Monday, April 25, 2005

Grading the draft...B+

The team used its two first-round picks to upgrade the defense, specifically the pass rush. Only two teams had fewer sacks than the Chargers' 29 in 2004. OLB Shawne Merriman is an aggressive, nasty defender who piled up sacks in college. DT Luis Castillo is an explosive athlete who eventually should be a handful inside. Initially, he will work behind DT Jamal Williams, and Castillo also might work some at end. . . .

The team hopes RB Darren Sproles can provide a consistent spark returning kickoffs. He also might get a look returning punts, or the team could stick with WR Eric Parker in that role. The team looked toward the future by taking offensive linemen with its final three picks. The entire line returns from last season, but changes could be coming in the near future.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Chargers primed for tough schedule

By Tom Shanahan,
The television schedule says the AFC West champion Chargers are back among the NFL’s prime-time teams with one Monday night game and two Sunday night dates.

“As I’ve said before, I think we’ve arrived as an organization,” Smith said. “We’re very proud of that. I think the schedule means that a lot of people are thinking about us and want to showcase us and see what we’re about in 2005.”

On the whole, the Chargers’ 16-game schedule that was released Wednesday says the Bolts are back among the NFL’s elite clubs. In the NFL, the teams with the highest division finishes are paired up in the subsequent season. That means the Chargers are facing a tougher schedule as a 12-4 team than they did a year ago when they finished 4-12.

The season opens at home against Dallas on Sept. 11. A week later begins the second toughest road schedule in the NFL with a trip to AFC West rival Denver on Sept. 18. In all, the Chargers have seven games against playoff teams. They face the other three AFC division champions, all five other AFC playoff participants, including two against wild-card entry Denver, and one NFC division champion.

“If you want me to say it looks tough on paper, absolutely,” said Smith. “There are some good teams(on the schedule). Going on the road is hard anyway.”

Any Chargers schedule will be tough with the built in home-and-home games against AFC West rivals Denver, Kansas City and Oakland. The schedule also has the Bolts facing three of the four AFC and NFC conference finalists in four-week stretch October.

The Chargers play at Super Bowl XXXIX champion New England (14-2) on Oct. 2, play Pittsburgh (15-1) at home on Monday, Oct. 10 and travel to Philadelphia (13-3) on Oct. 23. The three teams have a combined record of 42-6.

“To me, they’re all tough,” Smith said. “You’re asking me to dissect a schedule on paper. It’s based on what the records were a year ago. I look at it as a new year. It’s a new year for us and a new year for the New England Patriots, the world champions three out of four years. And I’m sure they’ll tell you that, too, when you talk about the past.”

All three of the Chargers’ prime-time TV slots are an added treat for Chargers fans as home games at Qualcomm Stadium. The AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers (15-1) will enliven Mission Valley on Monday, Oct. 10. The two Sunday night dates at Qualcomm are against the New York Giants (6-10) on Sept. 25 and the Oakland Raiders (6-10) on Dec. 4.

“The best thing is everybody recognizes that with the 12-4 record, the Chargers are one of premier teams in the National Football League,” said Jim Steeg, the executive vice president and chief operating officer. “The best thing is for our fans to go out and buy season tickets. I think they’ll find we’ve got a really enjoyable season.”

In addition to AFC East champion New England and AFC North champion Pittsburgh, the Chargers third showdown with an AFC division champion is Dec. 18 at the AFC South champion Indianapolis Colts (12-4).

The other two AFC playoff participants the Chargers face are the wild-card entries – the New York Jets (10-6) and the Denver Broncos (10-6). The Chargers will be seeking revenge against the Jets on Nov. 6 for the playoff loss that ended their season.

The first Broncos game is at Denver on Sept. 18 and the Broncos visit San Diego in the regular-season finale on Saturday, Dec. 31. The second game also is a featured nationally televised game as one of two NFL Saturday contests.

The final division champion on the Chargers’ schedule is Philadelphia. The Eagles won the NFC East and NFC titles before losing to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The Chargers’ first Sunday night national game against the Giants will no doubt be promoted by television around quarterback Eli Manning facing the Chargers.

On Draft Day last year, the Chargers ignored Manning’s statement that he didn’t want to be drafted by the Bolts. Smith then worked a deal that sent Manning to the Giants in a package that netted the Chargers the Giants’ first-round pick, quarterback Philip Rivers; the Giants’ third-round pick, which the Chargers used to take kicker Nate Kaeding; and the Giants’ first- and fifth-round picks 2005.

“Whatever took place was last year, and we’ve all moved on,” Smith said. “That’s a question for Eli. He’s the one who made the statements he didn’t want to come to the Chargers. That’s fine. Now he’s got to come and face the fans. I’m sure they’ll be juiced up for that. That’s what pro football and the NFL are about – a little extra excitement on that one, that’s for sure.”

In addition to Denver, the Chargers other home-and-home dates are with AFC West rivals Kansas City and Oakland. The Chargers travel to Oakland on Oct. 16 before their Sunday night date on Dec. 4.

The two games with Kansas City Chiefs (6-10) are Oct. 30 at Qualcomm and Dec. 24 at Kansas City. The trip to Missouri will be the Chargers’ only cold-weather date in December since the road game at Indianapolis will be played indoors.

The AFC West’s cross-conference games are against the NFC East. Besides the home game with the Giants and the road game with the Eagles, the other two NFC East opponents include the season opener at home against the Dallas Cowboys on Sept. 11 and a road game with the Washington Redskins (6-10) on Nov. 27.

The Chargers face two other AFC East teams in addition to New England and the New York Jets, both at home. The Buffalo Bills (9-7) visit Qualcomm on Nov. 20 and Miami Dolphins are here on Dec. 11.

In addition to the three prime-time games, Steeg likes the excitement generated by the first three home games that are nationally televised against Dallas, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh.

“Three times we’ll have 70,000 people in Qualcomm cheering and yelling,” Steeg said. “A.J. and Marty (Schottenheimer) will tell you that’s worth points to us.”

Thursday, April 07, 2005

More Updates....

The Chargers have yet to decide how S Clinton Hart fits in the mix. Hart never got in a comfortable rhythm last season after being acquired off waivers from Philadelphia. He saw time in dime and nickel packages, but was unable to fully display his athleticism because he was thinking instead of reacting while learning a new defense. Hart has the ability to play free or strong safety, and likely will open camp as the backup to SS Terrence Kiel. His value could be greatest on special teams. He tied for the team lead with 13 tackles last season despite missing the first few weeks. . . .

DE Adrian Dingle took a pay cut to remain with the team. Dingle lost his starting job last season while struggling to recover from offseason knee surgery. He contributed the second half of the season as a reserve, and will be used in that role again this year. Dingle has lost some of his quickness, but still is strong against the run and can generate occasional pressure on the quarterback. He has the ability to be a part-time starter, but the Chargers will seek to monitor his snaps in hopes that he can give them a full season.