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Inside Slant

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Sep 2, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/home.htm">USA Today</a>
    <div class="inside-copy">The Chargers entered training camp with the confidence they could go deep into the playoffs. The team had possibly the best running back in LaDainian Tomlinson, the top tight end in Antonio Gates and a run defense which dominated last year, finishing the season as the NFL's toughest.</div>
    <p class="inside-copy">And the Chargers head into the season with that confidence relatively intact. But a closer look reveals a lot of things have to fall right for the Chargers to be standing tall come January.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The biggest question mark, of course, is quarterback Philip Rivers. With Pro Bowler Drew Brees leaving for New Orleans, the offense had to learn to march behind a new leader for the first time since 2002.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Rivers' exhibition season was mixed; the team went 2-1 and he was expected to be held out of the final game. He threw one touchdown pass and completed 65 percent of his passes, but also turned the ball over four times - three lost fumbles and an interception.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"> By all accounts, Rivers felt he absorbed what he needed. And he's looking ahead with vigor to getting his first NFL start on Sept. 11 when the Chargers open the season in Oakland.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"I feel ready, I do," Rivers said. "With the preseason games and the whole offseason and the last two years, I think I'm where I need to be. I don't feel an apprehension."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">In a way, according to Rivers, the bad stuff that landed at his feet - the turnovers - might be a blessing.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">"Better some of the things happened then than later," he said. "It wasn't just like playing in a practice with a script. There were things we had to react to, some situations, and that was good."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">While Rivers is set, the same can't be said about the offensive line's most critical spot: left tackle.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Any good quarterback has a dynamite left tackle to protect his blind side. The Chargers just might have one in Marcus McNeill. But it would be a stretch to say they wanted to find out this early.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The club was hopeful veteran Roman Oben could rebound from two foot surgeries. That didn't happen and he was placed on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he can't return until after the sixth week, at the earliest.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Leander Jordan was next in line, but he wasn't impressive. Then he suffered a stinger and his availability is uncertain at this point.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Enter McNeill. While he has the size at 6-feet-7, 338 pounds and played in a lot of big games at Auburn, he is still a rookie. And having a rookie play left tackle for a first-year starting quarterback is hardly how these things are drawn up.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Plus, if Rivers was to go down, his replacement would be another rookie in Charlie Whitehurst.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Defensively, the team must find some balance to become close to an elite team. Time and again the secondary lets the defense down, which is surprising considering the stout pass rush the Chargers employ.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">So if the learning curve for Rivers is short, if McNeill can handle the edge and keep Rivers standing upright, if the secondary can force some turnovers, if No. 1 Keenan McCardell doesn't play to his birth certificate and a returner can be found after Darren Sproles broke his leg, the Chargers could be playoff-bound.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">That's a lot of ifs.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">COACHING: Marty Schottenheimer, 21st year, 5th with Chargers (33-31).</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">REMEMBERING: 2005 record: 10-6 (3rd in AFC West).</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">PREDICTING: 2006 regular season record 9-7 (2nd in AFC West).</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-ILB Donnie Edwards remains on the trading block, but interest seems to be drying up.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-RB LaDainian Tomlinson, for the first time, will not have an exhibition-season carry. He had but one last year.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Coach Marty Schottenheimer, when asked about what rookie LT Marcus McNeill's biggest obstacle: "It's consistency."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Schottenheimer, on DE Igor Olshansky's thirst to keep learning: "He is like a sponge."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Now that training camp is over, the veterans will make top pick Antonio Cromartie treat them to dinner. It's a tab which routinely runs into five figures.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-The Chargers have sold a franchise-high 55,000 season tickets.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-Nothing new on the Chargers' search for a new stadium. Chula Vista and National City, two San Diego suburbs, have been the only cities in San Diego County to express an interest. On Jan. 1, the team can talk with cities outside the county.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">-QB Philip Rivers said TE Antonio Gates is tough to defend because of his versatility. "He can do so much," Rivers said. "He can line up at tight end, he can line up in a wing, he can line up in a slot, he can line up out by himself. He does so much and he allows a lot of the passing game for the other guys and visa versa. He's just a crazy weapon."</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>BY THE NUMBERS:</strong> 5 - Consecutive seasons LaDainian Tomlinson has rushed for at least 1,200 yards, two seasons shy of Eric Dickerson's record at seven.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "There's a lot on your plate but if you look at it like that you will overwhelm yourself." - Rookie LT Marcus McNeill on the pressure of protecting QB Philip Rivers' blind side.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"><strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">To the surprise of many, the Chargers waived quarterback A.J. Feeley and elected to go - for now, anyway - with rookie Charlie Whitehurst as Philip Rivers' backup.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Most thought when the Chargers drafted Whitehurst, he would spend the year on the practice squad. But he clearly played better than Feeley in camp, so despite the lack of experience the Chargers went in that direction.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Malcom Floyd - Floyd, at 6-5, could be an inviting target in the red zone. He has bounced between the practice squad and being a game-day inactive the past two years as injuries have slowed his progress. But he had a great camp and could be a bigger part of the passing game than most people imagine. He has already done something no other NFL player has done: caught a Philip Rivers touchdown pass.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">DRAFT PICKS TO STICK:</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Rd. 1/19, CB Antonio Cromartie, Florida State - Didn't quite win a starting job, but he's on the nickel package.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Rd. 2/50, LT Marcus McNeill, Auburn - With Roman Oben going to PUP, he beat out Leander Jordan to be the starter.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Rd.3/81, QB Charlie Whitehurst, Clemson - Most thought A. J. Feeley would back up Philip Rivers with Whitehurst going to the practice squad. But in a stunning move, Feeley was cut and Whitehurst is at No. 2.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Rd. 5/151, ILB Tim Dobbins, Iowa State - He's a position in which the Chargers are loaded, but the team already likes his nasty streak on special teams.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Rd. 6/187, T Jeromey Clary, Kansas State - He survived the first cut and is helped by all the injuries at the tackle spot, especially on the left side.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Rd. 7/225, DT Chase Page, North Carolina - A leg injury has basically wiped out his training camp, so he remains somewhat of a mystery.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy"></p>
    <p class="inside-copy">UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS:</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">QUARTERBACK: Starter - Philip Rivers. Backup - Charlie Whitehurst.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Color this position green. How green? Consider LaDainian Tomlinson has three more NFL touchdown passes than the Chargers' stable of quarterbacks. Rivers' start on Sept. 11 will mark his NFL debut in that role. Whitehurst has never taken an NFL snap; he was drafted in the third round out of Clemson.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Rivers appears up for the challenge, but he also had four turnovers (three fumbles, one pick) in working two halves of the middle two exhibition games. The mistakes are correctable, but there's no denying he could have issues with ball security, especially with a rookie left tackle in Marcus McNeill.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Whitehurst beat out veteran A. J. Feeley as Rivers' backup - surprising in that the team wouldn't want at some experience on the roster. Both Rivers and Whitehurst have a tremendous upside, but this season could get turned upside down if Rivers gets dinged and Whitehurst is dunked for his NFL baptism.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB LaDainian Tomlinson, FB Lorenzo Neal. Backups - RB Michael Turner, FB Andrew Pinnock, RB Ray Perkins</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Tomlinson didn't have a summer carry, as the team didn't want to risk injury to their franchise player. But he looks good in practice, embarrassing defenders with his cut-back ability and knack for finding the smallest of holes to blast through. He's been among the best at his position and that won't change this year. Neal is among the reasons Tomlinson gobbles up so many yards as he bullies those sitting in the hole. Turner is for real, and could start on a number of other teams. Pinnock's worth went up when Darren Sproles (broken leg; on IR) went down for the year.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Antonio Gates. Backups - Aaron Shea, Brandon Manumaleuna.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Hope Gates had a restful offseason because the team is going to lean on him constantly once the season starts. Gates and Rivers already appear to be on the same wave length and he should be in store for a huge season, Surprising, Manumaleuna hands are pretty soft - but most offerings will go to Gates. Shea's camp was derailed by injuries, so he remains somewhat of a mystery.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker. Backups - Vincent Jackson, Kassim Osgood, Malcom Floyd.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">It looks as if the Chargers will be content to throw the underneath and intermediate routes by looking at their exhibition games. That could change, but the it's likely these pass-catchers will be asked to make the possession receptions rather than the home run balls. McCardell is a pro's pro and at age 36 is coming off one of his better seasons. Parker is fearless at No. 2, but he seems to always be banged up. Jackson is the future, but he spends too much time in the trainer's room to count on. Osgood is more of a special-teams contributor; Floyd presents a big target but little in a track record.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Marcus McNeill, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Mike Goff, LT Shane Olivea. Backups - T Leander Jordan, G Wes Sims, G Scott Mruczkowski, T Cory Lekkerkerker, T Jeromey Clary.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">The Chargers are entrusting Rivers' blindside to McNeill, a rookie. McNeill's development was slowed by a broken left hand and surgery. He's done OK, but privately there is concern in the organization about him being up to speed. Dielman, a converted defensive lineman, is rounding into one of the team's better linemen. Hardwick added about 20 pounds and it is helping. Goff is fine with being solid and not spectacular; Olivea needs to find another level for his game. The left tackle spot, though, is the biggest question mark with veteran Roman Oben being placed on PUP before the season. Leander Jordan was beat out by McNeill.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters -LE Luis Castillo, DT Jamal Williams, RE Igor Olshansky. Backups - RE Jacques Cesaire, DT Ryon Bingham, LE Derreck Robinson, LE Chase Page.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Here's the main reason the Chargers had the NFL's top run defense last year: the front three. Williams is a load in the middle and routinely takes on two blockers. Castillo looks more comfortable rushing the passer as he seems to get quicker by the day. Olshansky earns his pay stopping the run, but is no longer a liability getting to the quarterback. Depth here is a concern as Cesaire is the lone proven product, although the coaches have been talking up Bingham.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">LINEBACKERS: Starters - OLB Steve Foley, ILB Donnie Edwards, ILB Randall Godfrey, OLB Shawne Merriman, Backups - OLB Shaun Phillips, ILB Matt Wilhelm, ILB Stephen Cooper, OLB Marques Harris, ILB Tim Dobbins, ILB Carlos Polk.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Edwards spent the summer on the trading block but no offers enticed general manager A. J. Smith to move him. The team's leading tackler in each of the past four years had his camp derailed by a balky back, but he's returned to practice. Edwards' forte is dropping into pass coverage, while Randall Godfrey sticks his nose in the run defense. Merriman and Foley are on the outside, and they could each reach double-digits in sacks this year. So could Phillips, who is so good he often chases Merriman to the sidelines on passing down, Great depth on the inside in Wilhelm and Cooper. Team is also high on Dobbins, a rookie.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Quentin Jammer, RCB Drayton Florence, FS Marlon McCree, SS Terrence Kiel. Backups - FS Bhawoh Jue, SS Clinton Hart, SS Hanik Milligan, CB Antonio Cromartie, CB Markus Curry.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">It appears McCree has settled at free safety, after bouncing around the preseason between there and strong. The Chargers are in dire need for turnovers from the back end, and McCree can possibly give them that. Kiel will be asked to supply the run support. Jammer was awarded a contract extension during camp, so the club is sold on him, even if having but two interceptions in his past 36 games. Florence kept Cromartie at bay, although Cromartie will play in the nickel package with Florence covering the slot receiver. The depth at safety is good with Jue and Hart; Milligan more of a special-teams contributor. But the depth at cornerback is just so-so.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Nick Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, LS David Binn, KOR Michael Turner, PR Eric Parker; PR Cletis Gordon.</p>
    <p class="inside-copy">Kaeding held off rookie Kurt Smith in the battle to handle kickoffs. More importantly, though, was the injury to returner Darren Sproles; on IR with a broken leg. That forces Parker into the mix on punts and it's a stretch to think his slight body can withstand that, and him being a big part of the passing game. They might keep Gordon around for just that reason. Turner could be OK as a returner. Scifres could land in the Pro Bowl.</p>

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