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Chargers Team Report - 07/24/09

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Jul 24, 2009.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/home.htm" target="_blank">USA Today</a>

    <div class="alignright"><a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_qjCoAi_O8oE/ScnQYlPTsCI/AAAAAAAAA7o/8JrCMjhlZMA/s320/chargers_offensive_line.jpg"><img title="L.T. and the O-line" src="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_qjCoAi_O8oE/ScnQYlPTsCI/AAAAAAAAA7o/8JrCMjhlZMA/s320/chargers_offensive_line.jpg" alt="L.T. and the O-line" width="207" height="161" /></a></div>

    The Chargers' offensive line heard the talk. And it can't wait for its detractors to chow on crow this season.</div>
    Much was made of running back LaDainian Tomlinson's least productive year last season. Much was made about the inconsistent play from the five big bodies in front of him.

    Both, some speculated, didn't have a great year.

    "Everyone wants to compare us to 2006," said Pro Bowl left guard Kris Dielman. "That is setting the bar pretty high."

    Those were the salad days of Tomlinson and his offensive line. Tomlinson was the NFL's MVP when cranking out 31 touchdowns - 28 on the ground - and the front line was considered among the most effective in the league.

    But things changed last year - some of it the line's doing, some not.

    "In '06, everything set up right," Dielman said.

    But that was under an ex-coach in Marty Schottenheimer who embraced the run like few others. It also was a season in which the Chargers rolled to a 14-2 record and were well in front in many of those games, content to kill the clock by killing rivals on the ground.

    Last year saw coach Norv Turner continue to put his fingerprints on the offense, which meant throwing more than running; can't fault the results as Philip Rivers threw for a franchise record 34 touchdowns with a league-leading 105.5 rating.

    And the Chargers, 4-8 at one point in 2008, where forced to rally in numerous games by heaving the ball.

    Different times, different results.

    But this year is going to be different.

    "We're two months ahead of schedule," Dielman said.

    Although training camp doesn't start until next week, Dielman points to the offseason workouts.

    This time last year Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill was nursing a sore neck and center Nick Hardwick had a tender foot.

    Now both are fit and ready to hit the ground running when the curtain lifts on camp.

    Tomlinson? Be wary of a future Hall of Famer eager to show there is plenty of tread on his tires - even at the ripe old age of 30.

    "Believe me, there is not a question in my mind he could do what he did in '06," Dielman said. "I hope people got to sleep on him this year because he will embarrass them."

    But while McNeill and Hardwick are a go to open holes for Tomlinson, the situation on the right side is a work in progress.

    The Chargers decided not to pursue Mike Goff, letting the savvy veteran flee as a free agent to AFC West-foe Kansas City. Instead they will turn to Kynan Forney, who didn't take a snap last year, or Louis Vasquez, who was blocking the Texas Tech's spread offense last year.

    "We'll get it figured out," Dielman said.

    And when they do, watch out.

    "We're all pumped and can't wait to get started," Hardwick said.

    In part, to erase a season in which Tomlinson rushed for 1,110 yards and the team collected 13 rushing touchdowns - or just two more than their opponents.

    "Everyone points to 2006," Dielman said. "But that was like the year Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs. It's hard to duplicate a year like that."

    <strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong>

    -Like on the offensive side, the defense enters training camp with pretty much a clean bill of health - as long as OLB Shawne Merriman's rebuilt knee responds well to workouts.

    Luis Castillo is no doctor, but he said players have embraced this offseason differently because they were able to train instead of rehab.

    "I think you look around this team and there are a lot of guys that feel that way," Castillo said. "That's why we're motivated. That's why we can't wait to kick this thing off. To be able to have a healthy offseason where the core of our guys are healthy, have been able to train, have been able to work and provide the leadership even in the offseason, it's all going to translate to more and more wins and better things for this team."

    Castillo's belief rings true.

    Williams, the massive anchor of this 3-4 scheme, is barking that his usually ailing knees aren't barking after some offseason clean-up surgeries.

    Merriman, while he didn't participate in the team workouts, is running with the trainers and appears set for camp.

    Safety Clinton Hart had his season derailed last year with a broken hand and a neck injury. He's prime to get going.

    And cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who said he played with a fracture in his hip last season, is working at 100 percent.

    If all those pieces fall the right way, Castillo and crew could be on their way to a deep playoff run.

    -For each rushing touchdown the Chargers score this season, each member of the offensive line will donate $100 to the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation. Money raised through the charity pays for college educations for kids losing a parent in the line of duty.

    "We hope Chargers fans will make pledges, too," LG Kris Dielman said. "Everything and anything is appreciated and it goes to a great cause." Those interested in making pledges can go to mclefsandiego.org.

    -The Chargers open on "Monday Night Football" at Oakland and will be in their 1963 powder blue jerseys. The team will also break out the classic look Week 6 against Denver. When visiting the Chiefs in Week 7, the Chargers will be in their old road white outfits.

    -The Chargers' training camp, which gets underway on Monday, will have a different feel. No fans will be allowed to be on hand, as a water main break during the offseason has deemed the area where the grandstands sit unsafe. The team will have three public workouts in August at Qualcomm Stadium.

    -No word on if the Chargers and QB Philip Rivers have begun preliminary talks on a contract extension. Rivers' current pact runs out at year's end.

    -C Nick Hardwick said the number of players staying in San Diego and working at the facility during the offseason was impressive. "This is the most guys I've seen around in the weight room and working out," he said.

    <strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "It's obvious (LaDainian) Tomlinson can be as productive as he ever has been." - Pro Bowl LG Kris Dielman on what he expects out of the running back after watching the offseason workouts.

    <strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong>


    QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Philip Rivers. Backups - Billy Volek, Charlie Whitehurst.

    Coach Norv Turner has the luxury of having one of the top NFL quarterbacks run his varied offense in Rivers. Entering his fourth year as a starter, Rivers is coming off the best season of his career when he set team records for touchdown passes (34) and quarterback rating (105.5). Rivers' uncanny accuracy gives Turner the confidence to put the ball in Rivers' hands no matter the situation. Volek supplies what every NFL team wants - a backup with starting experience. The team remains high on Whitehurst, but it's obvious his big chance will likely come with another team down the road.

    RUNNING BACKS: Starter - RB LaDainian Tomlinson. Backups - RB Darren Sproles, RB/FB Jacob Hester, FB Mike Tolbert, RB Michael Bennett.

    Tomlinson returns, eager to prove he has plenty left in his tank after producing a career-low 1,110 rushing yards and having turned 30 in the offseason. But Tomlinson will get plenty of help with Sproles, the electric back who's speed makes him a threat to score a touchdown every time he touches the ball; look for him being involved in more than third-down packages. Hester needs to rebound from a so-so rookie year when he seemed overwhelmed at times. Tolbert needs to show something in camp to earn a roster spot; Bennett is an insurance policy.

    TIGHT ENDS: Starters - Antonio Gates, Brandon Manumaleuna. Backup - Kris Wilson.

    Gates continues to be among the top players at his position in the NFL. He will also be playing for a new contract, which will give him even more motivation. More important is that his toe injury is behind him and he seems primed for a big season. Manumaleuna, although possessing soft hands, is asked to block in this scheme. But don't go to sleep on him, especially in the red zone.

    WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson. Backups - Malcom Floyd, Craig Davis, Legedu Naanee, Kassim Osgood.

    Jackson replaced Chambers last year as the Chargers' No. 1 wideout and he responded with a 1,000-yard season. With his size and speed, Jackson could be ready to have his name mentioned among the game's brightest emerging wide outs. But he has had some issues off the field and is being watched closely by GM A.J. Smith as he decides whether he can count on Jackson to be a consistent contributor. Chambers seemed to disappear during long stretches last year and he was also slowed by an ankle injury; he's fit and ready to produce. Floyd gives Rivers a familiar target and a solid one of the red zone. Davis, a former first-round pick, needs to prove he can stay out of the trainer's room or his time may be up in San Diego. The versatile Naanee, surprisingly, has a hard time getting on the field. Osgood contributes on special teams and isn't in the receivers mix.

    OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Marcus McNeill, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Kynan Forney, RT Jeromey Clary. Backups - LT L.J. Shelton, LT Corey Clark, C/RG Scott Mruczkowski, RG Louis Vasquez, RT Corey Clark.

    This unit needs to bounce back from a less-than-stellar showing in 2008, especially when it comes to run-blocking. The group is feeling confident with McNeill back from a neck injury and Hardwick another camp removed from his foot injury which kept him from working last summer. The key is the right tackle spot, where Forney or Vasquez will be asked to replace veteran Mike Goff.

    DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LE Ryon Bingham, DT Jamal Williams, RE Luis Castillo. Backups - LE Jacques Cesaire, DT Vaughn Martin, DT Ian Scott.

    Bingham is being asked to replace Igor Olshansky, as he exited for Dallas as a free agent. Bingham has played well in spurts, but most prove he can do it as a starter. Williams returns for his 12th year and - his knees willing - remains the key force in the 3-4 alignment. Castillo was decent last year and not much more - he certainly didn't play to the rich contract he was given about a year ago as he had no sacks and was neutralized too often on running plays. The key here is Williams, as his play sets the tone and sends ballcarriers into the direction of eager linebackers.

    LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Stephen Cooper, ILB Tim Dobbins, OLB Shawne Merriman. Backups - OLB Larry English, ILB Matt Wilhelm, ILB Kevin Burnett, OLB Jyles Tucker, OLB Antwan Applewhite.

    How Merriman comes back from a serious knee injury will be watched closely in camp. His presence - if healthy - gives the entire unit a significant boost. Merriman will command offensive coordinator's attention, which will give Phillips and English, a rookie, more room to roam and create havoc. The inside linebackers are led by Cooper, who led the team in tackles last year despite being suspended for four games. Wilhelm needs a solid camp or he could be sent out the door. The team is hopeful Burnett, a rare free agent signed by the Chargers, can push Wilhelm.

    DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Quentin Jammer, RCB Antonio Cromartie, SS Clinton Hart, FS Eric Weddle. Backups - CB Cletis Gordon, CB Antoine Cason, CB Brandon Hughes, SS Steve Gregory, SS Kevin Ellison, FS Paul Oliver.

    Cromartie was a huge disappointment last year, one year removed from leading the NFL with 10 interceptions. He claims to be slowed by a fractured hip, and the team has its fingers crossed that is the case. If Cromartie, who had two picks last year, falters, the Chargers will insert Cason - he had a solid rookie year as a nickel back. Jammer seldom gets beat deep and is a steady in his run-support. Hart has to prove he is healthy and can play at the level the Chargers expected when naming him the opening day starter last year. If not, Gregory and Ellison, a rookie, will get a long look. Weddle is undersized at free safety and doesn't deliver the big hits which can cause fear for opposing pass-catchers. But he is usually around the ball, although he has a knack for being in the wrong position at critical junctures in a game.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nate Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, KR/PR Darren Sproles, LS David Binn, KR/PR Cletis Gordon, Antonio Cromartie.

    Kaeding is making his mark as one of the NFL's most accurate field-goal kickers; his distance on kickoffs continues to be an issue. Scifres set a team mark last year with his net yardage allowed and was sensational in the playoff game against the Colts when all six of his punts landed inside the Indy 20-yard line. Sproles has proven with his speed that he can be a weapon returning kicks and punts. If Sproles gets dinged, look for Gordon or Cromartie to replace him.

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