quinnie when the Packers brought a blitz. His completions were very smooth but he needs to scan the field better; most of his passes were to RB Darren Sproles.
    • The second and third string defenses deserve a lot of respect. They forced the Packers offense into 3 & outs as well as coming up with two turnovers to give Cleo Lemon and Nate Kaeding excellent field position. It was only after the third missed field goal that they finally caved, but frankly they never should have been in that position.
    • What can you say about Nate Kaeding? 3 misses in the 40+ yard range. Yes its preseason, yes the conditions stunk but that really doesn't matter. Kaeding came from Iowa, he played in places with horrid weather and he was expected to, and made, many of those kicks. The defense gave him three tries and he missed all three times. That's completely unacceptable. It might be preseason but this is a dangerous harbinger considering how the Chargers saw their season end. He better fix whatever the heck is wrong with him and fast before Charger fans get really honked off.
    • I was impressed watching OT Wesley Britt at left tackle, he played very well and provided Cleo Lemon with adequate time to make his throws most of the time. There is talk he could be moved to left tackle once Roman Oben leaves the team and he certainly has the skills. Now he must get better and stay healthy.

    Impressions from game vs. St. Louis

    • Boy it was nice to see LT run on one carry for 55yds and a Touchdown. Props to OG Mike Goff and FB Lorenzo Neal who opened that big hole for LT.
    • RB Michael Turner was impressive again including a sweet 55yd run. He has pretty well secured the backup running back job. RB Darren Sproles showed more elusiveness both on special teams and in the running game, shaking off tackles, spinning away from defenders and showing good speed. FB Andrew Pinnock showed some decent ability as well plowing through the line and getting a touchdown.
    • I loved the energy showed by OLB Shawne Merriman making plays, hitting people hard and just flying around the field. I think he'll make a fantastic wingman for Steve Foley (who had a sack and some pressures) flying around nailing people. But do not count out OLB Shaun Phillips who picked up a sack and provided constant pressure.
    • Game Ball: DE Derrick Robinson. The UDFA broke through the Rams' OL at the
    beginning of the third quarter to score a safety on RB Arlen Harris. A UDFA running through the line to get a safety gets you a game ball from me.
    • K Nate Kaeding looked good today nailing two field goals from 35 and 40 yds respectively, after an 0-3 performance in Green Bay. Charger fans were on their feet cheering and chanting for Kaeding when he was out to kick his first. He might be suffering from California syndrome where he sucks in any other type of weather except warm and perfect.
    • Bad part of the game: CB Quentin Jammer and the second string DL. Jammer was beaten by Torry Holt on a bomb from Marc Bulger to bring the Rams within three late in the second quarter. I know we are talking about one of the top three receivers in the game and on a play with sub standard pass rush, but if Jammer is to truly be a top tier CB then he needs to stop guys like Holt. The second string DL which played most of the second quarter was completely ineffective at either run stopping or pass rushing. I don't expect the second string guys to be the Steel Curtain but at the very least they could do a much better job then they did.
    • Some more well deserved props to the rest of the Charger fateful who sold out the first home game at Qualcomm Stadium, tailgating, chanting, cheering and having a great time rooting for the Bolts. Here's hoping that every home game is like that.
    • Nothing to report on the WRs in this game; Parker and McCardell had some good catches, Caldwell did well minus one fumble, but even that took a fortuitous bounce into the hands of TE Landon Trusty. The backups didn't make much of an impact as QB Phillip Rivers still hasn't learnt to scan the field well.
    • QB Drew Brees, on the other hand, was solid. His first six passes were completions and he got the Chargers out of "½ of the 3rd downs the Chargers ended up in. He has looked outstanding in the preseason and baring an injury, I can't see how Rivers will take over the starting job from Brees.
    • The first string OL had another solid game as they opened holes for Turner and LT and gave Brees ample time to throw the ball. This group is really coming together nicely.

    That will do it for me Charger fans. Next time out I will have more impressions and will go over the Chargers roster which should be cut down to the final 53. I want to ask all of you out there in cyber space to email me if you have any complaints, questions, accusations or praise. Until then; LET THE THUNDER ROLL!

    7/14/05

    Hello Mr. and Mrs. Charger and all the fans around the world, let's light it up!
    I hate this time of year; the draft's over, training camp is yet to begin and there is little going on in the football world right now. With our beloved Chargers, for whom this off season has been quieter then usual, the malaise has thoroughly engulfed Southern California (but then again that might have something to do with the nice weather too). There is very little to report except that no progress has been made in the Shawne Merriman situation, the bottom three Charger draft picks (OT Wesley Britt, OG Wes Sims and OG/C Scott Mruczkowski) all signed three year contracts and a new extension was given to NT Jamal Williams. I'll go into depth on those a little later but right now, I have to pick a fight for the honor of the lightning bolts, and I get to do it with my boss.

    Matt Miller's recent NFL Preseason Power Rankings have the Broncos at 24, the Chargers at 13, the Chiefs at 11 and the Raiders at 4. Huh? You might be thinking such, as did I when I saw the rankings. I do not deny that the chiefs have improved their team dramatically with the addition of LBs Derrick Johnson and Kendrick Bell and DBs Sammy Knight and Patrick Surtain, but their DL is still in question as is the general health of that defense. Their defensive starts are often on the injured reserve, as was the case last year, and their line has not shown the ability to get to the Quarterback or effectively stop the run. On top of which they all have to meld well with Coordinator Günter Cunningham's schemes and well as become a cohesive unit, not things that can happen over night. They've got the best OL in the game, they have two fantastic Running Backs and one of the best Tight Ends ever, but they have no receivers. They were so desperate that they had to pick up Freddie Mitchell from the Eagles who is known for ONE catch and his big mouth then his talents. The abovementioned players might help but until they do, the Chiefs are a big question mark which makes me wonder why they are ranked so high?

    That leaves the biggest offense to my honor and that is the Raiders at #4. Since when are the Raiders are not only better then the Chargers but the Steelers, the Colts, the Ravens AND the Falcons? Yes Moss is an amazing talent and yes when combined with WR Jerry Porter and a QB who can throw great deep balls they will score points. However, that defense is still very suspect with a number of old players occupying key spots as well as the trade of their two best defenders in LB Napoleon Harris and CB Phillip Buchannon. Their top LB is Danny Clark who is young and mostly unproven. The rest are not that impressive. Their top CB is Charles Woodson who, like most of the team, is old, cranky and slow. The rest are young, unproven and, in some cases, untalented. The DL is filled with old guys long past their prime (Sapp, Washington) and young guys who can't play (Tyler Brayton). As the Colts and the old Chiefs have shown, you can't win if you score 30 points and let your opponents score 35; ‘if the Raiders hold their opponents to under 30 points'? They will be lucky to hold their opponents under 40, and the Patriots, the Chargers and other teams will tear their suspect defense to pieces.
    OK, enough ranting, onto the news. Top draft pick Shawne Merriman did not participate in any team meetings or any of the mini camp, but did attend the recent rookie symposium. Merriman and his agents, the Poston brothers, insist that the Chargers will not sufficiently pay Merriman if he received an injury before he received a contract. There also has been a rumor that Kevin Poston is demanding a better deal then the #11 (Demarcus Ware of the Cowboys) or #10 (Mike Williams of the Lions) draft picks. This is standard operation procedure for the Postons who are known for getting large contracts from teams desperate to have their pick in training camp. Examples of such include Kellen Winslow II, Charles Rodgers, Lavar Arrington (who is a mentor to Merriman) and Orlando Pace (who was smart and fired them). This, however, is not the standard situation the Poston brothers are used to, as the Chargers are not desperate to get Merriman into camp. It would be very nice if Merriman would show up the first day and turn over a new leaf, but AJ Smith has shown he will not be jerked around by agents' demands. If AJ did not cave into Phillip Rivers last year, when the whole world was screaming for him to get their future QB into camp, what gives Merriman or the Postons the idea that AJ will cave to them? Negotiations have begun between the two sides, but Charger fans better get ready for a long contract struggle similar to what happened with Quentin Jammer three years ago. On the flip side, OG Wes Sims, OT Wesley Britt and C Scott Mruczkowski have all signed three year deals for the standard lower draft pick amount. Sims and Mruczkowski will have to fight against Bob Hallen, David Brandt and Kris Dielman to earn their spots, Britt has been rumored to receive practice time at both left and right tackles. All three have earned praise from Marty at mini camp.

    The only other news is the five year extension worth $27.5 million given to NT Jamal Williams on May 26th. Big Jamal had another healthy year (his second in a row) and became one of the premier nose tackles in the game, constantly collapsing the pocket and routinely eating up two-three linemen per down. In 2004 he collected 32 tackles and 4 sacks, which made him one of the top 5 paid DTs in the game today. And he will only get better with DL Luis Castillo and NT Ryon Bingham giving Jamal a much needed break from time to time. AJ has locked up another key Charger for the rest of his career, showing that if you play hard for him, you'll get your just rewards.

    Reports are that AJ is still trying to get an extension done with OLB Ben Leber; such is curious because with the selection of Merriman you would imagine Leber would be out the door. He's a top notch run stuffer but doesn't have much in the way of pass rushing moves, which would suggest, as some rumors have, that the Chargers want to move him to ILB in the future to replace ILB Randall Godfrey who has publicly stated that 2005 will be his last year. It is unknown where that would leave ILB Stephen Cooper whom the staff and fans are very high on. OG Toniu Fonoti looks like he'll have to prove himself one more time to get that big contract he wants. Rumor mill is that extension talks between AJ and Fonoti's agent have slowed down a great deal. TE Antonio Gates will have to do likewise as AJ appears to be satisfied letting the best TE in the game play for $380,000. Of course if Gates has another BIG year, he could very well break the bank. Other news is that WR Reche Caldwell and ILB Donnie Edwards are chomping at the bit to get contract extensions of their own. The problem with that is twofold; 1. AJ has given extensions to a number of players (3; McCardell, Foley & Williams) as well as signing Brees to a franchise tag. With the number of FAs next year (Caldwell will be one, Edwards has two years left), AJ wants to keep some money in the bank for the next season, which is also the reason AJ didn't go crazy buying up FAs. 2. Edwards is 32, and will probably be on the downside of his career either this or next year. Caldwell has yet to have a really good season to warrant a contract extension. Those are important aspects of any contract negotiations.
    Well that will wrap it up for this column. Next time around I'll have a report from training camp on the movers, shakers, surprises and disappointments. Until then, Let the Thunder Roll!

    5/10/05

    Hello Mr. and Mrs. Lightning Bolt and all the Chargers around the world, let's LIGHT IT UP DRAFT STYLE!

    Well the draft has come and gone. I must admit I was a bit surprised that there was almost no trading, no wheeling-and-dealing and that the number of surprises were far less when compared to last years. Maybe that was because this year's had less 'can't miss prospects' and no damn babies when compared to Eli Manning's whining and crying. I was watching the draft at a party at the Hall of Champions in San Diego and along with a couple dozen other screaming crazy Charger fans, we saw the team get better. I don't believe this was the best draft we have ever had but AJ Smith did indeed repair many of the holes on this team. Before we get into the picks I need to get some things off my chest about the draft:

    I know the 15 minute time limit makes rational sense but when it takes 1hr to get through 4 picks and 7 hrs to get through the first damn round, there's got to be a bit of a change! I love watching the draft but sometimes I feel like I'm chewing on nails waiting for the next pick.
    Damn you Matt Millen! I had my heart set on Mike Williams and you really didn't need him! I thought as soon as CB Carlos Rodgers went to Washington that Mike Williams was ours. That was logical; and then all logic got blown apart with Williams going to Detroit. That was one of the top three dumb moves during this draft.
    The other two? Matt Jones to Jacksonville (he's a great pick but that was way too early and the biggest boom/bust pick in the draft) and Maurice Clarett to Denver (Shanahan believes his own propaganda) with dishonorable mention to Doug Jolley to the Jets (that's worth a first rounder??) and Lofa Tatupu to Seattle (you see that's why you guys never make it far in the playoffs!)
    I don't understand why Khalif Barnes, when he shot through the boards so fast so soon, ended up dropping to the middle of the second round. Truth, I had wanted the Chargers to grab him instead of Castillo but that's good too.
    The Broncos had a so-so draft overstocked on DBs (understandable but not needed when you import the entire Browns DL to your team), the Raiders added DBs with two big reaches and some decent pick ups in Walter, Morrison (as a San Diegan, damn you Al Davis) and Hawthorne. The Chiefs had one of the best drafts and combined with the FA pick ups of Surtain, Knight and Bell, will be a very difficult test for the Chargers.

    OK now that I feel lighter having removed that from my chest, let's talk picks!

    Round 1, Pick #12: Shawne Merriman OLB Maryland
    I admit I did not really study Merriman because I thought he was going before the Chargers were even picking. On draft day I figured he would have gone to the Browns #3 (they needed defense), to the Vikings #7 (though that was a dark horse with Williams/Williamson on the board) and the Lions #10 (it was neck and neck with him and LB Derrick Johnson). When OLB Demarcus Ware went ahead of him I was quite astonished and it was to the benefit of the Chargers. AJ Smith, using one of his Jedi Mind tricks that he's known for (just ask the Giants) said he went to bed dreaming of Steve Foley on one side and Shawne Merriman on the other, and lo and behold it has occurred. Merriman is a perfect example of an AJ player, he's hungry, tough, nasty and is a real man. He's a pass rushing demon on the OLB side and he's faster then Foley which means he could be very useful dropping back into coverage, and he's a force against the run. IN other words, he's the total LB package and once he drops some weight from 270 to around 250 he'll be a force. My concern with him is not his ability but his new agent. As of May 5th he had hired the Poston brothers as his agents (and they have a knack for infuriating teams with their heavy handedness) which they did immediately by demanding a change in the Injury Protection Clause in any contract and will sit out the mini camps and training camp. All this before even the earliest contract negotiations happen. (http://www.chargers.com/news/headline_detail.cfm?news_key=2152) This will be his loss as it allows Ben Leber and Shawn Phillips to take over at the other OLB and could seriously hurt his chances to start.

    Round 1, Pick #26: Luis Castillo DE Northwestern
    Well I was right on this pick but at the wrong time. I was a bit surprised he came at this time; I figured he would drop much further into maybe the second round. He's a fantastic player, no question, he's got a motor that never quits, plays hard and is a good pass rusher and a solid run blocker. He will play DE but could also spell Jamal Williams at NT from time to time (and might serve as a good replacement should Jamal leave in FA next year) and there's no question that he will be a fantastic teammate with Igor Olshansky; heck they should be great opponents in the weight room as both were #2 in total bench presses at their respect combines. Now there was plenty of controversy with him because he tested positive for steroids at the combine, and he took the honorable step of writing a letter to all 32 teams. AJ and Buddy Nix (head of Scouting) said they looked at that and thought it was a one time occurrence and know he won't do that again. Castillo has even pledged that if he ever tests positive again he will return his signing bonus and has agreed to a number of random tests for a number of years. Now the media has screamed that this was rewarding a steroid user but I don't put Castillo in this category, I think he made an honest mistake and unlike Barry Bonds or Bill Romanowski or any number of steroid users, he admitted his mistake, he's atoned for it and has made a number of pledges to ensure he never does such again. He's what you want to see in a steroid user and I think this will never bother him again, especially when he's tearing people apart on the line.

    Round 2, Pick #61: Vincent Jackson WR Northern Colorado
    When we didn't get Mike Williams I thought there was a chance that Vincent Jackson would be our pick. I admit I was looking for AJ to select OT Adam Terry who I was a fan of but this is not a bad pick at all. I especially was intrigued about him when I had overheard that the Broncos fans were screaming bloody murder at the Chargers picking Jackson up. He's 6'5 241lbs and runs a 4.55; in other words he's bigger and faster then Mike Williams and has more experience having played all four years. He was dominating in Division 1-AA and returned punts as well. He's a pure nightmare to match up against when most DBs are either under or slightly above 6'0, and Jackson has decent enough speed to be a deep threat. While many people saw Jackson as possibly moving to TE or H-Back, with Antonio Gates and Ryan Krause (a big WR converted to a TE last year) I don't imagine he'll go that route. Jackson could be a great running mate with McCardell and Caldwell (could be a future #2 or even #1). Only problem with this pick is that this was not as big of a need as, say, Offensive Tackle and now with Osgood, Parker, Caldwell, McCardell and Floyd (who's 6'6 and a number of coaches raving about him) the Chargers are overloaded in WR.

    Round 3 Keenan McCardell WR
    This wasn't really a pick but the third rounder the Chargers had went to acquiring him. He was a stabilizing factor on the Chargers with 31 receptions for 393 yds and two touchdowns (including a beauty against the Jets in the playoffs). He earned a small extension as a reward and he will be infinitely more dangerous with Caldwell returning. Combining those two plus LT plus Antonio Gates on the same field will scare other teams stupid. The Chargers could go supersonic this year and leave Air Coryell in the dust.

    Round 4, Pick #130: Darren Sproles RB Kansas State
    I admit I was infuriated when I heard this was the pick. I was screaming "What were the Chargers thinking especially with DE Chris Canty on the board?! We have three great RBs already and now Sproles too???" Well it has been explained what the purpose of Sproles will be, and I'll be totally honest I'm still not very happy with this pick. Sproles was a threat at K-State where he rushed for 1,318 yds and 11 touchdowns despite his small size (5'6 181lbs). With the Chargers already having two great backup RBs in Jesse Chatman (who really came into his own last year) and Michael "The Burner" Turner (who played well in limited time), Sproles will become the KR/PR, which was indeed a need when AJ missed out on CB Allen Rossum from the Falcons. The last time the Chargers spent a fourth rounder on a return specialist it was Andre Coleman who became a force on KR/PR including a kick return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXIX. I'm still suspicious as to how well he will handle punishment on special teams and returning kicks/punts but I hope he proves me wrong.

    Round 5, Pick #164: Wesley Britt OT Alabama
    GOOD pick, I was hoping for this one and AJ got himself a player. He is getting over a leg injury and needs to get stronger in the weight room, but he is a tough physical player who is a dominating run blocker. He needs to work on his pass protection as well, and as such he might be better suited as a right tackle instead of a left tackle, but with enough practice, he could very well be a left tackle, which was his position in college. He was originally graded as a Day 1 and slightly over-rated but he's a steal at this position and he will be a better backup tackle then current backup Leander Jordan.

    Round 6, Pick #177: Wes Sims OL Oklahoma
    There seems to be a pattern with the last three picks, adding depth and toughness to the line. Last year the Chargers went through the year will almost all their starters playing all the year (Hardwick played 14/16 games, which was impressive). Anyone who knows anything about football, especially Charger football, knows that isn't going to happen again. Over the last two years the Charges have started and ended the year with COMPLETELY different lines, so depth is a good thing. Sims was a left tackle at Oklahoma and overshadowed by Jamaal Brown but he's a very good player in his own right. He's tough, intelligent and a great run blocker but he has lead feet and such will require that he moves inside to guard. He is not super athletic instead winning a lot of battles with his head over his strength. He is good depth over Bob Hallen and Kris Dielman and could very well replace Toniu Fonoti if he decides to leave in FA.

    Round 7, Pick #242: Scott Mruczkowski C Bowling Green
    Ben Wilkerson of LSU, the third rated center on the boards, was still on the board so it's a bit surprising that Mruczkowski was picked instead. Again he's a smart tough player with a team first attitude (which could explain why he was picked over Wilkerson) and is one of the best prospects at the center position. He is an average athlete with heavy feet (Sims and he have possibly THE heaviest feet I've ever seen) and needs to learn to move better. He's a good 7th round pick and has a chance to unseat David Brandt as the backup center.

    UDFAs
    The Chargers signed 19 UDFAs, unfortunately they did not get any of the big names. Nevertheless there are some intriguing players. DT Derrick Robinson of Iowa is a tweener who is very strong and could be a good back up DE. OT Cory Lekkerkerker of UC Davis is more polished then his brother and while a project he's a great player all around. FB Matthew Tant of Vanderbilt is similar in many ways to FB Lorenzo Neal and he could be the future replacement as FB Andrew Pinnock has been very disappointing. FS Jason Leach (who is, I think the most impressive of the UDFAs) is a safety tweener and is very well known for his hitting ability and can scare the daylights out of many receivers coming over the middle. Some people are comparing him to late round Charger pick Rodney Harrison but a lot of them, including myself, saw similar in SS Hannik Milligan who has been a Special Teams Ace but hasn't played enough.

    GRADE: B+
    The Chargers added great depth to their OL and improved the pass rush with Merriman and Castillo. Merriman has to get into camp and Castillo must put the past behind him. Jackson is a boom bust pick who needs to get up to speed with the NFL and Sproles is a huge risk but both could have enormous payoffs. I would have preferred some more DL picks but this was a good pick and definitely one of the top 6 draft picks.

    Until we speak again, my fellow Charger fans, LET THE THUNDER ROLL!
     

Share This Page