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Inside Slant - 01/16/09

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Jan 16, 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="inside-copy"><a href="http://i1.chargers.com/assets/178/33103_600w600h.jpg"><img class="alignright" title="Chargers Helmet" src="http://i1.chargers.com/assets/178/33103_600w600h.jpg" alt="" width="269" height="175" /></a>With the Chargers heading into an offseason of uncertainty on numerous fronts, something has been determined: The coaching staff will be shaken up.</div>
    <p class="inside-copy">Coach Norv Turner's job is safe, which is saying something in light of a .500 record. While the Chargers defeated but one playoff team in the 2008 season, it came in the wild-card playoff game. That win over the Colts solidified what was already going to happen - there will be no change at the top of the coaching ladder.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">But the Chargers could soon be in the market for their third defensive coordinator in two years. Ron Rivera, who took over for Ted Cottrell at midseason, is interviewing for the Lions' head-coaching vacancy. If he is hired there - or elsewhere - the Chargers will again have a new defensive man at the helm.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Some assistants have already been shown the door.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Secondary coaches Bill Bradley and Kevin Ross were kicked to the curb after the Chargers had trouble defending the pass all season - they ended with the NFL's No. 31 rating.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Also, tight ends coach Clancy Barone and offensive line coach Jack Henry were canned.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Might one of the greatest Chargers ever follow them out the door?</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">There is increasingly chatter that the Chargers are considering not bringing back LaDainian Tomlinson. The 2006 MVP has not been able to finish the last two seasons because of injuries. When the Chargers have needed him most, Tomlinson has been idle.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The Chargers, certainly, aren't tipping their hand - or maybe they are. General manager A.J. Smith won't return calls when seeking his feelings about Tomlinson's future in San Diego.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">By not saying anything, it's obvious the Chargers are at least considering cutting, or trading, the future first-ballot Hall of Famer.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">It's also obvious the Chargers have ditched their run-first, physical approach that was a staple under old coach Marty Schottenheimer when Tomlinson was in his prime. Instead the Chargers can be categorized as a finesse team, wanting to beat teams with the arm of Philip Rivers instead of a ground attack led by the likes of Tomlinson.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Tomlinson will soon be 30, which is entering old man territory in the world of NFL backs. But in the regular-season finale against the Broncos, Tomlinson was running with ease. He had finally shook the toe injury that derailed the first half of his season and looked as if he could carry the Chargers deep into the playoffs.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">But he suffered a torn groin muscle against the Broncos, ran but five times in the win over the Colts, then didn't go in the season-ending loss to the Steelers.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">That loss illustrated the Chargers' weakness - can't run the ball, can't stop the run or the pass.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Do the Chargers get better without Tomlinson, putting that $8 million or so in cap room elsewhere? Do they bring back Darren Sproles, and if so, can he fill the role as an every-down back?</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">That's among the glaring questions facing the Chargers as they head into the offseason. It's one in which the organization can be proud it rallied from a 4-8 deficit to win its third straight AFC West title.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">But really, this Chargers' season fell flat on its face. Instead of building on reaching the AFC title game last season, the Chargers had the fortune to play in the dreadful AFC West and be the benefactor of a historic collapse by the Broncos.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The Chargers were sold as an elite team, not one which would have to win its final four games to reach .500. Since the season started until it ended, the Chargers were over .500 but once on the heels of the overtime win against the Colts.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">While this season is history, it's also worth nothing this age of successful Chargers football will be remembered more for what it didn't produce - a Super Bowl appearance - than what it did: three straight postseasons of reaching at least the second round.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Sure, there were mitigating circumstances with Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman missing all but one game, Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates' injuries, and so on. But those are just excuses, and any NFL team can trot out a long list of them.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Simply, the Chargers were either oversold or underachieved - a 9-9 overall record is hardly cause for a celebration. Now it opens the door on an offseason in which its most celebrated player, Tomlinson, may be told he's no longer welcome.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-RB LaDainian Tomlinson has three years remaining on his contract. But where he'll play next season isn't a sure thing. What is is that he won't ask for a trade. "To me that wouldn't be ideal," he said. "I'm not going to play many more years so I would love to finish my career here the short time that I have. I wouldn't envision going anywhere else, but again I don't think a person can really ask to be traded or to be put in another situation when you feel like you don't have much time yet. It wouldn't make sense to get acclimated to another team when you have been on this team for eight years now."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-In a vote among Chargers, QB Philip Rivers and DT Jamal Williams were named the team's co-Most Valuable Players. Rivers was also the Offensive Player of the Year; Williams the top defender and lineman. RB/KR Darren Sproles took the special teams honor and CB Quentin Jammer was named the most inspirational.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers' soon-to-be unrestricted free agents are RG Mike Goff, DE Igor Olshansky, OLs Jeremy Newberry and Kynan Forney, OLB Marques Harris and RB Darren Sproles. Olshansky was grumbling after the season that he wasn't used properly. Olshansky, a former second-round pick, isn't expected back. Same goes for Goff.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The Chargers look to 2009 and hope to figure out why they consistently get off to slow starts, requiring a big push at the end to make the playoffs. "The last two years, September didn't go the way we'd hoped," s Eric Weddle said. "Doing it this way is tiring. We've got to be a complete team from day one next year."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-ILB Stephen Cooper would have mixed emotions if the Chargers lost defensive coordinator Ron Rivera to one of the head-coaching vacancies around the league. "Guys would be sad but it's part of the business," he said. "Guys come and go, whether it's players or coaches. If it does happen, more power to him. He deserves a head-coaching job. He's a great coach and a great person."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers have the 16th overall selection in next spring's draft.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-QB Philip Rivers' offseason plans? "A whole lot of nothing," he said. "The first couple days are tough because you've been in such a routine and such a focus for ... 20 weeks now. All of the sudden it's over. It'll settle in and you kind of get away from it a little bit and then you gear up and go at it again."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "You are never surprised about anything. That is just something that goes along with the territory and the business we're in and something everyone must deal with." - LB LaDainian Tomlinson, on if he would be surprised if the Chargers don't bring him back.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">In addition to the mystery of LaDainian Tomlinson's return, the Chargers must decide what to do with Darren Sproles.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">For the second straight offseason, a Charger fresh on the market appears to be one of the real key players of free agency. This year, it's Sproles, whose value skyrocketed when he filled in for Tomlinson this season. Last year, Michael Turner was the one seeking an opportunity and he paid off in a big way for his new team, the Falcons.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Sproles is undersized, but you can't argue with his production as a back and returner. But do the Chargers want to entrust their running game to a 5-foot-6, 181-pound back? That's among the big personnel questions looking to be addressed.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">QUARTERBACK: Starter - Philip Rivers. Backups - Billy Volek, Charlie Whitehurst.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Rivers' third season as a starter resulted in a third AFC West title and he produced numbers not seen in San Diego since Dan Fouts was taking snaps. Rivers led the NFL with a 105.5 rating and broke Fouts' team mark with 34 touchdowns passes. Rivers is benefiting from being the trigger man in a pass-first offense. Don't expect any changes with the backups, as the club is satisfied with Volek and Whitehurst being ready.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">RUNNING BACKS: Starters - LaDainian Tomlinson, Jacob Hester. Backups - Darren Sproles, Mike Tolbert, Michael Bennett, Billy Latsko.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Tomlinson rushed for the fewest yards of his remarkable career (1,110) while battling toe and groin injuries. He also fell victim to some shoddy run blocking. Hester was in over his head in many pass protections and he was no Lorenzo Neal - few are - on the lead blocks on running plays. Sproles was stellar, rushing for more than 100 yards in two of the final three games - including once in the playoffs. Bennett could be more than a backup next year, depending on what the team does with Tomlinson and Sproles.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Antonio Gates. Backups - Brandon Manumaleuna, Kris Wilson. Injured reserve - Scott Chandler.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Gates didn't get right until about midseason, coming off a serious toe injury. He turned in another solid year and should be only better next season - if his sprained ankle and sore Achilles get right over the offseason. Manumaleuna is asked to block in this offense, and he does his job well. Wilson was a standout on special teams. Chandler's foot injury is healing sufficiently.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson. Backups - Malcom Floyd, Legede Naanee, Kassim Osgood. Injured reserve - Craig Davis.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Chambers' numbers were down; an ankle injury at near midseason played a part of that. But it was obvious Jackson became the go-to guy out wide in becoming the first Chargers wideout to reach 1,000 yards since Curtis Conway in 2001. Floyd continues to rise in the eyes of the coaches; a collapsed lung cost him the last month. Naanee is getting more looks; Osgood is anchored to the special teams. Davis should be fit for '09 after suffering a groin injury.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Marcus McNeill, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Mike Goff, RT Jeromey Clary. Backups - L.J. Shelton, Corey Clark, Jeremy Newberry, Scott Mruczkowski.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">This unit was as inconsistent as any other on the team. McNeill and Hardwick started the season hurt, which didn't help. But the line never got comfortable for extended periods of time in run-blocking. Maybe that was the pass-first mentality filtering down; for the most part the pass-protection was spot-on. Goff will likely leave as a free agent and the team could look to upgrade Clary's right tackle spot.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - E Igor Olshansky, NT Jamal Williams, E Luis Castillo. Backups - Ryon Bingham, Jacques Cesaire, Ian Scott.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The play here was lacking at times, although it's tough to tell with these guys forming the anchor of the 3-4. What's more telling is the outside linebackers weren't able to get to the quarterback as often as liked, which tells you the line wasn't blowing its blocker well enough to allow it. That said, Williams had another Pro Bowl-worthy year in the middle and likely has at least one more year remaining. Olshansky and Castillo would disappear for long stretches during games; Olshansky is likely going to be allowed to leave as a free agent. The team is fine with Bingham and Cesaire as backups; they saw regular action in the rotation. Keith Grennan (knee) finished the year on IR, but should be ready for camp.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Stephen Cooper, ILB Tim Dobbins, OLB Jyles Tucker. Backups - Marques Harris, Anthony Waters, Matt Wilhelm, Brandon Siler. Injured reserve - Shawne Merriman.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">This unit, as did the entire defense, missed the production and energy from Merriman. Merriman played all but one game before bowing out for knee surgery; he's on track to be ready for training camp. Phillips' production suffered, but he did finish as the team's leading sacker with 7.5 sacks. Tucker added 5.5, but wasn't seen as a threat from opposing offenses. Cooper had a solid year and was the team's leading tackler. Dobbins pushed Wilhelm - his stock has fallen greatly - from the starting lineup.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - CB Quentin Jammer, CB Antonio Cromartie, S Steve Gregory, S Eric Weddle. Backups - Antoine Cason, Cletis Gordon, Clinton Hart, Paul Oliver.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Jammer had a good year in run-support and was the team's best cover corner as well. Cromartie fell off his first year as a starter when he led the league with 10 interceptions; he had two in '08. Cromartie said he played the year with a fractured hip and next year he will be better. Gregory supplanted Hart from the starting lineup down the stretch and was OK; Hart may not be back. Weddle, in his first year as a starter, was often out of position in the game's biggest plays. He should be improved next year, although questions remain about his size.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">SPECIAL TEAMS: KR/PR Darren Sproles, K Nate Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, LS David Binn.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Sproles was sensational this season, consistently giving the offense great field position with his returns. Kaeding had a decent year, although a groin injury cost him some distance down the stretch. Scifres was robbed of a Pro Bowl selection as his length and placement took a backseat to no one. Binn, who has played more games than any other Charger, should return for his 16th season.</p>

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