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Inside Slant

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Sep 3, 2005.

  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>

    The Chargers look every bit ready to build on their success of last season, when they shocked nearly everyone by flipping a 4-12 mark to 12-4 and winning their first AFC West title since 1994.

    At last year's training camp, the cry was when - not if - rookie Philip Rivers would take over for struggling Drew Brees. But there was no such noise this summer, not after Brees earned his first Pro Bowl selection by throwing 27 touchdown passes against only seven interceptions in 2004.

    And how does he look heading into the Sept. 11 opener against the Dallas Cowboys?

    "He is just crisp out there," center Nick Hardwick said. "He is totally in control."

    And so, it seems, the same can be said for the Chargers.

    They return all 22 starters, they are another year into their 3-4 defensive scheme and they appeared poise to move into the NFL's elite teams.

    "We weren't satisfied with last year," Brees said.

    There is still a bitter taste lingering from the overtime playoff loss to the Jets. And that is fueling the desire by everyone to try and reach the next rung on the ladder instead of resting on their breakthrough 2004 season.

    It's easy to see why the optimism runs high. In addition to Brees, the Chargers have Pro Bowlers in running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates. They also have the services of two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan McCardell for the full year, after acquiring him last October.

    The defense is built around stopping the run, which is the main goal of any defense. The Chargers ended with the No. 3 ranking last year, allowing only 81 rushing yards per game.

    They have Pro Bowl-caliber players in nose tackle Jamal Williams and linebacker Donnie Edwards. And Steve Foley, an outside linebacker, played like a Pro Bowler last season, recording 10 sacks, more than a third of the Chargers' total.

    "We have to bring the same energy that we brought last year," Foley said. "We have to stay hungry."

    When the Chargers do feel a pain in their gut is when they review their pass rush. The Chargers managed but 29 sacks last season, and that helped lead to a pass defense which was rated No. 31 in the league.

    The Chargers addressed this shortcoming with their first two draft picks, taking outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and defensive end Luis Castillo in the first round. Both will be asked to pester the quarterback, and they will be pointed toward the field as quickly as they become fit.

    The secondary would benefit from an improved pass rush, as it's time to fish or cut bait for a unit which has been trying to come together since cornerback Quentin Jammer was selected with the fifth overall pick in 2002.

    But as well as the Chargers played last year, there is still much to prove. The team managed but a 1-5 record against playoff teams, which causes some to wonder if the Chargers are for real.

    What is fact is the schedule is daunting, including both Super Bowl participants on the road and five away games three time zones away.

    But far and away this is the best Chargers team since the one that advanced to the Super Bowl to cap the 1994 season. Whether this one can advance that far is the question, but there's no question this is a playoff-worthy team.

    COACHING: Marty Schottenheimer, 29th year, 4th with Chargers (177-117-1).

    REMEMBERING: 2004 record: 12-4 (1st in AFC West); lost in wild card game in overtime to the New York Jets.

    PREDICTING: 2005 regular season record 10-6 (1st in AFC West); will lose in AFC divisional playoff game.


    -DE Adrian Dingle, a sixth-year player with the Chargers, was among the 11 players released on Sunday. Dingle, who played in 70 games with 22 starts since being one of the Chargers' fifth-round picks in 1999, had been slowed by bad knees. After collecting 10 combined sacks in 2002 and 2003, he had one last year as he was limited to 10 games.

    -Vikings coach Mike Tice took exception to the Chargers' tackling on Friday. He mentioned the horse-collar tackle by LB Stephen Cooper on RB Mewelde Moore - Moore sprained his ankle on the play - and the violent face-mask penalty incurred by LB Matt Wilhelm on WR Nate Burleson. Tice said he would send the plays into the NFL office for review.

    -T Courtney VanBuren (knee) was placed on IR.

    -All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates attended his first Chargers game this season in Minnesota, after recently signing his six-year deal. But he did so wearing a white Chargers T-shirt and a gold watch.

    "It's hard to stand over there when you have no control over what goes on in the game," Gates said. "It was just a difficult feeling, and I was just here to support my team until I'm able to get out there."

    Gates sat out the first of three games - including the season opener - for landing on the roster-exempt list. That was his team-sanctioned penalty for not agreeing to terms before a deadline.

    "I've got two more games and I'm marking it off on my calendar day by day," Gates said. "But I have to be ready because I'm going to be thrown right into the fire."

    -Less than 90 minutes before Friday's kickoff, coach Marty Schottenheimer was talking care of business by standing in the Metrodome hot dog stand line with fans outside the visitor's locker room. Schottenheimer and team security director Dick Lewis were loaded down with a tray of franks displaying all the fixings.

    "And you're not getting one," Schottenheimer told a curious reporter, with a smile.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 22 - of 22 starters back from the Chargers' AFC West championship team.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "Gates is fine. He's relaxed and he knows his place. We'll just continue to try and get that feel back with one another and whenever he gets on the field we'll be ready." - QB Drew Brees, on TE Antonio Gates missing the opener because of a three-game suspension.


    The Chargers were hoping to get immediate contributions from their top three draft choices, but health concerns about linebacker Shawne Merriman, defensive end Luis Castillo and wide receiver Vincent Jackson might derail those plans.

    Merriman, with a knee injury, isn't expected to play on Sept. 11 in the opener. Castillo has missed two exhibition games, and is hopeful his bum ankle can make it to the opener. Jackson has battled a sore Achilles' tendon, which will likely keep him out of his third of four preseason games.

    PLAYER TO WATCH: RB/KR/PR Darren Sproles. Too small, they've said about the 5-foot-6 (maybe) Darren Sproles. But the former Kansas State star was drafted in the fourth round and has been among the summer's biggest hits. He will return punts and kicks, and be used on third downs. This kid, if he can stay in one piece, gives the Chargers another weapon in their versatile offense.


    Rd. 1/12, OLB Shawne Merriman, Maryland - He reported late to camp, and has been bothered by knee, toe and hamstring injuries since. He will likely miss the opener with his sprained knee.

    Rd. 1/28, DL Luis Castillo, Northwestern - Was originally thought to be a defensive tackle, but has been getting work at defensive end. But a bum ankle cost him two exhibition games and how that will derail his initial impact remains to be seen.

    Rd.2/61, WR Vincent Jackson, Northern Colorado - Team likes his size and athletic skills, but a difficult transition from NCAA Division I-AA to the NFL is being made even more difficult with his lack of playing and practice time. A bum Achilles' tendon might keep him from the opener; he missed two exhibition games.

    Rd. 4/130, RB Darren Sproles, Kansas State - A pleasant surprise in camp, he will have a key role returning kicks and punts and in third-down packages.

    Rd. 5/164, OL Wesley Britt, Alabama - With Courtney VanBuren going on IR with a knee injury, Britt could be the main backup behind starter Shane Olivea.

    Rd. 6/177, OL Wes Sims, Oklahoma - Sims is mostly running with the third-string, and could land on the practice squad.

    Rd. 7/242, OL Scott Mruczkowski - The Chargers, as they did with Shane Olivea last year, might have found another seventh-round nugget in Mruczkowski. He's running with the second unit and looks as if he will stick.


    QUARTERBACK: Starter - Drew Brees. Backups - Philip Rivers, Cleo Lemon. Brees was sensational last year in making the Pro Bowl and earning the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year award. The Chargers are eager for an encore, and if he pulls it off, he might get the long-term deal he longs for. Rivers is looking more settled as a backup, and would start on many other teams. Lemon will stick around and likely be the No. 2 next year after the team makes a decision on the quarterback of the future.

    RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB LaDainian Tomlinson, FB Lorenzo Neal. Backups - RB Michael Turner, RB Darren Sproles, FB Andrew Pinnock.

    Tomlinson has earned his status as one of the NFL's elite backs. He's even talking of rushing for 2,000 yards this year, and coming from him, no one snickers. Neal's contributions can't be overlooked in his ability to open holes. Turner delivers a decent change of pace and Sproles will be used on third downs. So far, the undersized Sproles has been impressive.

    TIGHT END: Starter - Antonio Gates. Backup - Justin Peelle.

    Gates will continue his emergence as one of the NFL's brightest stars after setting an NFL record for his touchdown catches by a TE last season. He will miss the first game, though, to serve a three-game suspension. Peelle is an adequate backup, but he makes his money by blocking rather than catching and scoring.

    WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker. Backups - Reche Caldwell, Vincent Jackson, Kassim Osgood, Malcom Floyd.

    McCardell is the savvy veteran, and will be eager to prove at age 35 he still has some giddy-up. Parker set career highs in all categories last year and is dependable as long as his slight frame allows it. Jackson's been slowed by an Achilles' tendon, which will cut into his playing time. Caldwell was a starter last year, but wrecked his knee and is hoping to rebound. Osgood and Floyd both are big targets; Floyd has to prove he can stay fit.

    OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Roman Oben, LG Toniu Fonoti, C Nick Hardwick, RG Mike Goff, RT Shane Olivea. Backups - LT Leander Jordan, LG Kris Dielman, LG Wes Sims, C Bob Hallen, C Scott Mruczkowski, RT Wes Britt, RG Scott Mruczkowski.

    Oben and Goff supply the veteran leadership and skill level; Fonoti, Hardwick and Olivea are the young guns. It's a good mix, especially considering they all came together just last year. Fonoti has turned into a monster, especially in run-blocking, and he's in a contract year, which should keep his motivation high. The Chargers drafted for the future in Britt, Mruczkowski and Sims.

    DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LE Jacques Cesaire, NT Jamal Williams, RE Igor Olshansky. Backups - LE Luis Castillo, LE Robert Pollard, DT Ryon Bingham, RE DeQuincy Scott, RE Dave Ball, RE Derreck Robinson.

    Williams is a stud in the middle, as proven by the Chargers' success against the run. Olshansky and Cesaire are also stout against the run, but they give way on passing downs to Scott and Ball. Castillo was to fight for a starting job, but lost time in camp with a couple injuries. Castillo could see action early on on passing downs.

    LINEBACKER: Starters - OLB Ben Leber, ILB Donnie Edwards, ILB Randall Godfrey, OLB Steve Foley. Backups - OLB Shaun Phillips, OLB Shawne Merriman, ILB Matt Wilhelm, ILB Stephen Cooper, OLB Marques Harris.

    Foley needs some help after recording more than a third of the team's 29 sacks last year. Phillips will help. Merriman was supposed to help a lot. But he's been banged up, and will likely miss the opener. Edwards is the best linebacker no one ever notices - he led the team in tackles and interceptions last year. Godfrey is looking to milk one more year out of his career; he'll retire at the end of the season. Wilhelm and Cooper could be starters elsewhere; they are that good as backups.

    DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters - LCB Quentin Jammer, RCB Drayton Florence, SS Terrence Kiel, FS Jerry Wilson. Backups - LCB Jamar Fletcher, RCB Sammy Davis, SS Clinton Hart, SS Hanik Milligan, FS Bhawoh Jue.

    Time for this unit to show its stuff. We know about the weak pass rush, but this bunch needs to cover people tighter and be able to give some balance to a defense that is solid against the run. Jammer, in particular, has not played up to his draft status - fifth overall in 2002. Florence shows some promise opposite him after beating out Davis, a former first-round pick. Fletcher should hold down the nickel role. Wilson held off Jue for his starting spot and is solid, if not spectacular. Kiel's game should continue to rise.

    SPECIAL TEAMS: K Nate Kaeding, P Mike Scifres, KR/PR Darren Sproles.

    Kaeding had a solid rookie season (20-of-25 on field goals) but must bounce back from his heartbreaking 40-yard playoff miss, which prevented the Chargers from winning in overtime. Scifres was a Pro Bowl alternate and those watching him wouldn't be surprised if he was on the regular AFC roster this year. In Sproles, the Chargers have a shifty, zigzagging returner who could make people forget about Tim Dwight. But like Dwight, Sproles has to stay in one piece.

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