Many experts felt that the Chargers were the team to beat in the NFL heading
into the 2006 playoffs after compiling a league-best 14-win season. But the
Bolts came up short in their first and only playoff game despite the fact that
they led the Patriots by eight points with only 8:40 to play. It was a crushing
defeat that was full of uncharacteristic mistakes and sloppy play and it ultimately cost head
coach Marty Schottenheimer his job. Still, the mood is decidedly upbeat heading into 2007.
The players all say that they will learn from the disappointment of their early playoff exit, and
nearly every starter will be back this season.
The offense should again be among the
league’s elite. Philip Rivers exceeded expectations
in his first season taking over for Drew Brees and will look to continue his
growth this year. Barring injury, superstar LaDainian Tomlinson should again show why
he is among the most versatile and productive
backs in the league (though expecting a
repeat of his 31 total touchdowns may be a
little bit of wishful thinking). Also back again
is Tomlinson’s dazzling backup, Michael
Turner. The Chargers are expected to once
again liberally use Turner week-to-week in an
effort to keep Tomlinson fresh and healthy.
As for the pass-catchers, the unit should
again be paced by Antonio Gates at the tight
end position. Gates is probably the best
receiver on the team, and his unique combination
of size and athleticism makes him
exceedingly difficult to cover. Gates just
missed topping 1,000 yards receiving in 2006, but hauled in nine touchdown receptions
and has averaged just a shade under 11 touchdowns per season over the past three years.
At wide receiver, the unit will be getting noticeably younger this season. Eric Parker
returns for his sixth season with the team, but his upside is limited as he has never
exceeded 725 yards or four touchdowns in any season. The venerable Keenan McCardell
was replaced on the roster by rookie Craig Davis, but the player to watch this year is probably
third-year man Vincent Jackson. The big wideout really started to build a rapport with
Rivers as the season wore on, making 20 of his 27 receptions over the last seven games
of the year. The team loves his size and skills, and it would not be surprising at all if he
actually opened the season as the number one receiver.
The team’s defense will be lead by outside linebackers Shawne “Lights Out” Merriman
and Shaun Phillips, and despite the fact that he doesn’t put up flashy numbers, the heart
and soul of the unit will again be nose tackle Jamal Williams.
The talent is there on both sides of the ball for another strong campaign, but obviously
much will depend on how well the team takes to new head coach, Norv Turner, who gets
his third crack at running an NFL squad.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (30) Craig Davis, WR, Louisiana State
Speedy wideout with great hands finally gives
the team a legitimate deep threat.
2. (37) Eric Weddle, S, Utah
Excellent cover man and tackler expected to
immediately contribute after the Chargers
traded up 25 spots to get him.
3. (96) Anthony Waters, LB, Clemson
Missed almost all of the 2006 season with
a torn ACL, but is a big hitter who could be
a major steal as he is expected to be 100
percent by the start of the season.
4. (129) Scott Chandler, TE, Iowa
Projected to be a tough blocker who can also
make some contributions as a receiver.
5. (172) Legedu Naanee, WR, Boise State
Versatile player adds depth and will probably
help on special teams.
7. (240) Brandon Siler, LB, Florida
A leader on the National Championship team,
but a knee bruise hampered his play in 2006.
1. Donnie Edwards, LB (Chiefs)
Was a tackling machine over his five seasons
in San Diego, but was allowed to leave
because he was not a favorite of general
manager A.J. Smith.
2. Keenan McCardell, WR (FA)
The veteran wide receiver was let go after
tallying only 36 receptions in one of the
worst statistical seasons of his outstanding
3. Terrence Kiel, S (FA)
Was released after multiple run-ins with the
law, leaving the Chargers extremely thin at
1. COACH CHANGES, BUT SYSTEM REMAINS
Former head coach Marty Schottenheimer took the brunt of the blame for the Chargers’
playoff disappointment last season and was promptly replaced by Norv Turner. However, the
coaching change should not impact the team very much because they return nearly every
significant player from the team that won 14 games last season. And they won’t even have to
learn a new playbook since the offense that they have been running for the last several years
was actually installed by Turner when he was the offensive coordinator back in 2001.
2. NEW BLOOD AT RECEIVER
The wide receivers in San Diego will likely look a bit different in 2007. Eric Parker
returns, but the release of Keenan McCardell opens the door for either third-year phenom Vincent Jackson or rookie Craig Davis to join the starting lineup. Jackson is a big receiver
with a knack for making huge catches in crucial situations. Davis is a speedster who gives
the Chargers the deep threat that they have lacked over the last several years. Both players
will likely play key roles in 2007.
3. RIVERS CONTINUES TO DEVELOP
Nobody really knew what to expect from Philip Rivers as a first-time starter in 2006, but
he completed nearly 62 percent of his passes, had a passer rating of 92, and his touchdownto-
interception ratio was better than two-to-one. With another year of experience under his
belt, there is good reason to believe that he might be able to improve those numbers in 2007.
He still has the benefit of playing with arguably the best running back in the league and
also one of the best tight ends, and if the new coaching staff lets him air it out a bit more,
he could become a very dangerous passer.
4. TURNER STILL A STUD BACKUP
After weeks of trade negotiations with as many as six different teams, the Chargers
elected to keep Michael Turner for one more season. The Bolts would have moved him
for a first- and third-round pick, but in the end nobody met that steep asking price. Turner
averaged a hefty 6.3 yards per carry in 2006 and the team’s ability to freely sub him in for
Tomlinson without missing a beat is one of the main reasons that Tomlinson was able to
stay healthy and put together a record-breaking season.
5. TOMLINSON AVOIDS THE MADDEN CURSE
Coming off his sensational 2006 season, it was a bit of a surprise that Tomlinson was not
named the cover boy for the latest edition of the popular Madden video game. But the snub
might actually be good news for him since just about every player that has ever appeared
on the cover of the game has suffered a serious injury or a marked decline in production in
the season immediately following the honor.
Rising:Vincent Jackson's five-catch,
97 -yard, two-touchdown performance in
a huge Week 16 win paved the way for the
release of Keenan McCardell and could be a
precursor of things to come.
Falling: Nobody can question his
heart, but the development of Vincent Jackson
and the arrival of a speedy rookie receiver
could signal a lesser role for Eric Parker.
Sleeper:Philip Rivers was wonderfully
efficient in his first season as a starter
despite the fact that the coaches were overly
conservative with him at times.
Supersleeper: The Chargers elected not
to trade the ultra-talented Michael Turner,
so he enters the season as one of the best
backups in the league.
1. Shawne Merriman, LB
The big hitter registered 17 sacks in only 12
games in 2006.
2. Shaun Phillips, LB
The excellent pass rusher added another 11.5
sacks from the outside linebacker spot.
3. Quentin Jammer, CB
Looking to build on a season on which he
had four interceptions.