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Inside Slant - 09/03/07

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Sep 4, 2007.

  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://i1.chargers.com/assets/189/34428_600w600h.jpg" title="Chargers.com Photo" alt="Chargers.com Photo" align="right" height="196" width="304" /> The Chargers entered camp confident and assured they had one of the NFL's most talented rosters.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Still, they had questions - most of which revolved around the coaching staff.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Norv Turner took over for Marty Schottenheimer as head coach. The coordinators were fresh, with Clarence Shelmon taking the offensive reins from Cam Cameron; Ted Cottrell replaced Wade Phillips on defense.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But by all accounts, the transition has been as smooth as a LaDainian Tomlinson touchdown run or a Philip Rivers touchdown pass.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "I can already tell," Rivers said, looking toward the regular season, 'it's going to be fun."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Last season ended with a big bummer when the Chargers squandered their top seed in the AFC and a fourth-quarter lead to the Patriots in the playoffs. That ultimately forced Schottenheimer out the door and a coaching staff that had more changes than the roster.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But in the name of continuity, little has changed with the Chargers, who are gunning for their third AFC West title in four years.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Turner? There's no doubt he's in tune with the offense as he installed it as the team's offensive coordinator in 2001.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Shelmon? He's been directing the Chargers' bread and butter - Tomlinson - as the team's running backs coach since 2002.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Cottrell? He runs the 3-4 system that Phillips employed; Cottrell was Phillips' defensive coordinator when Phillip was the head coach in Buffalo.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> So while there are fresh faces roaming the sidelines, there's no need for name tags with the players.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The team that last year led the league in scoring and in collecting sacks, returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The starting wide receivers were among the few question marks on offense. To date, Vincent Jackson looks like a No. 1 wideout and rookie Craig Davis seems primed to stretch the field.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Inside linebackers Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm, and strong safety Clinton Hart are new. While Wilhelm has been slowed by a calf injury, the defense looks as strong as ever.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> But this season - unlike few others in the Chargers' star-crossed history - will be determined by how the team does in the playoffs. The Chargers brass has made it clear going 0-2 in the playoffs since 2004 is unacceptable.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> The Chargers seem primed to make it to only their second Super Bowl.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "Having just about everybody back and with the additions we've made. We know what the expectations are," said Rivers, a Pro Bowl selection last year in his first season as a starter. "There hasn't been a whole lot of dialogue in the locker room about what we expect and what we've got to do and all that rah-rah (stuff) because we know how disappointed we were last year and what we should have done."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> It was a tough lesson to absorb and one that should deliver dividends this season. The Chargers are not only talented and young, but hungry as well. Unless the team suffers a devastating injury - i.e. losing Tomlinson - there's no reason that the Chargers don't go deep in the playoffs.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> "Now it's a matter of getting back at it," Rivers said, "to get it done."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> COACHING: Norv Turner, 10th year, 1st with Chargers (58-82-1)</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> REMEMBERING: 2006 record: 14-2 (1st in AFC West); lost in divisional game to Patriots, 24-21.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> PREDICTING: 2007 regular season record: 10-6 (1st in AFC Central); lose in AFC title game.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-DE Igor Olshansky (groin) was set to play in the preseason finale against San Francisco. Olshansky missed Saturday's game at Arizona because of an ailment suffered July 28, the first day of training camp. "It held me back from practicing and playing in a couple preseason games, definitely," Olshansky said. "It's a pain injury, one of those things you would rather not go through but you do. So you just have to make the best of it and stay on top of your rehab and make sure you're healthy enough to be out there so you can last instead of just being out there and not really being productive and end up hurting yourself and taking a big step back."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Some Chargers detractors point to the lack of a bona fide wide receiver as a clear-cut target. But Vincent Jackson, the top wideout, said that is far from the truth. "There's no doubt in our minds and inside our building as far as that part of the game," Jackson said. "People are going to question it because you have standout players at just about every other offensive position. But we've got guys that can be consistent and make plays and do what we need to go down the field."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-As expected, RB LaDainian Tomlinson will go through the preseason without a carry or even suiting up.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-RB Darren Sproles was once a longshot to make the team. No more, after an impressive summer that included two touchdowns. "I would say Darren has a chance to help us win football games this year," said coach Norv Turner, all but confirming Sproles has a spot.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-CB Quentin Jammer, who had a team-high four interceptions last year, isn't worried about the defense's back end. It has looked mediocre during the preseason. "That's because everything we play in the preseason is vanilla defense, it's basic defense," Jammer said. "We haven't thrown anything in there that's real tricky. We're just in basic coverages."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Pro Bowl K Nate Kaeding was pleased to kick at least one game-winner in the preseason. It came in Game 3 in Arizona. "It's as much a mental game for me at this point as it is physical," he said. "You have to really practice the mental side of preparing for a kick like that and just go out and knock it through."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>BY THE NUMBERS:</strong> 13 - Number of NFL records Tomlinson set last year in his MVP season.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "It's good to get the bad apples out of the bucket now before we get the season going." - SS Clinton Hart, on the secondary's numerous miscues during the preseason.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Notable among the Chargers' final cuts were a trio of veterans: FS Bhawoh Jue, OT Cory Lekkerkerker and DE Derreck Robinson.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-It looks like ILB Matt Wilhelm will get some action in the final preseason game, which is good news for the Chargers. On a team with few questions, the jury is still out on Wilhelm and if he can replace Donnie Edwards.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Wilhelm hurt his calf early in camp and missed the first three preseason games. While he was out, Tim Dobbins, a second-year pro with a nasty streak, showed well. This guy can hit and get to the ball and his stock rose during the time Wilhelm was down.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> There is also some concern with Michael Turner's sprained ankle, which will keep him out of the final preseason game. That, though, worked in favor of Darren Sproles - many thought he wouldn't make the team.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Sproles, honestly, made the team because of his dynamite potential returning kicks. But don't be surprised if offensive guru Norv Turner doesn't figure out some ways to get the shifty Sproles into the regular offense, especially on third downs.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> PLAYER TO WATCH: ILB Stephen Cooper - Never heard of him? You're not alone. But he figures to get plenty of attention when the Chargers' season starts. Cooper is an undrafted free agent out of Maine, entering his fifth season. Cooper is being asked to stand out to rival running games, as much of the defensive flow is pointed in his direction. Cooper already has opened some eyes when he had 11 tackles in one half of a preseason game. But on a defense led by Pro Bowlers Shawne Merriman and Jamal Williams, it's hard for a guy like Cooper to snag a headline. That might change as this unknown player has patiently waited his chance, been a stud on special teams and now is primed to make a name for himself.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">&nbsp;</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> DRAFT PICKS TO STICK:</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Rd. 1/30, WR Craig Davis, LSU - Looks to be the starter opposite Vincent Jackson. The Chargers hope he's the guy to stretch the field and gobble up yards after the catch.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Rd. 2/37, S Eric Weddle, Utah - Pushed Clinton Hart for a starting job and just fell short. But he will see action in the dime package and special teams.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Rd.3/96, LB Anthony Waters, Clemson - Team loves his potential, but has trouble avoiding knee injuries. Slated for special teams this year.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Rd. 4/129, TE Scott Chandler, Iowa - Will likely make the team, which is saying something on a squad loaded with top-notch tight ends.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Rd. 5/172, FB/WR Legedu Naanee, Boise State - Coach Norv Turner is lining this guy up all over the field. Team loves his versatility and he will stick.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Rd. 7/240, ILB Brandon Siler - Had a so-so start at camp then came on very strong. He may be added to the practice squad - but if so, another team could scoop him up.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">&nbsp;</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Philip Rivers. Backups - Billy Volek, Charlie Whitehurst.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Rivers is playing with more confidence and panache than last season, and that's saying something considering he earned Pro Bowl honors. But he gained a huge dose of confidence after directing the team to a 14-2 regular-season mark. His accuracy is right on, as always, and he has some receivers more able to stretch the field this year in Vincent Jackson and Craig Davis. The Chargers are also in good hands considering Volek has started and won in this league - not many backups can say that. Team still high on the upside of Whitehurst.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB LaDainian Tomlinson, FB Lorenzo Neal. Backups - RB Michael Turner, RB Darren Sproles, FB Andrew Pinnock, FB/WR Legedu Naanee</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Tomlinson didn't break a sweat in the preseason games or get a single carry. Big deal - he did the same thing last year and turned in a season for the ages. Tomlinson should benefit as well with Turner calling the plays, as the offensive guru is regarded as a quarterback's best friend but is also a strong believer in the running game. Neal is fantastic, despite entering his 15th season.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Antonio Gates. Backups - Brandon Manumaleuna, Scott Chandler.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Gates is the best at what he does - there's no other way to put it. And in Manumaleuna, the team might have one of the game's best blocking tight ends as well. Gates and Tomlinson continue to work off each other, opening up room for the other.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Vincent Jackson, Craig Davis. Backups - Eric Parker, Malcom Floyd, Kassim Osgood.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Jackson hears the questions about the team not having a bona fide No. 1 wide out and he is bent on proving he can fill the role. He's looked every bit like a No. 1 wide receiver in the summer with three touchdown catches. Davis missed a game because of a dental problem, but still seems to have the inside track of starting opposite Jackson. Parker could miss the first month of the season after undergoing toe surgery early in camp. Floyd, at 6-5, is a dynamite target in the red zone. Parker will likely miss the first month with a toe injury.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Marcus McNeill, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Mike Goff, RT Shane Olivea. Backups - LT Roman Oben, LG Scott Mruczkowski, C Cory Withrow, RG Scott Mruczkowski.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> For the first time since Tomlinson started carrying the ball for the Chargers in 2001, he has the same offensive line blocking for him as he did the previous year. This is a talented unit that is long on young talent in McNeill (a Pro Bowler as a rookie last year), Dielman (a possible Pro Bowler this year) and Hardwick (a Pro Bowler last year). Goff keeps them in line with a veteran presence and Olivea isn't one to back down.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Luis Castillo, DT Jamal Williams, RE Igor Olshansky. Backups - DE Jacques Cesaire, DT, Ryon Bingham, DT Brandon McKinney.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Williams has been called by veteran defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell as the best nose tackle he has ever coached. He is on pace for another Pro Bowl season. Castillo could be the next Chargers defensive player to break out, as the ankle injury that hampered him so much last year - and he still had seven sacks - is history. Olshansky, though, enters the season without much of a camp or preseason as a groin injury basically wiped away his summer. There is good depth here.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Stephen Cooper, ILB Matt Wilhelm, OLB Shawne Merriman. Backups - OLB Marques Harris, ILB Tim Dobbins, ILB Anthony Waters, ILB Brandon Siler, OLB Carlos Polk.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Merriman is promising to be more reserved this year, shelving his look-at-me, Lights Out dance. We'll see. But he was quiet in the preseason, working more on dropping into coverages instead of blitzing the quarterbacks - of course, the defense was very vanilla during the summer. Phillips could have a Pro Bowl season - he is that quick off the line and effective in reaching the pocket. Still, there are some question marks on the inside. Cooper and Wilhelm are both first-time starters entering a season. Cooper looked pretty good in the preseason, including an 11-tackle outing in one half. But a calf injury robbed Wilhelm of valuable practice time and game action. In his absence, Dobbins opened some eyes and it wouldn't be a shock if he steals the job from Wilhelm at some point.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Quentin Jammer, RCB Drayton Florence, SS Clinton Hart, FS Marlon McCree. Backups - LCB Cletis Gordon, RCB Drayton Florence. SS Eric Weddle, LCB Steven Gregory, RCB Paul Oliver.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Jammer is coming off the best year of his career and Florence is in a walk-year: He'll likely leave as a free agent after the season. Hart is a first-time starter heading into a season and he had to hold off a spirited challenge by Weddle, the versatile rookie. McCree will again be asked to get everyone line up and in the right spot - among his attributes are his communication skills. Cromartie never mounted a strong challenge to Florence, but he'll see plenty of action in the nickel package.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Nate Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, KOR Michael Turner, PR Darren Sproles, LS David Binn.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> Kaeding enters the season with confidence after kicking four field goals in the next-to-last preseason game - including the game-winner. Scifres is one of the AFC's best and he is now working in directional punting to go with his consistent hang time. Turner gives a big boost to the return game; a foot injury in the preseason needs to be watched. Sproles was all but a dead man walking when camp started but earned a spot with impressive punt returns - including an 81-yarder for a score.</p>

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