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Online Chargers Lines & Predictions - San Diego Future Odds - Free NFL Betting Previews

2006 San Diego Chargers Season Preview

2006 Chargers NFL News - August 31st, 2006
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2006 NFL Previews - By Tony Moss, NFL Editor

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Can you feel the tension? Because it's mounting. The San Diego Chargers' head coach, Marty Schottenheimer, and their general manager A.J. Smith, don't exactly spend their free time gabbing over iced lattes at Starbucks.

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An already-strained relationship became more fractured this past offseason, when Smith determined it prudent to excise the team's established starting quarterback, Drew Brees, in favor of the inexperienced one the Chargers effectively spent a No. 1 pick on two years ago, Philip Rivers.

Since Schottenheimer's job status in San Diego seems to perpetually be dangling on the precipice, the veteran head coach likely knew that any struggles at the quarterback position in 2006 could signal his departure from the sideline. Thus, he reportedly pushed for Brees (also reportedly the players' choice) to stay and Rivers to be shopped, a plea that apparently fell on Smith's deaf ears. Smith knew, of course, that dealing the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft would reflect poorly on him, causing him to sacrifice experience in the interests of potential.

Into this maelstrom steps Rivers, an amiable enough lad from the great state of Alabama who has to feel a bit like a kid at the center of his parents' bitter custody dispute. The only thing Rivers did wrong was his holdout in the late summer of '04, a move that cost him his shot at the starting job and allowed Brees to resurrect his career. Now Rivers is back where he was supposed to be all along, except that he's not taking over the 4-12 disaster that he would have inherited in 2004, he'll be at the helm of a team fresh off its first back-to-back winning seasons in a decade and with the apparent talent to return to the playoffs.

If Rivers fails, then Schottenheimer was right, though being right isn't likely to keep him off the unemployment line. If he succeeds, then everyone will be smiling, though the tension between head coach and general manager will probably continue to simmer beneath the surface.

The franchise's power struggle at the top will unfold over the fall months and into the early winter. And unless your name is A.J. Smith, Marty Schottenheimer, or you have a vested interest in the well-being of the San Diego Chargers, it figures to be mighty fun to watch.

Below we take a capsule look at the 2006 edition of the San Diego Chargers, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:

2005 RECORD: 9-7 (3rd, AFC West)

LAST PLAYOFF APPEARANCE: 2004, lost to N.Y. Jets, 20-17 (OT), in AFC Wild Card Game

COACH (RECORD): Marty Schottenheimer (33-31 in four seasons with Chargers, 186-124-1 overall)



OFFENSIVE STAR: LaDainian Tomlinson, RB (1462 rushing yards, 51 receptions, 20 TD)

DEFENSIVE STAR: Shawne Merriman, OLB (57 tackles, 10 sacks)

OFFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 9th rushing, 12th passing, 5th scoring

DEFENSIVE TEAM RANKS: 1st rushing, 28th passing, 13th scoring

FIVE KEY GAMES: at Oakland (9/11), Pittsburgh (10/8), at Kansas City (10/22), at Denver (11/19), Denver (12/10)

KEY ADDITIONS: QB Charlie Whitehurst (3rd Round, Clemson), TE Aaron Shea (from Browns), T Marcus McNeill (2nd Round, Auburn), LB Akbar Gbaja-Biamila (free agent), CB Antonio Cromartie (1st Round, Florida State), S Andre Lott (free agent), S Marlon McCree (from Panthers)

KEY DEPARTURES: QB Drew Brees (to Saints), QB A.J. Feeley (released), WR Reche Caldwell (to Patriots), TE Justin Peelle (to Dolphins), OL Bob Hallen (to Browns), DE DeQuincy Scott (to Vikings), LB Ben Leber (to Vikings), CB Jerry Wilson (released), CB Jamar Fletcher (to Lions), CB Sammy Davis (to 49ers)

QB: The Chargers made one of the NFL's most controversial offseason moves when they allowed four-year starter and 2004 Pro Bowler Drew Brees (3576 passing yards, 24 TD, 15 INT) to walk away to the Saints, in turn elevating Philip Rivers, the No. 4 overall selection in the 2004 draft, to top status. Rivers has thrown just 30 NFL passes, but the coaching staff is confident that he has learned enough of the offense in two years as a backup to thrive as the starter. The new backup will be Charlie Whitehurst (3rd Round, Clemson), a rookie whose father, David, played seven seasons with the Green Bay Packers (1977-83). Ex-Dolphins starter A.J. Feeley was cut late in training camp, leading to speculation that the team would find a veteran to support Rivers and Whitehurst, neither of whom has started an NFL game. Brett Elliott, an undrafted rookie out of Division III Linfield (OR), is a long shot to make the 53-man roster.

RB: Rivers' transition to the No. 1 job figures to be made easier by the presence of perennial Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson (1462 rushing yards, 51 receptions, 20 TD), who continues to give defensive coordinators throughout the league major headaches. Tomlinson has compiled a total of 80 touchdowns in just five NFL seasons, but is still seeking his elusive first playoff victory. San Diego has a good backup in Michael Turner (335 rushing yards, 3 TD), who averaged nearly six yards per carry in relief of Tomlinson last year and had a strong 2006 preseason. A season-ending leg injury suffered by would-be third-stringer Darren Sproles (50 rushing yards, 3 receptions) during training camp opened the door for Ray Perkins, a first-year player out of Southeastern Louisiana, to make the club. At fullback, Lorenzo Neal (24 receptions, 1 TD, 98 rushing yards) has been a staple of the team's rushing attack, and Andrew Pinnock should make the roster as a backup fullback and special-teamer.

WR/TE: Like their division foes the Chiefs, the Chargers are able to keep opponents honest despite fielding a mediocre receiving corps, one that will feature Keenan McCardell (70 receptions, 9 TD) and Eric Parker (57 receptions, 3 TD) for the second straight season. The reason San Diego gets by stands 6- foot-4, weighs 260 pounds, and comes off his second straight Pro Bowl: tight end Antonio Gates (89 receptions, 10 TD). Gates had another huge year, missing Week 1 in the wake of a contract dispute (that was eventually settled to Gates' great financial benefit), then turning in four 100-yard games, an unheard-of output for a tight end not named Gonzales. Gates' presence frees up players like McCardell, who set a career single-season-high for touchdown catches at the age of 35. With Reche Caldwell (28 receptions, 1 TD) now a Patriot, players like Vincent Jackson (3 receptions) and Kassim Osgood (2 receptions) will compete to become the third receiver. Malcolm Floyd, a two- year practice squad participant who also caught Rivers' first (and to this point only) NFL touchdown pass in 2004, also figures to make the squad. Backups to Gates at tight end will include ex-Ram Brandon Manumaleuna (13 receptions, 1 TD) and ex-Brown Aaron Shea (18 receptions, 1 TD).

OL: The Chargers faced an immediate o-line crisis in the preseason, as starting left tackle Roman Oben was placed on the Physically-Unable-to-Perform (PUP) list with a foot injury, rendering him out until at least mid-October. Second-round draft pick Marcus McNeill (Auburn), Oben's would-be replacement, suffered a broken bone in his hand after taking over starting duties, and his status for the regular season opener remained an unknown. That meant Leander Jordan, who started eight games last season in place of Oben, was thrust back into the spotlight. The remainder of the trench unit remains intact, with Shane Olivea at right tackle, Kris Dielman and Mike Goff at left and right guard, respectively, and Nick Hardwick at center. Joining McNeill or Jordan in the reserve ranks figured to be Cory Lekkerkerker, Scott Mruczkowski, and Wes Sims, all of whom are holdovers.

DL: The key to the San Diego defense is along the team's three-man front, where nose tackle Jamal Williams (53 tackles) and ends Igor Olshansky (29 tackles, 3 sacks) and Luis Castillo (49 tackles, 3.5 sacks) make up one of the league's most effective units. The 30-year-old Williams comes off his first career Pro Bowl appearance, a long-overdue designation. Jacques Cesaire (25 tackles, 1 sack) is capable of backing up either of the end slots, but fellow holdovers Ryon Bingham (1 tackle) and Derreck Robinson (2 tackles) have seen only limited time at the NFL level. Seventh-round draft choice Chase Page (North Carolina) could threaten to take one of the latter two players' roster spots.

LB: The Chargers have had their share of fruitless first-round picks (see: Sammy Davis, Eli Manning), but 2005 first-round selection and outside linebacker Shawne Merriman (57 tackles, 10 sacks) does not belong in that category. Merriman was a Pro Bowler despite making just 10 starts during his rookie season, and appears to be on the brink of becoming one of the NFL's dominating defensive players. Merriman's play last year helped overshadow a decline in production for fellow OLB Steve Foley (37 tackles, 4.5 sacks), who ceded the spotlight to the rookie after posting 10 sacks in 2004. Inside linebackers Donnie Edwards (152 tackles, 3 sacks, 2 INT) and Randall Godfrey (76 tackles, 1 sack) both return as well, though both are 33 years of age (in fact, they share the same date of birth) and Edwards was embroiled in a public contract dispute with the team during the offseason and into the preseason. In light of that situation, Stephen Cooper (39 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Matt Wilhelm (30 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) could see more time on the inside this season. Looking to serve as backups on the outside are Shaun Phillips (34 tackles, 7 sacks), ex-Raider Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, and Carlos Polk, who missed all of last year with an Achilles tear.

DB: San Diego's secondary is still seen as the team's overall weak link, and general manager A.J. Smith took some steps to upgrade that department during the offseason. The team dealt long-struggling cornerback Sammy Davis (38 tackles, 1 INT) to the 49ers, selected another corner, Antonio Cromartie (Florida State), with the No. 19 selection in the April draft, and brought in ex-Panther Marlon McCree (88 tackles, 3 INT with Carolina) to take over the free safety slot. The selection of Cromartie, who is expected to back up incumbents Quentin Jammer (72 tackles, 1 INT) and Drayton Florence (54 tackles, 1 INT), was a bit of a risk, however. Cromartie missed all of the 2005 season at FSU with a knee injury, and started a grand total of one game in his two active seasons as a Seminole. Terrence Kiel (58 tackles, 1 sack) is back to serve as strong safety, but McCree's addition has relegated Bhawoh Jue (47 tackles, 3 INT) to a backup role. In the reserve ranks along with Cromartie and Jue will be holdover safety Clinton Hart (45 tackles, 1 INT), special teams ace Hanik Milligan (20 tackles), first-year pro Markus Curry (Michigan) and possibly former Redskin Andre Lott.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Chargers are stable in the kicking game, as Nate Kaeding (21-24 FG) was ultra-reliable last season and Mike Scifres (43.7 avg.) has been critical to the team winning field position battles. San Diego used a sixth-round draft pick on Kurt Smith (Virginia), a potential kickoff specialist, but Smith didn't pan out and was waived late in the preseason. The season-ending injury to Sproles (6.0 punt return avg., 24.3 kickoff return avg.) meant the team was forced to audition new return men. Leading candidates included Eric Parker (5.9 punt return avg.) on punts, and backup running back Michael Turner on kickoffs.

PROGNOSIS: For the 2006 edition of the San Diego Chargers, it isn't very complicated: as Philip Rivers goes, so go the Bolts. If Rivers can keep his mistakes to a minimum, manage the offense, and make a smattering of big plays (a la Ben Roethlisberger), the Chargers will compete for the AFC West title and a playoff berth. If he's better than most inexperienced quarterbacks, San Diego can entertain serious thoughts of a Super Bowl run. If he's worse, three pretty solid teams in the AFC West will be waiting to pounce, the seat located underneath Schottenheimer's posterior will get hotter, and the local press will be comparing Rivers' stat lines to those of the Saints' Drew Brees on a weekly basis.

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