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Inside Slant

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Jan 26, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/home.htm">USA Today</a>
    <div class="intro-copy">The Chargers' season held such promise, but it really was nothing but a long tease.</div>
    <p class="intro-copy">The Chargers entered 2005 with a dose of confidence and the accompanying strut that hadn't been seen in San Diego since Bobby Ross was roaming the sidelines in the mid-1990s. Fresh off their first AFC West title since 1994, the Chargers were certain they would build on the previous season's success and deliver an impressive encore.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">And they did.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">And they didn't.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">The Chargers deserved the spotlight in stopping the Colts' bid for a perfect season. For ending the Patriots' 21-game home winning streak. For going three time zones away and defeating the Jets and Redskins.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">But that has to be countered with a shoddy 4-4 home mark, which included a playoff-killing loss to the Dolphins, who were a two-touchdown underdog. Or stumbling in the opener against the Cowboys when All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates was made unavailable because of general manager A.J. Smith's heavy-handed negotiating tact.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy"> And they didn't show up for the season finale, when they seemed disinterested in losing to the Broncos - who had even less to play for than the Chargers did.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">So while nine wins in these parts once called for a parade downtown, that is no longer the case. Despite winning 21 games over the past two years - not done by the Chargers since 1980-81 in a two-season stretch - the Chargers are moping around like a toddler after someone knocked over his glass of milk.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">A sour taste is what the Chargers take with them into the off-season. They wasted a season that included a dynamite and versatile offense that featured three Pro Bowlers. They let a defense that earned the NFL's top ranking against the run be squandered. They let a season go by in which they recorded 46 sacks, but got, well, sacked.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">The organization knows it let a prime opportunity pass by not making the playoffs in consecutive years, last done by the Chargers in 1994-95.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Yes, the Chargers played the NFL's toughest schedule, four of the eight road games were to the Eastern time zone, and four teams were coming off their byes before playing San Diego.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">But all that means squat. There's no other way to put it other than the Chargers folded by losing three of their final four games. And two of those losses came at home.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">So what now? Indications are the Chargers will sign quarterback Drew Brees to a long-term deal, although that might be challenging to get done considering he is coming off shoulder surgery on his right (throwing) arm. But eventually, common ground should be found.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">What needs to be put under the microscope is the inconsistent play of the offensive line. It was so bad that one of the NFL's best backs, LaDainian Tomlinson, often looked like an ordinary runner. Clearly he's not, but it's tough to run the ball when greeted in the backfield by a host of defenders.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Also, a speedy receiver would help. The Chargers have solid possession-type guys in Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker. But there is no one to blast down the field with any consistency to loosen up the defenses for Tomlinson and Gates.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Don't overlook the secondary, which was picked on time and again. Quentin Jammer has been anything but a shutdown corner. He has flashes of solid play but has never lived up to his billing as a fifth overall pick. And opposite him is Drayton Florence, who is merely OK.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">To illustrate, Jammer and Florence each had one interception, and both of them came in the season's last month. That's not good enough.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">And neither were the 2005 Chargers - on a consistent basis. While they had their share of games that got the NFL's attention, they couldn't perform with a high degree of competency weekly. That in turn left the Chargers out of the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy"><strong>NOTES, QUOTES</strong></p>
    <p class="intro-copy">-Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is among the three finalists for the Rams' head coaching vacancy.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">-Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips met with the Packers regarding their opening, but Green Bay went in a different direction, going with Mike McCarthy. Phillips doesn't expect to land a head coaching job this off-season and isn't scheduled for any other interviews. "I guess the timing isn't right," he said. "If it doesn't happen, there's no place I would rather be than here in San Diego. We have a good thing going here, and I want to do the job as well as I can."</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">-Wide receivers coach James Lofton, who has never been a head coach at any level, did get an interview with Raiders owner Al Davis. Lofton spent two years of his Hall of Fame career with the Raiders, when they played in Los Angeles.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">-The Chargers' top pick in the upcoming draft will be No. 19 overall.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">-Among the things that gets steam coming out of general manager A.J. Smith's ears is the Chargers' home mark of 4-4. "In order to build a championship team, I don't believe you can afford to lose four home games," he said.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">-With the stadium proposal on the current site all but dead, the Chargers are anxious to explore other opportunities in San Diego County to keep the team in the area. But their current lease must be amended, otherwise they can only consider sites within San Diego until Jan. 1, 2007.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">-The Chargers are unable to give either the Steelers or Broncos any tips on how to beat the other team in the AFC Championship Game. Last season the Chargers were swept by the Broncos and lost to the visiting Steelers.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">-How tough was the Chargers' AFC West division? Denver, Kansas City and the Chargers combined to win 32 games, more than the top three teams of any other division.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">-The Chargers are raising some of their ticket prices for 2006.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy"><strong>QUOTE TO NOTE:</strong> "Absolutely disappointing because I though we were a good football team with very, very good players." - GM A.J. Smith on his thoughts about not making the playoffs.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy"><strong>STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL</strong></p>
    <p class="intro-copy">The Chargers never missed a chance coming into the season to brag how it returned 22 starters and the kicker and punter. It's a nifty little tidbit, but don't expect the Chargers to be spouting such statements entering next season.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">While the core of the team is solid and will remain, there will be some tinkering. The Chargers don't have any key players they will lose to free agency - unless the situation with QB Drew Brees takes an unexpected turn. And even if the two parties can't agree on a multiyear pact, Brees could be slapped with either the franchise or transition tag.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Looking for a speedy receiver to replace soon-to-be free agent WR Reche Caldwell will be a focus. Caldwell, a former second-round pick, never did produce on a consistent basis.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Fixing an offensive line that sputtered down the stretch should also be a concern.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">And GM A.J. Smith must locate some playmakers in a secondary that managed only six interceptions from its defensive backs. In the pass-happy AFC West, that just doesn't cit it.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">UNIT-BY-UNIT ANALYSIS</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Drew Brees. Backups - Philip Rivers, A.J. Feeley.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Brees probably will get what he has long sought: a long-term deal to keep him in San Diego. Brees didn't have as good a season as the previous year when he was selected to the Pro Bowl and was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year. But he was pretty solid (24 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions), especially in the months leading to the final four games. In December, his numbers went down as the Chargers struggled establishing a running game to take some of the pressure off him. Brees had a labrum tear fixed in his throwing shoulder after he dislocated the shoulder in the season finale. Brees, a very determined athlete, will attack his rehab with vengeance and is expected to be ready for training camp. Rivers, it appears, is heading to his third straight year as a backup. The former No. 4 overall pick can't crack the starting lineup and is becoming frustrated. But GM A.J. Smith already has said Rivers isn't going anywhere; his value only increased when Brees went down. Feeley could return, although he would have to restructure his contract.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">RUNNING BACKS: Starters - HB LaDainian Tomlinson, FB Lorenzo Neal. Backups - Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, FB Andrew Pinnock.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Tomlinson had yet another sensational year and for some time was being considered for MVP honors. But Tomlinson faltered down the stretch, a combination of playing with cracked ribs and some shaky play from his offensive line. But there's little doubt Tomlinson - he ran, caught and threw for touchdowns last season - is among the best and most versatile backs in the NFL. Neal cleared the way for many of Tomlinson's 1,462 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns and was rewarded with his second Pro Bowl selection. The Chargers are ecstatic over the play of Turner, who averaged just shy of 6 yards on 57 carries, and added three touchdowns. The undersized Sproles never really was able to click in the base offense, and the Chargers' hopes of making him a bigger part of the offense never materialized. Pinnock, a restricted free agent, had just one carry and likely won't be back.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Antonio Gates. Backups - Justin Peelle, Ryan Krause.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Gates made the All-Pro team for the second straight year and was the only unanimous selection. He led the team in receptions (89), receiving yards (1,101) and receiving touchdowns (10). He is simply the NFL's best player at his position, and his mind-set is such is that he won't rest on his accomplishments. Peelle isn't nearly the pass catcher that Gates is - few are - but his role is to block and not expect the ball to come his direction. Krause ended the year on IR; he's been a disappointment since being drafted in the sixth round in 2004.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker. Backups - Reche Caldwell, Vincent Jackson, Kassim Osgood.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">It's not often a player sets a career high in his 14th season, but that is just what McCardell did with his nine touchdown receptions. He was a solid pro throughout the year, and his 917 receiving yards prove it - he is also a dynamite clubhouse guy, eager to share his experience in a leadership role. Parker was steady in producing 57 receptions and 725 receiving yards. Parker might be the most fearless Charger, as he routinely catches the tough ball over the middle, leaping high in the air with a disregard for his body. Caldwell, a free agent, probably won't be brought back as the team has grown weary of his up-and-down play. Jackson, a second-round pick, never got untracked as a series of nagging injuries slowed his progress. But the Chargers are still high on him - if he can stay healthy. Osgood is oh-so-good on special teams, but he has a tough time finding snaps in the passing game. When he does line up, it is for his blocking rather than serving as a target, although his size makes him a viable red-zone option -- more so, though, if the Chargers' offense didn't feature Gates.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Roman Oben, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Mike Goff, RT Shane Olivea. Backups - G Wes Sims, C/G Bob Hallen, C Scott Mruczkowski, T Leander Jordan.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Led by new coach Carl Mauck, who won't be back next year, the line didn't play as well as it did in 2004. Some of that was due to injury - Oben missed the final eight games with a foot injury - and fresh faces - Dielman supplanted Toniu Fonoti before he was traded to Minnesota. Jordan did OK, as did Olivea - nothing more. The interior of the line was beaten badly on more than one occasion. Dielman, a restricted free agent, will be back. But the team could look at upgrades, in particular, at Hardwick's and Goff's spots. None of the backups seems poised to take over starting role, so look for the Chargers to try to get better along the line through free agency and the draft.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - DLE Luis Castillo, NT Jamal Williams, DRE Igor Olshansky. Backups - LE DeQuincy Scott, DT Jacques Cesaire, LE Derreck Robinson, DT Ryon Bingham.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">The front three was awesome. Castillo, a defensive tackle at Northwestern, easily moved to the end spot in his rookie year and had three sacks. Williams, the anchor in the middle who required at least two blockers, was finally recognized with his first Pro Bowl selection. And Olshansky was a key cog in the NFL's top run defense and added three sacks. Scott and Cesaire saw action mostly on passing downs and responded with 4.5 and one sack, respectively. Robinson and Bingham seldom saw the field.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">LINEBACKERS: Starters - LOLB Shawne Merriman, ILB Donnie Edwards, ILB Randall Godfrey, ROLB Steve Foley. Backups - OLB Marques Harris, ILB Matt Wilhelm, ILB Stephen Cooper, OLB Shaun Phillips.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Few linebacker units were as stout as this bunch. Merriman didn't become a starter until the seventh game, but he showed enough to be named the NFL's defensive rookie of the year and led the team with 10 sacks - and made the Pro Bowl. Edwards again led the Chargers in tackles (114) and added three sacks, two interceptions and 11 passes defensed. Godfrey was supposed to end his 10-year career after 2005, and he still might. But he is having second thoughts have placing second among Chargers with 78 tackles and a team-high three fumble recoveries. Foley was dogged by an abdominal strain for most the season, and it was evident when he had just 4.5 sacks - not quite half as many as in 2004. This unit is loaded with solid backups in Cooper, Wilhelm and the pass-rushing Harris. If Godfrey doesn't return, Cooper could easily slide into the starting role.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Quentin Jammer, RCB Drayton Florence, SS Terrence Kiel, FS Bhawoh Jue. Backups - CB Jamar Fletcher, CB Sammy Davis, SS Hanik Milligan, FS Jerry Wilson, FS Jerrell Pippens.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Here's the unit that tops Smith's to-do list this off-season. Jammer and Florence were anything but solid as the pass defense earned the NFL's No. 28 ranking. The Chargers defense had 46 sacks, so it's obvious the back end has to do a better job considering the amount of pressure the front seven was putting on quarterbacks. The secondary had but seven of the team's 10 interceptions; by comparison, the Jets' Ty Law and the Bengals' Deltha O'Neal had 10 by themselves. Davis, a former first-round pick, is a bust; Fletcher even beat him out for his nickel role. Jue did have a team-high three interceptions, and the Chargers will probably stay put with him there. But Kiel, who ended the year on IR after ankle surgery, could have to battle for his job next year.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nate Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, LS David Binn, KOR Darren Sproles, PR Eric Parker.</p>
    <p class="intro-copy">Kaeding had another solid year, missing on just three of his 24 attempts, and those misses were all from 40-plus yards, with one being a block. His kickoffs were merely so-so. Scifres was among the best at his position, averaging 43.7 yards per effort and a net of 38 yards. Binn, a 12-year pro, kept his streak alive of never producing a bad snap. Sproles showed a spark on kickoff returns with a 24.3-yard average, but he lost his punt-returning duties to Parker as he continually had trouble fielding punts.</p>
     

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