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2006 Team Report: San Diego Chargers

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Quarterbacks

Starter: Philip Rivers
Backup(s): Charles Whitehurst [r], Brett Elliot [r]

Starting QB: Philip Rivers, the fourth pick in the 2004 draft (selected by the Giants and traded to the Chargers), has spent two seasons carrying a clipboard, but now gets his shot to start after the offseason departure of Drew Brees to the Saints. He is one of the most accomplished QBs in NCAA history, and will now see how far his accuracy and quick release will take him at the next level. He has plenty of talent around him, including Pro Bowlers LaDainian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates as outlet receivers. Rivers will not be asked to win many games with his arm; the plan is to emphasize the running game and avoid costly mistakes. In what little playing time Rivers has received as a pro, however, he has shown the ability to recognize the blitz, make quick reads, and deliver the ball on time. He has a stronger arm than Brees, and will seek to make teams pay for loading up on the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Two concerns with Rivers, apart from his lack of NFL experience, are his lack of mobility and his sidearm throwing motion. His low release point could cause balls to be batted down at the line of scrimmage.

Backup QB: The Chargers added Clemson QB Charles Whitehurst in the third round of the 2006 draft. Whitehurst has a strong arm and good mechanics, but has shown a tendency to force the ball into coverage. Whitehurst has good mobility and won the number two job behind Rivers from A.J. Feeley, who was then released. Brett Elliot, another rookie, transferred from Utah when he couldn't beat out Alex Smith for the starting job. He ended up at Linfield College, where he set many Division III passing records. He may end up on the practice squad this year.

Running Backs

Starter: LaDainian Tomlinson
Backup(s): Michael Turner, Ray Perkins, Larry Croom
Fullback(s): Lorenzo Neal, Andrew Pinnock

Starting RB: LaDainian Tomlinson is a stud. Despite playing with a nagging groin injury for much of 2004 and a broken ribcage for much of 2005, Tomlinson is fourth in the league in yards from scrimmage over that period, and second in the league (among RBs) in total fantasy points. (Shaun Alexander is first.) Tomlinson heads into the 2006 season in full health, and with any luck will stay that way. The last time Tomlinson stayed healthy all season (2003), he led the league in yards from scrimmage. With a first-year starter at QB this season, the Chargers will emphasize the running game, and have added strong run-blockers through the draft and via trade for that purpose. If Tomlinson can avoid injury, he is a cinch for another 300+ carry season. A true multiple threat, Tomlinson can rack up fantasy points as a receiver and even as a passer to compliment his rushing prowess. Tomlinson has had more than 50 receptions in each of his first five seasons in the league, and has thrown four career touchdown passes to boot.

Backup RBs: Michael Turner was fantastic in relief of LaDainian Tomlinson last season. On only 57 rushing attempts, he compiled a 5.9 yards-per-carry average and an impressive highlight reel. Turner has a fine combination of power and speed. He is a tough inside runner who gains yardage after contact, and has the speed to break long runs. If Tomlinson misses time with an injury, Turner would be the featured runner, and based on his performance last year, could do quite will. With Darren Sproles on Injured Reserve with a broken leg, Larry Croom and Ray Perkins will compete for the RB spot behind Turner. Croom and Perkins are both nifty, undersized runners who are competing for a single roster spot. Based on his performance during the preseason, Perkins appears to have the advantage in this battle.

Fullback: Lorenzo Neal was brought in three seasons ago to spring LaDainian Tomlinson for big gains, and has performed up to expectations. The 13-year veteran is still one of the better run-blocking fullbacks in the league. Neal does not have great rushing or receiving skills, however, so his fantasy relevance is indirect. Behind Neal, Andrew Pinnock is a bit of a “tweener” – he is a below-average blocker for a fullback and a below-average runner for a halfback. Given the Chargers’ roster composition at RB and FB, Pinnock is not expected to get much playing time.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker
Backups: Vincent Jackson, Kassim Osgood, Malcom Floyd, Greg Camarillo

Starting WRs: Keenan McCardell, a 14-year veteran, has been the Chargers’ top wide receiver since coming to San Diego a season and a half ago. (The Chargers traded for him in Week 7 of the 2004 season.) He is a dependable target with good hands and great toughness in traffic. He is not a deep threat, but always seems to find the soft spot against a zone. He is coming off of one of his best seasons as a pro, and appears to have at least one more good year in him. At the other starting position, Eric Parker is a diminutive receiver who plays a lot bigger than his size. He has ultra-reliable hands and excellent concentration. He is willing to sacrifice his body to make the catch, and many of his receptions have come in clutch situations. He will never rack up big stats on a consistent basis, and his fantasy value is therefore limited. But with his deceptive route-running and ability to get yards after the catch, he does have some big-play ability and can be a decent fantasy fill-in in a given week.

Backup WRs: Vincent Jackson, a second-round pick a year ago, has an outstanding size-speed combination, and should be the Chargers’ deep threat. He showed good hands and concentration in limited playing time last year, and dynasty owners are excited about his long-term potential. He should get a fair amount of playing time this year in three-receiver sets, but probably won’t see enough targets to make a fantasy impact. Kassim Osgood has good hands and great toughness, but is on the roster for his special teams play rather than for his ability as a receiver. The release of Rashaun Woods opens the door for Malcom Floyd to make the active roster. Floyd is a big, athletic receiver with excellent hands, and he should also be able to contribute on special teams.

Tight Ends

Starters: Antonio Gates
Backups: Aaron Shea, Brandon Manumaleuna, Ryan Krause

An undrafted free agent in 2003, Gates has already developed into one of the finest tight ends ever to play in the NFL. He has fine size (6-4, 260) and outstanding athleticism, and regularly beats the double-teams he faces. He is very quick on underneath routes, and has a knack for shielding defenders from the ball with his body. Over the past two seasons, Gates has caught for 2,065 yards and 23 touchdowns. Backup Tight end(s): The Chargers parted ways with Justin Peelle this offseason, but added two more tight ends via free agency and trade. Aaron Shea split time with Steve Heiden in Cleveland for the past two seasons. Shea will compete with 2004 sixth-round pick Ryan Krause to be the receiving TE behind Gates. Both Shea and Krause have good hands and decent athleticism, but struggle as blockers. The Chargers traded their fourth-round pick in this year’s draft to the Rams for Brandon Manumaleuna. Manumaleuna is a strong run-blocking TE who gets good movement in his blocks. He has decent hands, but lacks speed as a receiver.

Place Kicker

Nate Kaeding, Kurt Smith : After connecting on 80.0% on FGs in his rookie season, Kaeding improved to 87.5% (21 of 24) in his second year. He was perfect from under 40 yards. He showed long range accuracy (3 of 5 from 50+ yards) in his first year, but didn’t get a chance to repeat that, since he had zero attempts in that range last year. Point production remained relatively steady, 114 points in 2004 and 112 in 2005. His kickoffs were once again were nothing special (61.6 avg., 3 touchbacks), consequently the team drafted Kurt Smith from Virginia. As a senior, 54 of his 66 kickoffs reached the endzone and 38 were touchbacks.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Cletis Gordon; Michael Turner; Antonio Cromartie; Vincent Jackson; Drayton Florence; Darren Sproles [IR]

San Diego signed undrafted CB Cletis Gordon who scored twice on punt returns and twice on kickoff returns while at Jackson State. First round draft pick CB Antonio Cromartie missed last year with a knee injury. He had 1003 yards on kickoff returns the prior two years for Florida State. The other potential backups have limited experience: RB Michael Turner has had one carry in each of his two years with the Chargers, while CB Drayton Florence had four back in his 2003 rookie year. Second year player WR Vincent Jackson could get a look for a backup role. He returned kickoffs all four years in college at Northern Colorado. As the Chargers had hoped, rookie RB Darren Sproles emerged from last preseason as their return specialist. He handled 63 of their 69 kickoff returns, and averaged 24.3 yards. Sproles ended the year as the 9th ranked fantasy returner. Unfortunately, a pre-season injury landed him on the injured reserve list for 2006.

Punt Returners: Cletis Gordon; Eric Parker; Keenan McCardell; Vincent Jackson; Darren Sproles [IR]

San Diego signed undrafted CB Cletis Gordon who scored twice on punt returns and twice on kickoff returns while at Jackson State. Darren Sproles also began last year as the primary punt returner (18 returns, 6.0 avg.); but he eventually lost the job after having problems handling the ball. He was replaced by WR Eric Parker (18 returns, 6.0 avg.). WR Keenan McCardell has periodically returned punts during his NFL career, including three last year (10.3 avg.) Vincent Jackson averaged 11.8 yards on punt return during his senior year.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: RT Shane Olivea, RG Mike Goff, C Nick Hardwick, LG Kris Dielman, LT Roman Oben
Key Backups: T Leander Jordan, G Wes Sims, T Marcus McNeill (rookie), T Cory Lekkerkerker, T Jeromey Clary (rookie), C/G Scott Mruczkowski, C/G Jimmy Martin (rookie), C/G Nick Mihlhauser

In 2004, the Chargers offensive line appeared to be one of the better ones in the NFL. Last season, however, it became apparent that the unit's previous success was due largely to OL coach Hudson Houck, who left the Chargers for the Dolphins in '05. The Chargers' OL regressed last season, as weaknesses were exposed in players who had looked solid in 2004. Roman Oben missed eight games with a foot injury that might not be healed by the start of this season. If Oben is unavailable, rookie Marcus McNeill would likely start at left tackle. McNeill has the size and atheticism to become an elite tackle, but hasn't always played with extreme focus or intensity, and has been limited by lower back problems in the past. Kris Dielman started fourteen games last year for the club and will likely get the nod again in 2006. He has decent size but is nothing more than a serviceable starter. Mike Goff might be the best lineman on this team right now. He has good size, experience, and is very physical on the field. He is good at both run-blocking and pass-blocking and has started 32 straight games for the club. Shane Olivea has started 31 of a possible 32 games in his young NFL career, and he continues to get better. He has allowed only 9½ sacks and has taken just one holding penalty over that span. He has fine technique and has been a pleasant surprise as a 7th-round draft pick. Nick Hardwick is another good, young player learning his craft on the fly. There is some hope for the future thanks to a number of younger linemen on the roster, but for now this unit is average at best.

Team Defense

The Chargers had the best overall defense versus the run in 2005. Led by a stout defensive line and solid ILBs Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey, they finished first in rushing yards allowed per game and second overall in yards per carry allowed. San Diego was nowhere near as effective against the pass, finishing 28th overall despite finishing near the top of the league in quarterback sacks with 46. The Chargers were also not particularly good at causing turnovers and big plays, finishing near the bottom of the league with only 20 total turnovers on the season. San Diego has a nice mix of solid veteran talent and young talent with top potential. Veterans Donnie Edwards, Randall Godfrey, and Jamal Williams anchor the defense up the middle. Last season’s pair of first round draft picks Luis Castillo and Shawne Merriman both showed serious potential as impact defenders at their respective positions. The Chargers hope this season’s first round pick CB Antonio Cromartie will make a similar impact and upgrade the San Diego pass defense.

Defensive Line

Starters: RDE Igor Olshansky, NT Jamal Williams, LDE Luis Castillo
Backups: DE Jacques Cesaire, DE Derreck Robinson, DT Chase Page (r), NT Ryon Bingham

Starting DL: Olshansky is a prototypical 3-4 end. He is big (6’6”, 310 lbs) and stout at the point of attack versus the run but provides little in pass rush. He doesn’t get off the ball quickly enough to penetrate and make many tackles but still is able to occupy blockers and mind his gap responsibilities. Williams had his best season since 2000 last year. He has been healthy enough to play in at least 15 games over the past three seasons, so most of the durability concerns that followed him are on the backburner for now. Williams is a monster 350 pound NT with a coveted combination of quickness and base strength. When healthy, he routinely commands a double team and keeps interior lineman off the linebackers. Castillo quickly earned a starting role in his rookie season last year, relegating 2004 starter Jacques Cesaire to the bench. Castillo made the transition from college tackle to 3-4 end, anchoring the edge against the run. Although not known as an explosive pass rusher, he provided 3.5 sacks last season. Most of his production (30 solos and 3.5 sacks) came in the second half of the season. If he can sustain that production over a full season, he could become one of the league’s elite 3-4 ends this season.

Backup DL: Cesaire gives the Chargers a third solid run stuffing 3-4 end to rotate with Olshansky and Castillo. Cesaire is a high motor guy with average quickness and few pass rush moves, but he is effective against the run. Neither Bingham (7th rounder 2004) nor Robinson (undrafted free agent 2005) saw meaningful playing time last season. Seventh round pick Page is a TE converted to DE in college who likely projects as a 3-4 defensive end for the Bolts.

Linebackers

Starters: LOLB Shawne Merriman, ROLB Shaun Phillips, RILB Randall Godfrey, LILB Donnie Edwards
Backups: ILB Stephen Cooper, ILB Matt Wilhelm, ILB Tim Dobbins (r), OLB Steve Foley (IR), OLB Marques Harris, OLB Carlos Polk

Starting LBs: Edwards posted his seventh consecutive season with over 100 solo tackles in 2005. He continues to be one of the best cover backers in the league, and while age has slowed him down some, he still has tremendous range and ball instincts. Edwards had surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee in the offseason, and lower leg injuries often are the beginning of the end for players that rely on agility over strength. The Chargers apparently feel the same and were actively shopping Edwards before the draft. Still, Edwards has one more season on his contract, should be recovered from surgery, and has the same cast of characters around him as last season. He should remain productive. Fellow ILB Randall Godfrey played well enough in 2005 to scrap his plans to retire after 2006. He will continue to provide able support in the run game. In stark contrast to the aging backers inside, OLB Shawne Merriman exploded onto the scene midway through his rookie campaign, racking up 10 sacks over his final 12 games and was almost single-handedly responsible for ending the Colts’ bid for an undefeated season. Merriman is a terror as an edge rusher with an explosive first step and elite closing speed. He has the size at 270 pounds and evasiveness to match up against bigger offensive lineman against the run as well. His cover skills are suspect but improving. Shaun Phillips will move into a full-time role while Foley recuperates. He has totaled 11 sacks in two seasons, including seven last year after being relegated to a situational pass rushing role behind Merriman and Foley. He needs to improve in coverage and run support to equal the all-around play Foley provided the team.

Backup LBs: Cooper looks to be the first in line to assume an inside linebacker job if either Edwards or Godfrey falter. Both he and Wilhelm were restricted free agents this offseason. Cooper was tendered at a much higher level than Wilhelm and has the favor of the coaching staff as witnessed by the five year contract extension he signed in late August. It was Cooper rather than Wilhelm that earned the start when Godfrey missed two games due to injury last year. Cooper is a bit undersized for a 3-4 ILB role at 230 pounds and doesn’t have nearly the speed or range of Donnie Edwards. He does play with good leverage, is a sure tackler, and has better than average cover skills. Wilhelm hasn’t shown enough instincts or elusiveness to make up for his lack of speed and cover skills. He is a valuable backup but is unlikely to become an elite starter at this stage of his career. Dobbins, a fifth round draft pick, will provide depth but is unlikely to push for a major role until 2006. Steve Foley was overshadowed by the emergence of Merriman but has the skills to be an effective rush LB as evidenced by his 10 sack season in 2004. Foley will turn 31 this season and looks to be losing some of his quickness. Already plagued with character concerns after being arrested for resisting a police officer and public drunkenness outside a nightclub in April, Foley was shot three times in early September. He's expected to fully recover, but was placed on the non-football injury list.

Defensive Backs

Starters: RCB Drayton Florence, LCB Quentin Jammer, SS Terrence Kiel, FS Marlon McCree
Backups: CB Antonio Cromartie (r), CB Raymond Walls, S Clinton Hart, S Bwahoh Jue

Starting DBs: Jammer is a big, physical press corner who plays well in man coverage. He has not been a big play corner, making only one interception in each of the last two seasons. He did have a career high 19 passes defensed last season, but still struggles to adjust to the ball and make plays. Florence also has the size and speed to play man coverage. Both Jammer and Florence are prone to giving up the big play. Marlon McCree was aggressively pursued by the Chargers this offseason. Though aggressive enough to play strong, McCree will probably start at free safety where his ball skills and seek-and-destroy mentality will be a welcome addition to a defense that lacked a cover safety in 2004. The other safety spot is still a three horse race between Kiel, Hart, and Jue. Each have gotten reps with the first team early in camp. Kiel is the most physical and best run supporter of the trio, but isn't as valuable in coverage as Hart and Jue. Hart may be the most well rounded of the three and had the favor of the coaches early.

Backup DBs: First round draft pick Cromartie fills a major need for the Chargers, who deemed him healthy enough to warrant a mid first round pick despite missing all of 2005 with a torn ACL. Cromarite has shown the elite speed, agility, big play capability, and man coverage skills of a shutdown corner. Florence held off Cromartie in camp but it won't be long until the two switch roles. Walls is the only experienced corner behind the starters right now. He was a reserve in Arizona in 2005 but is a back end player who is joining his fifth team in six seasons. Jue was a little out of place as the free safety last season and is recovering from offseason microfracture surgery as his knee. He is physical and a solid tackler but struggles in coverage. Kiel is working to prove that the ankle injury he suffered early last year is fully healed and was the source of his on field regression in 2005. The Chargers should have good depth at safety regardless of which player earns the starting job.

Last modified: 2006-09-05 00:25:14



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