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San Diego goal: Win games at the end of the season

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Jul 22, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a href="http://www.usatoday.com/sports/football/nfl/chargers/2007-07-21-offseason-report_N.htm?csp=34" target="_blank">USA Today</a>

    <img src="http://i.usatoday.net/sports/_photos/2007/07/21/topper-chargers.jpg" title="Last season's 14-2 regular-season record felt empty for Lorenzo Neal, left, and LaDainian Tomlinson after the San Diego Chargers' playoff loss to New England. The loss may have cost coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was 0-2 in the postseason in San Diego, his job." alt="Last season's 14-2 regular-season record felt empty for Lorenzo Neal, left, and LaDainian Tomlinson after the San Diego Chargers' playoff loss to New England. The loss may have cost coach Marty Schottenheimer, who was 0-2 in the postseason in San Diego, his job." height="133" width="286" />

    By Jim Corbett

    The San Diego Chargers experienced a measure of just this type of offseason upheaval a year ago and weren't phased.

    Remember?

    At this time last year many wondered how the Chargers would fare when general manager A.J. Smith turned away from Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Brees and committed to unproven Philip Rivers after Brees suffered a career-threatening throwing shoulder injury in the 2005 season finale.

    Smith's leap of faith in his new leader was rewarded with a league-best 14-2 regular season ... only to suffer a gut-wrenching, one-and-done playoff ending at the hands of the New England Patriots. Now the Chargers look to transition from the February dismissal of coach Marty Schottenheimer into the Norv Turner era. On top of that, Clarence Shelmon replaces Cam Cameron, now the Miami Dolphins head coach, as offensive coordinator, while Ted Cottrell takes over for Wade Phillips, who departed for the Dallas Cowboys' top job, on defense.

    "We've got to figure out how to win in the playoffs," Smith says of the 0-2 postseason mark under Schottenheimer. "I love having the (14-2) record after my name in the media guide. But something was wrong - from 14-2 to 0-2 out of the gate in the playoffs?"

    A loaded team returns 21 of 22 starters, including 11 Pro Bowlers, in a bid to answer its nagging postseason shortcomings. Arguably the most talented team in football, San Diego is internally driven by its haunting defeat to the Patriots, a game marked by mental errors and conservative play-calling.

    TABLE: Additions, subtractions in San Diego

    Will it be tough to recover from that searing disappointment?

    "No, it won't be for me, because that drive is there to succeed and be the Super Bowl champion," NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson says. "Tony Dungy said it best: 'That kind of disappointment a lot of times builds the character of the person and makes you appreciate the journey. You just want to come back and try again to win it (all).'"

    With the league's best player, who scored a single-season-record 31 touchdowns, setting the locker room work ethic, the Chargers feel confident their engine and spiritual core is still intact. And the transition to Turner should be tempered since he was the offensive coordinator when Tomlinson arrived six years ago.

    "That loss to New England will definitely fuel us in our training for this year," Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick says. "It's a dynamic team. The young guys fuel the older guys, and the older guys show the younger guys how to work.

    "The most important thing was that we kept both of our offensive line coaches, Jack Henry and Hal Hunter, which is a huge deal, because they came in and made a tremendous impact."

    It also helped that left guard Kris Dielman, who sets an all-day tough mind-set on one of the game's best offensive lines, turned down a more lucrative offer from the Seattle Seahawks to remain with the Chargers. He returns to handle unfinished business.

    "We all know we were close," Dielman says. "We're getting ready, trying to get that ring."

    With Dielman alongside Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill, the Chargers have potentially one of the game's best left sides.

    "Our offensive line has been together pretty much for three years; we have a chemistry on that line that I don't think you find anywhere else," Dielman says. "We hang out together off the field. It's the kind of chemistry you don't see too much of in the NFL anymore because of free agency and the changes that go on with teams from year to year."

    Dielman's return gives the Chargers 27 core players signed through 2009, a rarity in the salary-cap era.

    "You have these small windows of opportunity, and you want to keep that window open for as long as you can," team owner Dean Spanos says. "Indianapolis is a great example of that. The past six, seven years, they kept getting back to the playoffs before finally winning it. If you keep the same players in the same system, you give yourself the best shot to get back to the playoffs."

    The Chargers averaged an NFL-high 30.8 points a game and finished the regular season by winning 10 consecutive, even with Rivers suffering through a December slump. He still earned Pro Bowl honors by firing 22 touchdowns with just nine interceptions.

    "We have great leaders on this team," tight end Antonio Gates says. "We have a great team. We didn't see the real San Diego Chargers in that playoff loss. But we believe in ourselves. Things can only get better from here, and we're willing to make the sacrifices in order to get there."

    Rivers has yet another weapon with the first-round selection of former LSU wide receiver Craig Davis, who is expected to provide the outside deep threat to open the middle for all-pro Gates.

    It initially appeared Schottenheimer would stay on as a lame duck in 2007. But a dysfunctional relationship with GM Smith finally reached its breaking point when Schottenheimer wanted to hire his brother, Kurt, as defensive coordinator after Phillips left for Dallas. Cottrell, who served as Phillips' defensive coordinator from 1998 to 2000 with the Buffalo Bills, is highly respected among players and will run the same aggressive 3-4 scheme.

    Turner is considered one of the game's best offensive minds, and this is his best chance to prove he is a better head coach than his 58-82-1 regular-season record indicates in previous tenures with the less-talented Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders.

    The charismatic, tough and respected Rivers has accuracy reminiscent of Turner's former Cowboys Hall of Fame protege Troy Aikman. Rivers should be the biggest beneficiary of Turner's tweaks to the offense.

    "I do feel a lot more comfortable, not just in the huddle, but the whole leadership aspect," Rivers says.

    "Last year I felt I had a lot to learn. But with the type of season we had, we all know together what we need to accomplish - what we can accomplish."

    AROUND THE FIELD IN SAN DIEGO

    Quarterback: Philip Rivers did much more than ride shotgun on an offense driven by league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson. In his first season as a starter, Rivers revved up an attack that averaged 31 points. And he learned not to force things while enduring a late-season slump. Billy Volek is an experienced backup.

    Running back: It's fair to wonder what might have happened if Tomlinson had received more than nine carries in the second half of the playoff loss to the New England Patriots. The bigger question: What does Tomlinson do for an encore after scoring a league-record 31 touchdowns? Figure coach Norv Turner will find creative ways to utilize Tomlinson and his backup, Michael Turner. That TNT backfield also would preserve Tomlinson for the playoffs.

    Wide receiver: Vincent Jackson had a breakout season and will be relied upon more heavily with Keenan McCardell gone. Eric Parker led Chargers receivers with 48 catches but must atone for two haunting drops in the playoff loss. Malcom Floyd and rookie Craig Davis will be asked to boost a passing game that must be more productive.

    Tight end: Antonio Gates forged a strong rapport with Rivers, emerging as his go-to guy. The continued growth of Jackson and the addition of Davis should help open things up for Gates. Brandon Manumaleuna is the classic, big-body blocker.

    Offensive line: Anchored by Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick and left tackle Marcus McNeill, this group returns intact, with left guard Kris Dielman choosing to re-sign. Right tackle Shane Olivea and right guard Mike Goff round out a strong, cohesive group.

    Defensive line: Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams is the key to this attacking, slanting defense. Williams consistently ties up blockers and frees linebackers to swarm. Left end Luis Castillo has Pro Bowl talent; Igor Olshansky, Jacques Cesaire and Derreck Robinson form a strong rotation.

    Linebacker: This is the core of a dynamic pass-rushing group led by fiery Shawne Merriman, who registered 17 sacks for a defense that led the league with 61. He is driven to prove he is the game's best defensive player. Shaun Phillips had 11"½ sacks playing opposite Merriman. The key will be replacing Donnie Edwards, the team's leading tackler the last five seasons.

    Secondary: Quentin Jammer and Drayton Florence are solid on the corners, and Antonio Cromartie should be a better playmaker after seeing the field as a rookie. The concern is at strong safety: Clinton Hart is listed as the starter; second-round pick Eric Weddle figures to challenge.

    Special teams: Nate Kaeding earned a Pro Bowl berth after making 26 of 29 field goals, and punter Mike Scifres has one of the league's best legs. Michael Turner, Cromartie and Darren Sproles could all be factors as return men.

    Coaching staff: Norv Turner's influence as a respected offensive mind and teacher figures to take a run-driven offense to the next level. Expect new wrinkles and option routes that might allow Rivers to take more shots downfield. But Turner ultimately will be judged on how far he can take the Chargers in the playoffs. With defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell and linebackers coach Ron Rivera, San Diego figures to have one of the league's most dynamic defenses.

    Outlook: It will be hard to duplicate 14-2, but that's not the goal. Turner was hired to maximize the potential of arguably the league's most talented roster by hoisting a Lombardi Trophy. While the team that beat them in the playoffs, New England, upgraded in the offseason, the Chargers already have what the Patriots will be trying to forge in training camp and the preseason: strong chemistry and the motivation of a team with everything to prove.
     

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