John Crist: Norv Turner inherits arguably the most talented roster in the league. Have you noticed any discernable differences since he's taken over as head coach, or is this still Marty Schottenheimer's team with a new leader?
Michael Lombardo: Norv Turner is the head coach in title alone. In actuality, he is a glorified offensive coordinator. Since being hired in February, he has more than doubled the team's offensive playbook and worked extensively with Philip Rivers and the offensive skill players. However, he has done very little to alter operations on the defensive side of the ball. The defense is maintained by new coordinator Ted Cottrell and former Bears coordinator Ron Rivera, who coaches San Diego's inside linebackers.
Last season, coordinators Cam Cameron and Wade Phillips had complete autonomy on their respective sides of the ball, so Turner and Cottrell are replacing those two more than they are Schottenheimer. That being said, Schottenheimer was a leader of men, more so than Turner will ever be. The Chargers were the best-prepared team in the NFL last season, and it remains to be seen if Turner can keep them that way.
JC: LaDainian Tomlinson had perhaps the greatest season in history for a running back in 2006. We all know the measurables he possesses, but what are the subtle and underappreciated things he does that help make him the best player in the NFL?
ML: Tomlinson has a knack for making the players around him better. His offensive linemen work a little bit harder to finish their blocks when No. 21 has the ball, knowing it doesn't take much to spring him for a big play. Tomlinson also makes things easy for Rivers by picking up blitzes when they come and scooting out into the flat when they don't. Also, he has a not-so-quiet confidence that his teammates feed off of. He really believes that if the Chargers execute their offense, nobody can stop them.
It's also impossible to overlook how his presence opens things up in the passing game. The Chargers receivers are guaranteed single coverage when L.T. is on the field. Also, Antonio Gates can take advantage of being priority No. 2 for opposing defenses.
"When No. 21 is on the field," Gates says, "they'll leave No. 85 open all day long."
JC: Like Rex Grossman, Philip Rivers is a first-round quarterback with very high expectations both now and in the future. Grossman got killed in the Chicago press last year despite taking his team to the Super Bowl, so how did the San Diego media treat Rivers after the Chargers didn't win one playoff game?
ML: Amazingly, no one ever questions Rivers in San Diego . In all fairness, he had a fantastic debut season. He threw for 3,388 yards and 22 touchdowns; he led the league in fourth-quarter passer rating; he kept his interceptions in single digits; and he earned a Pro Bowl invite after leading his team to a 14-2 record. A lot of players deserve blame for the playoff meltdown against the New England Patriots, but Rivers isn't one of them.
QB Philip Rivers (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
What gets me is that no one challenges what would have happened had the team kept Drew Brees. As good as Rivers was last season, Brees was certainly better. Given his experience and the chemistry he enjoyed with his teammates, it is not hard to imagine the Chargers having won the Super Bowl with Brees at the helm.
JC: Shawne Merriman gets all the headlines on defense, and rightfully so, but tell us more about the other young defenders taken in the first round recently like Luis Castillo and Antonio Cromartie. And besides them, who else do we need to watch on Sunday?
ML: Castillo is the most important defensive player because of his ability to excel against the run and the pass. Along with two-time Pro Bowler Jamal Williams and Igor Olshansky, Castillo fortifies a front that is tough to run against. Against the pass, Castillo finished last season with seven sacks in just 10 games.
Cromartie looked great in mini camps and offseason coaching sessions but appeared lost in the preseason. He has blazing speed and incredible athleticism but so far appears to be a better athlete than football player. He is uncertain in his assignments and uninterested in coming up against the run.
The defensive player the Bears need to worry about is Shaun Phillips. While Merriman is drawing extra attention, Phillips will be taking advantage of one-on-one looks on the other side. He has incredible speed off the edge and the fastest first step of any linebacker in the game. The Chargers' top priority is rattling Grossman, and Phillips has the best chance to make it happen.
JC: The Bears and Chargers made a trade on draft day, and it certainly appears on paper that Chicago got the better of the deal. San Diego may have overpaid to get safety Eric Weddle from Utah at No. 37 overall, but has he been worth the price of admission so far?
ML: Weddle will never justify the four picks the Chargers gave up to get him. However, general manager A.J. Smith knew that before pulling the trigger. The Chargers had eight picks in this year's draft and were too deep to accommodate eight rookies on the active roster. In addition, the third-rounder in 2008 will be replaced by a compensatory draft pick after the Chargers lost Donnie Edwards in free agency.
For now, Weddle is the team's dime back and will play on third-and-long as well as on special teams. He will start at some point this season because current starter Clinton Hart has no business starting on a championship-caliber defense.
To read Part III of Behind Enemy Lines, where John and Michael make their final predictions, Click Here.
John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. Michael Lombardo is the Editor of SDBoltReport.com.
Behind Enemy Lines: Part II
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