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Jan 22, 2006
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Jul 19, 2006, 4:28:33 AM by Bob Gretz - FAQ

(This week, we are taking a look at the rest of the AFC West as all four teams get ready to start training camp next week. Today it’s the Chargers and on Friday the Raiders. The Broncos were previewed on Monday.)

There’s only really one change in the look of the San Diego Chargers this year compared to 2005. But it’s a big one: starting quarterback Drew Brees is gone and the untested Philip Rivers is the starting quarterback.

The scenario involving the decision to allow Brees to leave as a free agent exposed the growing rift between Chargers G.M. A.J. Smith and head coach Marty Schottenheimer, who wanted to keep Brees. Eventually, team president Dean Spanos has to step in and tell the boys to quiet down and play nice.

In the aftermath, San Diego has lost the quarterback who led them to a 21-11 in the last two seasons. Brees had 51 TD passes to 22 interceptions and completed 65 percent of his passes in 2004-05. He also suffered a torn rotator cuff in the last game of the ‘05 season, which was one of the reasons Smith did not want to spend big money on Brees.

The Chargers were in the thick of things in the AFC wildcard chase after 12 games with an 8-4 record. But down the stretch they fell to Miami, the Chiefs and Denver, while beating Indianapolis and finished 9-7 and in third place in the division.

Strength: Any time LaDainian Tomlinson lines up in the backfield, a team has a chance to win. Despite battling a rib injury that he suffered in October in Oakland, Tomlinson played all 16 games, rushing for 1,462 yards and 18 touchdowns. He caught 51 passes, but only for 370 yards. Remarkably last season he threw three touchdown passes in four attempts.

At the age of 27, Tomlinson should be in his prime production years as a running back. But entering his sixth season, he’s now carried or caught the ball 2,044 times, or an average of 409 times per season. That’s a lot of work and it can take it’s toll.

Weakness: Last year, Rivers got some mop up work, throwing 22 passes, completing 12 for 115 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. In two seasons with the Chargers, he’s played in four games. Now, he’s the starting quarterback, some three years removed from his final season of college ball at North Carolina State.

The Chargers have a lot invested in Rivers; remember he’s the QB they got in exchange for Eli Manning in that trade in the first-round of the 2004 NFL Draft. At 6-5, 230 pounds, Rivers has all the physical skills, including a powerful arm. He must mature quickly as the starter and with Schottenheimer that means don’t turn the ball over. If he starts throwing a lot of interceptions, don’t be surprised if A.J. Feeley doesn’t step in at some point during the season.

Questions: The Chargers will have their third offensive line coach in as many seasons, as Hudson Houck went to Miami, Carl Mauck was hired and fired and Jack Henry was hired. Center Nick Hardwick got a big new contract extension and he’s also added some weight in the off-season, pushing him close to 300 pounds. Left tackle Roman Oben is coming off a foot injury and will be handled carefully in training camp.

Strength: The front-seven of the Chargers defense established itself as one of the league’s best last season, as they led the NFL in rushing defense, giving up just 84.3 yards per game. The big step forward came with the additions of draft choices Shawnee Merriman at linebacker and Luis Castillo at defensive end. Nose tackle Jamal Williams continues to improve and is now one of the best point men in the league. Everybody else is back from last year with the exception of backup defensive end DeQuincy Scott.

Weakness: As strong as the San Diego front-seven is, that’s how weak the secondary play has been. Last year, the Chargers finished 28th in passing yards allowed, giving up an average of 224.9 yards per game. That ranks them right with the Broncos (29th) and Chiefs (30th) among the most porous pass defenses in the league. Last year, Chargers cornerbacks had just three interceptions and the secondary had just seven.

The major move in free agency was signing Marlon McCree, who started at strong safety for Carolina last year. With the Chargers, it appears McCree may move to free safety. Quentin Jammer is the left cornerback and the other two jobs are wide-open battles. Returning starter Drayton Florence and No. 1 pick Antonio Cromartie will battle for the right cornerback job and Clinton Hart, Bhawoh Jue and Terrence Kiel will try to become the starter at strong safety.

Questions: Just what is Donnie Edwards status? The veteran linebacker led the Chargers in tackles again last season with 154, along with three sacks and two interceptions. But San Diego’s front office has made no mystery that he’s on the trading block. Edwards is due a new contract and at 33 and going into his 11th season, it doesn’t appear he’ll get that from San Diego.

The Chargers invested in young kickers in recent seasons and have lived through the ups and downs with Nate Kaeding and Mike Scifres. Last year, Kaeding was 21 of 24 on field goals and was perfect inside the 40-yard line. Scifres averaged 43.7 yards a punt and ranked among the league’s top 10 punters. Former K-Stater Darren Sproles handled kick returns and averaged 24.3 yards, but did not reach the end zone. Sproles had trouble on punt returns and ended up sharing the job with Eric Parker-Keenan McCardell. Overall, the Chargers averaged 6.3 yards on punt returns to rank among the worst return groups in the league. On coverage, the Chargers were 24th in punt coverage, giving up an average return of 9.4 yards and on kick coverage, they allowed an average return of 22.4 yards, 22nd in the league.

ADDITIONS OF NOTE: SS Marlon McCree (signed as free agent from Carolina/15 starts at strong safety, 95 tackles, 3 INTs), WR Rashaun Woods (acquired in trade with San Francisco/spent 13 games on IR with thumb injury), TE Brandon Manumaleuna (draft day trade with St. Louis/started 14 games, caught 13 passes-129 yards), TE Aaron Shea (signed as free agent from Cleveland/played in 12 games with 4 starts, 18 catches for 153 yards), S Andre Lott (signed as free agent/last played with Washington in 2004), CB Raymond Walls (signed as free agent from Arizona/7 games, 2 starts, 11 tackles.)

LOST: QB Drew Brees (16 starts, 89.2 passer rating, 24 TDs-15 INTs/signed with New Orleans), WR Reche Caldwell (16 games, 2 starts, 28 catches-352 yards/signed with New England), CB Sammy Davis (16 games, 14 starts, 26 tackles, 1 sack/traded to San Francisco), LB Ben Leber (9 games, 6 starts, 22 tackles, 2 sacks/signed with Minnesota), G Bob Hallen (9 games, 3 starts/signed with Cleveland), CB Jamar Fletcher (14 games, 28 tackles, 1 sacks, 1 INT/signed with Detroit), TE Justin Pelle (16 games, 4 starts, 11 catches-38 yards/signed with Miami), DE DeQuincy Scott (16 games, 13 tackles, 4.5 sacks/signed with Minnesota), OL Courtney Van Buren (26 games on IR/ signed with Detroit), S Jerry Wilson (9 games, 1 start, 14 tackles/unsigned.)

FREE AGENTS RETAINED: LB Stephen Cooper (16 games, 2 starts, 30 tackles, 1.5 sacks), G Kris Dielman (16 games, 14 starts), S Clinton Hart (16 games, 5 starts, 35 tackles, 1 interception), WR Kassim Osgood (12 games, 3 starts, 2 catches- 21 yards, 19 special teams tackles), DE Jacques Cesaire (16 games, 5 starts, 25 tackles, 1 sack), LB Carlos Polk (IR for 16 games), LB Matt Wilhelm (16 games, 16 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 15 special teams tackles), FB Andrew Pinnock (12 games, 1 carry-4 yards.)
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