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Inside Slant - 01/24/08

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Jan 24, 2008.

  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>
    <p class="inside-copy"><img src="http://www.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20080124/images/sports-joiner.jpg" alt="The Chargers name Charlie Joiner as receivers coach, replacing one Hall of Famer with another." align="right" height="192" width="243" /> Before the Chargers could start massaging their roster in the offseason they kicked two assistant coaches to the curb.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Wide receivers coach James Lofton and running backs coach Matt Simon were fired with a year left on their contracts by head coach Norv Turner.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Lofton, whose 16-year playing career landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, had been with the Chargers six seasons and was popular among the players.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "I was stunned by the news," Lofton said after meeting with Turner. "Just days removed from playing in the AFC Championship Game and the guys at my position played well the second half of the season and down the stretch. It's disappointing, very disappointing.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "(Turner) said he wanted to go in a different direction. It's his prerogative. I believed he feels like he's doing what's possibly best for the team."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Turner wasn't available for comment, but Wednesday the team brought back Charlie Joiner, whose coaching career began with the Chargers as receivers coach.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers head into the offseason after their most successful season since 1994. They won their first playoff game since that season and advanced to only their fourth AFC Championship Game in team history. That they fell to the undefeated Patriots didn't go down easy, but the sadness was lessened to a degree in that they played the Pats tough despite a gimpy Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, and LaDainian Tomlinson not seeing the field after aggravating a knee injury in the opening series.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> So the season was an uplifting and that is saying something after the way it started.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The team took its time getting used to and buying into what Turner was selling. The Chargers lost three of their first four games and sat no better than at .500 with six games to play.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But the Chargers took a Tomlinson meeting to heart midway through the year and got hot toward the end, steaming into the playoffs and being able to beat the Titans at home then upset the defending world champion Colts at Indianapolis.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> So this team grew by leaps and bounds and that is even more impressive considering the upheaval at the coaching level and how the team stumbled from the gate.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The thinking is the Chargers are going to be one of those teams that is a perennial playoff team - as long as Tomlinson stays healthy anyway - and that one of these years it will break through to make its second Super Bowl.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "We know we are a great team," defensive end Luis Castillo said. "And we will do some great things in the future."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> If so, maybe the recent past will be looked back on as a turning point. Some key Chargers showed their grit by playing in New England and the Chargers felt like they delivered their supreme effort.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "We went out and gave everything we got," linebacker Shawn Merriman said. "We put everything on the line and we fell short."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But the upside for this squad remains big.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-QB Philip Rivers had his torn ACL repaired with a surgery on Wednesday and will soon embark on a rehabilitation process which figures to take four-six months. "I'm not looking forward to the rehab necessarily," Rivers said before the operation." You look back at the guys who have gone through the same thing, Carson Palmer being the most recent. He came back even better. I don't have any doubt that I'll be good to go when the season rolls around."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers filled one coaching vacancy when bringing back former Chargers WR Charlie Joiner to replace the first James Lofton. "Charlie brings to our staff 21 years of NFL coaching experience, 18 years of Hall of Fame playing experience and, maybe most important, vast experience with our offensive system," Turner said. "That combination is rare and we're fortunate that Charlie was available."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The team voted these players for their club awards: Tomlinson MVP and offensive player of the year; CB Antonio Cromartie (defense), Kassim Osgood (special teams), Kris Dielman (lineman), Philip Rivers (inspirational) and Carlos Polk (inspirational).</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Some Chargers fans were still wondering why Norv Turner ordered a punt when down by two scores with about 9 minutes left at the Pats 36. "Fourth and 10? Because, again, as I said, they had a pressure package, they came off the edge, they got us on third and 10, we made the decision with nine minutes -- we had the ball against Tennessee (during the regular season) down 14 points with 10 minutes and scored twice."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Rivers said there was no moral victory playing the undefeated Pats tough. Even without the services of the Tomlinson for the majority of the game.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "I don't think it makes you feel any better or worse either way," he said.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers figure to be a player in the free-agent market, just not a big player. GM A.J. Smith has proved every offseason that he prefers to address team needs through the draft.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers have but one first-day draft pick this year - their No. 1 pick - after peddling the second-rounder for WR Chris Chambers and the third-rounder in the package to obtain S Eric Weddle last year. They could be awarded a third- or fourth-round compensatory pick for losing LB Donnie Edwards in free agency during the '07 offseason.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Golfer Phil Mickelson echoed many other Chargers fans at the Buick Invitational when he said about the season his favorite team just completed: "I think they had a good year," Mickelson said. "If they would have scored in the red zone, they could have won that game. But I really thought they had a good year."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "L.T. is a competitor and if there was any way he could've been out there with us, he would have been. For anybody to criticize him is disappointing to hear." - LT Marcus McNeill on people questioning Tomlinson toughness for not playing more in the AFC title game.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers' medical staff got a jump on the offseason with Philip River having his torn ACL in his right knee repaired just three days after guiding the Chargers in the AFC Championship Game loss to the Patriots.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Rivers' injury - and the estimated six-month rehabilitation time - might have them give backup Billy Volek another look.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Volek, though, is heading off into free agency and would no doubt like to see if he can land a starting job - with a starter's salary - somewhere. But the Chargers are keeping that door open with Volek. They will let him test the market and see what's out there and at what price.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers are hoping to avoid surgeries to LaDainian Tomlinson and his sprained MCL in his left knee and defensive tackle Jamal Williams, who had a chronic high ankle sprain for nearly all the season. The early thinking is both injuries will heal themselves with offseason rest.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers also need to hire a new assistant to replace Matt Simon (running backs). Indications were that Turner was going to move quickly in filling Simon's spot.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">&nbsp;</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 had a bit of a sophomore slump early in the year but really came on toward the season's end and especially during the playoffs. He also grew as a leader when playing with two bum knees. Question here is if Whitehurst is ready to assume the backup role in this third year as Volek is expected to flee as a free agent. Whitehurst has the confidence of the organization; that said, they could bring in a veteran backup.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB LaDainian Tomlinson, FB Lorenzo Neal. Backups - RB Michael Turner, RB Darren Sproles, FB Andrew Pinnock. Injured reserve - Tyronne Gross, Germaine Race.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Tomlinson didn't quite have the same year he did the previous season when he was named the MVP. Still, he had a fabulous year in leading the NFL in rushing (1,472 yards and 15 TDs) for the second straight year and remains the heart and soul of this team. He took some hits for not playing in the AFC title game after aggravating a sprained MCL and that is frankly hogwash. Tomlinson has proven his durability by playing through other injuries but he just didn't have a burst against the Pats. Neal had another Pro Bowl season but missed the last month with a broken leg; at 37, the Chargers could let him go and turn the job over to Pinnock. Turner is about to flee as a free agent and Sproles is seen more as a third-down specialist. So the Chargers could draft or acquire a backup to play behind Tomlinson.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> TIGHT END: Starter - Antonio Gates. Backups - Brandon Manumaleuna, Scott Chandler.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Gates continues to prove he's among the best in the game at his position as he again led the Chargers in touchdown receptions (nine) while catching a team-best 75 passes for 984 yards. He suffered a dislocated toe in the opening playoff game that restricted him to four catches in the next postseason contests. Manumaleuna is a blocker first and foremost and does a good job in the role when the Chargers are in two tight end sets. Chandler never did see the field but the Chargers aren't down on him.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson. Backups - Craig Davis, Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee, Kassim Osgood. Injured reserve - Eric Parker.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Chambers came at a steep price - a second-round pick to Miami - in a midseason trade but he was what was needed to stretch defenses and open up running room for Tomlinson and the intermediate routes for Gates. Chambers was stellar during the playoffs and ended up - when including his Miami totals - with 66 catches for 970 yards and four touchdowns, just missing the second 1,000-yard season of his career. Jackson blossomed this season, especially late when he had some clutch catches in the playoffs. He seems to have turned the corner with better consistency and running routes with more precision. Davis was OK, but needs to show more toughness. Floyd's time has come and gone and he might not be back next year. Naanee is coming on fast and should continue to see the field more next year, especially with the creative Norv Turner orchestrating plays for him. Osgood remains a special-teams demon. Parker might have to fight for playing time when he returns next year.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Marcus McNeill, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Mike Goff, RT Jeromey Clary. Backups - T Shane Olivea, G Scott Mruczkowski, C Cory Withrow.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Among the Chargers' troubles early in the year was the spotty play of the front five. But as the season progressed - especially when Hardwick returned after missing four games with a foot injury - this unit played as well as any other. McNeill, though, had some struggles in pass protection against the elite pass rushers. Dielman had a Pro Bowl year and Hardwick was a steadying force when he returned. Goff was solid, not spectacular and Clary did well in filling in for Olivea after he lost his starting job. Withrow was decent when filling in for Hardwick although there was a considerable drop off.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - DLE Igor Olshansky, DT Jamal Williams, DRE Luis Castillo. Backups - DE Jacques Cesaire, DT Brandon McKinney, DT/DE Ryon Bingham.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Williams was a force in the middle, the reason why the linebackers - especially the inside guys - enjoyed such success. But Williams is wearing down and probably has but a couple more years left at the most. Castillo had another good year, but again, it was interrupted by injury. Still, he is good against the run and the pass. Olshansky is a run-stuffer by trade but found himself on the field more on passing downs and collected 3.5 sacks. Cesaire (2.5 sacks) has proven his worth as a backup the past two years when Castillo has been sidelined. Bingham and McKinney saw more time this year with Williams fighting hip and ankle injuries, although it's unlikely either is the answer as a starter once Williams steps aside.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Shawne Merriman, ILB Stephen Cooper, ILB Matt Wilhelm, OLB Shaun Phillips. Backups - OLB Marques Harris, OLB Jyles Tucker, ILB Anthony Waters, ILB Tim Dobbins, ILB Brandon Siler. Injured reserve - ILB Carlos Polk.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Merriman and Phillips were solid; Merriman is headed to another Pro Bowl. Merriman led the team with 12.5 sacks and supplied the energy which his teammates fed off of. Phillips is underrated as he again was a force with 8.5 sacks. Cooper is the first guy not named Donnie Edwards to lead the team in tackles in the past six seasons - he had 109. Wilhelm started slow because of a calf injury but came on strong and was second on the team with 97 tackles. The inside pair played well considering it was the first year for both as starters. Dobbins' stock might have went down a tad as he was exposed somewhat when filling in for Wilhelm early in the year. The team remains high on Waters and Siler. Also keep an eye on Tucker who had 3.5 sacks in limited play.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - RCB Antonio Cromartie, LCB Quentin Jammer, SS Clinton Hart, FS Marlon McCree. Backups - CB Drayton Florence, CB Cletis Gordon, CG Steve Gregory, CB Paul Oliver, S Eric Weddle.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Cromartie was sensational as he started the year as a nickel back and finished the year as a starter and leading the NFL with 10 interceptions. His athletic skills are such he might someday get a look on offense - he's that good. Jammer had but one interception but he was a force in run defense and possibly had the best year of his career. McCree probably has played his last game with the Chargers as Weddle is set to take over a starting role. Hart had a career year with 82 tackles and five interceptions. Florence is gone as a free agent, so Gordon or Gregory will get the first crack at his nickel spot.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nate Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, KOR Darren Sproles, PR Darren Sproles.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Kaeding gave the Chargers all the offense they could muster in the loss to the Patriots when he was good on all four field-goal attempts. He was solid all year, although his kickoffs were short in the last game as he tried to kick through a leg injury. Scifres averaged 46.1 yards a kick and consistency pinned teams back deep in their own territory which helped the defense greatly. Sproles, at one point, was a long shot to make the roster in camp. But he solidified his spot on the roster for the future with a great year as a returner as he brought back a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in the regular-season win over the Colts. He averaged 27.2 yards on kickoffs and 9.5 on punts.</p>

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