- Jan 22, 2006
- Reaction score
http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=06nflpreview_chargers&prov=tsn&type=lgnsSeason preview: San Diego Chargers
By Kevin Acee, SportingNews
August 7, 2006
A third straight winning season won't be enough. The San Diego Chargers' long run of being among the NFL's worst teams is a foggy memory, and the good folks of San Diego are demanding a run deep into the playoffs. Among the impatient are general manager A.J. Smith and team president Dean Spanos.
There won't be a lot of new faces to help the Chargers improve. The team's draft was roundly criticized for the chances Smith took in the first and second rounds as well as for a couple of his second-day picks. And for the second straight year, the Chargers were silent on the free-agent market, with free safety Marlon McCree their only significant pickup.
The only noise out of San Diego during the signing period was the sound of the door slamming behind quarterback Drew Brees. After Brees had surgery on his throwing shoulder, Smith wasn't willing to pay what Brees wanted and opted to gamble that Philip Rivers is ready to start.
If Rivers isn't quick to step up, the offensive line fails to keep defenders off running back LaDainian Tomlinson and the secondary keeps allowing big plays, the grumbling will grow and coach Marty Schottenheimer could be a lame duck by Halloween.
Offense: The Chargers' attack was Antonio Gates-centric last season, though they spread the ball around better. The team lacks a consistent deep threat, and with a new quarterback under center, the goal will be to re-establish a dominant running game with Tomlinson.
Schottenheimer allowed coordinator Cam Cameron to be more daring last season by going for it on fourth down and utilizing Tomlinson as a passer. But too often, the team's problem was a lack of yardage on first down.
Defense: As the defense came together in its second season in the 3-4, it developed into the league's top run-stopping unit and tied for fifth in sacks. But San Diego ranked 13th in total defense because of a secondary that allowed big play after big play while rarely making any. McCree is more experienced as a leader than Bhawoh Jue, whom he replaces at free safety, but it may again take time for the defensive backs to mesh.
QB Philip Rivers: Rivers has the size, charisma and smarts to be a good NFL quarterback. He still has a sidearm delivery and only decent arm strength – traits that were dissected before he was drafted fourth overall in 2004 – and he has thrown just 30 passes in two seasons. But he studied under one of the game's smarter and more competitive players in Brees and, as the son of a high school coach, knows the game. Rivers is outgoing in the locker room and, after Brees departed, wasted no time trying to develop a closer relationship with teammates.
Still, it will take time for Rivers to adjust to the speed and complexity of NFL defenses. The Chargers have spent the offseason trying to figure out what Rivers can and can't do, and at least initially, the offense will be tailored accordingly.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson: At times, Tomlinson is impossible to tackle in the open field. He is the best runner in the league, but for him to prove that, his blockers must get him clear beyond the line, something that was not done nearly enough in 2005.
But Tomlinson will not rely solely on improved blocking this season. He has bulked up, which not only will allow him to better absorb a pounding but also should help him be a more effective blocker. He is in the prime of his career but has been hampered by injuries the past two seasons and needs to stay healthy.
The linebackers: This group offers a mix of experience and promising youth. Shawne Merriman, the reigning defensive rookie of the year, did not start until the seventh game of 2005, but finished the season with a team-high 10 sacks. His combination of speed and upper-body strength plus an offseason spent improving his hand speed and technique should continue to make him a sack machine.
Weakside linebacker Steve Foley's return to health will help Merriman as well as the Chargers' pass rush. Foley was hindered by a groin strain the second half of last season, but if he can approach the 10-sack season he had in '04, the outside linebacker duo will be among the league's best. That would greatly help the secondary by forcing quarterbacks to make quicker throws.
Two solid veterans man the inside, as Randall Godfrey dumped his retirement plans and will play alongside Donnie Edwards. The pair share the same birthday (April 6, 1973) and the ability to make tackles. Godfrey is a harder hitter, but he is limited to playing first and second downs. Edwards is a coverage linebacker and makes many of his tackles downfield. In the final year of his contract, he needs to assert himself as a playmaker by making more interceptions and forcing more fumbles.
A softer schedule is perhaps the greatest boost for the Chargers, who were a handful of plays from finishing 11-5 or better last season and didn't need a lot of upgrades. Still, improvement would seem more certain if the Chargers had been able to land a proven left tackle and a proven cornerback to rack up interceptions – especially because other teams in the division seem improved.
Provided the schedule is as favorable as it appears, Rivers progresses quickly and the offensive line returns to its 2004 level of consistency, the Chargers likely will win nine or 10 games.
Kevin Acee covers the Chargers for the San Diego Union-Tribune and Sporting News.