2006 San Diego Chargers Preview

Maybe Philip Rivers turns out to be the next Johnny Unitas and maybe he doesn’t. All I know is that the San Diego Chargers pulled off one of the dumbest moves in all of football in at least the last decade.

By letting former starting quarterback, Drew Brees, walk via free agency, the Chargers set their franchise back, at least two years, if not more.

The Chargers are still a talented team and should still be a legitimate contender in the AFC – if Rivers plays like a veteran and not the first-year starter that he will be in 2006.

Personally, I think if Rivers can guide this team into the playoffs, it will be an absolute miracle.

Quarterbacks
It’s not that I don’t like Rivers. By all accounts, he’s a fine young man with a big future ahead of him.
However, if he fails as a starting quarterback in the NFL (which is always a possibility with any young quarterback) then the Chargers will have mud all over their faces.

Remember, if the Chargers need to turn to their backup, it will be the much-maligned, A.J. Feeley who will be taking the snaps – and that is about as tenuous it gets when it comes to backup quarterbacks.

Running Backs
Rivers should be thanking his lucky stars that he gets to hand off to the best running back in all of football 25 times a game. Not only that, but Rivers will also have get to dump the ball off to Tomlinson on safe swing patterns at least another five times per game.

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Fullback Lorenzo Neal has done a wonderful job as the lead blocker for Tomlinson the past couple of seasons and will be back in his familiar role in 2006. The Chargers also have a great change of pace back in Michael Turner, who, like Tomlinson, is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.

I will say that if the Chargers overwork Tomlinson this season in an effort to ease Rivers into his new role, they will be making a mistake of major proportions.

Wide Receiver/Tight End
It may seem like Keenan McCardell, has been playing for two decades now, but the truth is, all McCardell does is get open and catch passes, despite being 37-years-old.

Eric Parker starts on the other side and is a lot better than most people know. However, the star of the Chargers’ receiving group is undoubtedly tight end Antonio Gates.

Gates is arguably the best tight end in all of football and one that should take some pressure off of Rivers with his presence in the middle of the field as well. Vincent Jackson, Kassim Osgood and Rashaun Woods will fight for the number three spot.

Offensive Line
Although the Chargers have Tomlinson gaining yards seemingly at will, San Diego fired their offensive line coach following the 2005 season and will be looking for more consistency from the unit this season.

Center Nick Hardwick and guards Mike Goff and Kris Dielman are mediocre at best. Marcus McNeill, Roman Oben and right tackle Shane Olivea fill out the rest of this uninspiring unit that had better get their pass-protecting act together quickly for the young Rivers

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Defensive Line
Jamal Williams, Igor Olshansky and Luis Castillo may be the three most underrated defensive linemen in the NFL. All three players are above average at their respective positions and form the foundation for the Chargers defense, which is one of the best in the league. I will say that, should any one of this trio go down with an injury, the Chargers could be in trouble up front.

Linebackers
Boy, did the Chargers ever get it right with their selection of Shawne Merriman last season. Merriman is already the Chargers best linebacker, although veterans, Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey are still serviceable. Steve Foley and Shaun Phillips are both pass rushing specialists who can get to the quarterback at any time.

Defensive Backs
Starting cornerback, Quentin Jammer, a former fifth overall draft selection, has not lived up to his expectations and Drayton Florence, the team’s other starting corner, is a nickel back at best.

Antonio Cromartie, the Chargers’ first-round draft selection out of Florida State, could challenge Florence for his position while safeties, Marlon McCree, a free-agent from Carolina, and Bhawoh Jue, are also competent defensive backs as well. However, the Chargers will need to force more turnovers from this group in 2006.

Special Teams
Kicker, Nate Kaeding and punter Mike Scifres are both rock steady veterans who have proved they can get the job done.
The elusive Darren Sproles is also a fixture on kickoff returns while Parker handles the punt return duties quite capably.
Coaching
If Marty Schottenheimer doesn’t get the job done this season (which he won’t) and the Chargers take a step back form the past two seasons (which they will) then “Marty Ball” could become a thing of the past in San Diego.

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As a matter of fact, I’m going on record right now to say that Schottenheimer had better start packing his bags right now because he is in a no-win situation. If the Chargers fail to make the playoffs this season, Charger fans will be calling for someone’s head – and unfortunately – it’s usually the head coach who gets served up on a platter.