Chargers Set for Primetime Debut

The Chargers head to America's heartland to get a beat on their 2010 season. They open against the Chiefs on Monday Night Football, giving them a chance to not only show they're ready for prime time but to prove their coach correct.

"I would believe that this group has a chance to be the best team I've coached as a head coach," the Chargers' Norv Turner said.

That's a gutsy comment from a coach who has overseen three dangerous and talented Chargers teams, all of which won the AFC West title and then fell short in the playoffs.

But is this team better than those?

While the Chargers are loaded with offensive weapons, there are enough red flags flapping in the San Diego breeze to think Turner has been out in the sunshine too long.

Better than last year's 13-3 team which won 11 straight games?

Better than the 2008 squad which won a playoff game?

Better than the 2007 edition which reached the AFC title contest?

Does different translate into better, because the Chargers are different.

There is no more LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie, Jamal Williams, Kassim Osgood, Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill.

The latter two never signed; the others were shown the door.

Now the NFL gets to see what the new-look Chargers can offer.

"I feel very confident in what we're going to able to do," quarterback Philip Rivers said.

The Chargers' offense is loaded -- first-round pick Ryan Mathews could supply a boost to a running game which was AWOL last year.

But it will be missing its biggest downfield threat in Jackson. And it is absent the most critical blocker at the left tackle, McNeill.

On defense, where will the pass rush come from?

Shawne Merriman has practiced only a handful of times this summer. Larry English, last year's top pick, had four sacks his rookie year and made little impact. Shaun Phillips could supply it, but he's seen more as a complementary player than a star.

The Chargers, even with their blemishes, have the potential to be a dynamite team. But the best team since Turner took over here in 2007?

That remains to be seen, but we'll know more after Monday night in what could be a trap in one of the NFL's loudest stadiums.

"It's a very, very difficult place to play," Turner said.

But the Chargers, who went a franchise-best 7-1 on the road last year, are ready.

SERIES HISTORY: 100th regular-season meeting. Chiefs lead series, 50-48-1, although the Chargers have won the last five matchups and six of the last seven. The Chargers dominated both games last year, winning 37-3 and 43-14. They have won three straight times at Arrowhead Stadium. The teams have split their two appearances on Monday Night Football. The teams have met once in the playoff, a 17-0 blanking of the Chiefs by the Chargers in a 1993 wildcard game.


--New WR Patrick Crayton is expecting to play Monday night. "That's what I plan on," he said. "As soon I heard about the trade, I set a flight for the next morning. I've been able to get into the playbook, work a bit with Philip (Rivers) and get involved in practice." How long until the former Cowboy is up to speed? "I don't know," he said. "Give me a week."

--CB Fred Bennett is blending in since coming over from the Texans. "You come in as the lone ranger and you try to fit in to the locker room as quickly as possible," Bennett said. "I'm lucky because I already know a couple guys on the team. I heard it was a good group, so I wasn't nervous when I walked in I'm here to do my part and help the team win. Anything they need me to do, I'll do it."

--LT Adam Terry was signed after being cut by the Colts. Terry missed last season with a knee injury that required surgery and after a trying rehabilitation, he insists that he's 100 percent. "It's good," Terry said. "If it wasn't, I don't think I could move the way I can. I worked it back into game shape during training camp, but the rust has been knocked off and I'm feeling great. It was a long time coming, but I'm finally feeling great. There isn't anything holding me back."

--LB Stephen Cooper said Monday night can't get here soon enough. "It's been a long offseason after that loss to the Jets," he said.

--The Chargers don't kick off until 9:15 p.m., Kansas City time. "It's going to be a long day," Rivers said. "The clock will seem like it is dragging all day."

--While the most vivid memory from 2009 is the Chargers' playoff pratfall against the Jets, they do enter the season with an 11-game regular-season winning streak. Their last loss, not counting the playoffs, came on Oct. 19 to the Broncos.

--While the most vivid K Nate Kaeding 2009 memory is him going 0-for-3 in that playoff loss, he has hit 63 straight regular-season field goals from 40 yards or less.

--Only three of general manager A. J. Smith's six draft picks made the opening day roster: RB Ryan Mathews, SS Darrell Stuckey and DT Cam Thomas.

--Chiefs WR Chris Chambers was with the Chargers from 2007, '08 and parts of '09.

--QB Philip Rivers and C Nick Hardwick are on the cover of the West Coast edition of Sports Illustrated; it is the first cover treatment for either player.

BY THE NUMBERS: 21 -- For the first time since 2000, a Charger won't be wearing No. 21, with LaDainian Tomlinson moving on to the New York Jets.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He is a little more physical than L.T. Kansas City has a lot to look forward to Monday." -- LB Stephen Cooper on rookie running back Ryan Mathews; he is replacing LaDainian Tomlinson.


The Chargers are still trying to decipher which players to play and when along their defensive line and that should make for a steady rotation in their game against the Chiefs.

By electing to keep eight defensive linemen -- some could be inactive Monday -- the Chargers are attacking this position more with numbers than drop-dead talent. They are hoping the mixture of experienced starters and up-and-coming prospects will do their trick in their first full year without Pro Bowl tackle Jamal Williams.

Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera figures to go with the hot hands on Monday, keeping those playing well in while letting the others cool their jets.


--QB Philip Rivers looks for a quick start to a season in which he is aiming to throw for more than 4,000 yards for the third consecutive year. That would tie Dan Fouts' franchise mark set from 1979-81.

--WR Patrick Crayton, although he just recently joined the team, should see a significant amount of playing time Monday.

--OLB Larry English figures to see more snaps Monday with the uncertainty of OLB Shawne Merriman's health.

--QB Billy Volek is back practicing after taking a pretty good beating during the preseason because of the Chargers' shoddy pass protection.

--ILB Brandon Siler didn't beat out Kevin Burnett for a starting job but Siler will still get plenty of work on running downs.

GAME PLAN: The Chargers should show off their new toy: running back Ryan Mathews.

It's clear the Chargers have a stellar passing game, but for this game, they should lean heavily on the run.

Not only is the Chiefs' run defense suspect, the fewer times Rivers has to pass with a raw left tackle trying to protect, the better.

The Chargers swear they have confidence in Brandyn Dombrowski, and at this stage, what else can they do? But with his debut being on the road, especially in raucous Kansas City, the team would be better served attacking the Chiefs on the ground.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers LT Brandyn Dombrowski vs. ROLB Tamba Hali.

Dombrowski gets his first NFL start at left tackle and is there a more challenging venue do to it in than Arrowhead Stadium. With the noise making it impossible to hear the snap counts, Dombrowski will have to rely on a silent count in getting a jump when getting in his stance to slow down Hali. Hali has done well in the past against the Chargers, collecting four sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Dombrowski figures to get some help from a tight end on the Chargers keeping a running back in to at least chip on the pass-rushers. But this matchup is worth watching.

Chargers RB Ryan Mathews vs. Chiefs run defense, led by NT Ron Edwards.

Mathews has looked good in the preseason, although he was derailed when the Saints went after him with numerous run blitzes. Mathews gets his feet wet against a run defense which was horrible last year and doesn't look much better with the same three along the defensive line, with Edwards at the nose spot. Rookie safety Eric Berry could supply some much needed run-support. Mathews could have a big day especially if the Chargers want to keep Philip Rivers out of harm's way as much as they can with an inexperienced left tackle.

Chargers interior run defense, with tackles Antonio Garay and Cam Thomas vs. Chiefs RBs Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones.

The Chargers' run defense had holes as well last year, ranked 20th and giving up some 118 yards per game. The Chiefs, if nothing else, seem to have the wares to run the ball -- Charles and Jones are solid. And the Chargers' run defense is still finding its identity. But look for the Chiefs to try and exploit this area of a Chargers defense which is among the biggest question mark.


--OLB Shawne Merriman is still being bothered by a sore Achilles tendon. Even if he goes Monday, he won't be at 100 percent -- he has yet to play in a game since the team lost to the Jets in the playoffs. He did practice on Wednesday in individual drills.

--QB Billy Volek continues to work through general soreness after taking some big hits in the preseason. He was restricted to individual work Wednesday but should be OK for his backup role on Monday.

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