Behind Enemy Lines, Part II

Michael Lombardo of and Charlie Bernstein of analyze Sunday's game between the Chargers and Jaguars. Find out how the Chargers will compensate for their missing holdouts; how Kassim Osgood will fare in his return home; and much, much more.

Charlie Bernstein: It really appeared as if the Chargers missed the services of Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeill in their Monday night loss to the Chiefs. The Chargers offense didn't seem to have a second big-play guy other than Gates and at times the offense appeared to be in preseason mode. What's your guess on when these guys will be brought back or potentially traded?

Michael Lombardo: I believe Marcus McNeill will sign his tender after the seventh game of the season. He will then serve his three-week suspension (because the Chargers placed him on the roster-exempt list) and play in the final six games -- just enough to get credit for an accrued season.

Jackson will likely be traded by Wednesday. If that happens, he will be eligible to play for his new team in Week 5, as per the settlement agreed to this week by the players' union; if he is not traded by Wednesday, he can return no sooner than Week 7.

One of the men looking to fill Jackson's void, Patrick Crayton, will see his first meaningful action as a Charger during the home opener on Sunday.

CB: Kassim Osgood was a minor footnote amongst NFL free agency signings, but it appeared as if San Diego really missed him on Monday as they allowed a few big returns. Why exactly did the team decide to move on from the best special teams player in football?

WR Kassim Osgood
Stephen Dunn/Getty
ML: The Chargers were dissatisfied with Osgood's attitude, not his performance. He was openly unhappy about not being allowed to contribute on offense and was vocal with his criticisms of Norv Turner.

GM A.J. Smith has a history of undervaluing special teams players. It was only a few seasons ago that he released FS Hanik Milligan just months after Milligan appeared in the Pro Bowl as the AFC's special teams representative.

The Chargers were hoping third-round pick Donald Butler would help offset the loss of Osgood on special teams, but Butler was lost with an Achilles injury.

CB: Despite the Chargers coming up on the short end of their opener, I believe the AFC West is still theirs for the taking. If you look at the stats, San Diego dominated and it was a pretty fluky loss. If that game was about five minutes longer, San Diego would've left Arrowhead Stadium as winners. Is there a team in that division who can actually compete for the title in your opinion?

ML: Probably, because I don't think the 2010 Chargers will be dominant enough to run away with the title like they did last season. That being said, it's tough to tell which team will apply the pressure.

I can guarantee you it won't be Kansas City. Matt Cassel simply isn't good enough for that team to contend for the title. The Raiders look good enough on paper, but their 25-point loss in Week 1 is not a good omen. Denver has been hit hard by injuries, but they may still have enough prideful veterans to put together a competitive season.

CB: Shawne Merriman hasn't appeared as if he's going to be the same player as when he was collecting double-digit sacks. If he can't be that unstoppable force coming off the edge, is Larry English good enough to be an impact player?

ML: It doesn't look like it. English posted just two sacks last season despite appearing in all 16 games, including two starts. He failed to pressure the quarterback again in the season opener and has yet to prove he can live up to the expectations.

English is a solid all-around player who is more disciplined and dependable than Merriman. He is also much better against the run. However, I haven't seen any indications as of yet that he can be an impact player on this level.

CB: There are big expectations from rookie running back Ryan Mathews, especially considering how far the Chargers traded up in the draft to get him. We know Matthews won't be L.T. in his prime, at least not right away, but does it appear as if the organization is happy with his work up to this point?

ML: First of all, there is no need for the qualifier, "at least not right away." Mathews will never be as good as Tomlinson in his prime. That's not a knock on Mathews, rather a realization that Tomlinson is a once-in-a-generation player.

That being said, the Chargers are very high on Mathews. He is a decisive runner who shows terrific power and instincts. He also has deceptive speed to get around the edge. He still needs to work on his patience and on reading defenses, but those things will improve as the season progresses. His big challenge will be working on improving the things that made L.T. special: catching the ball, protecting the ball, and protecting his quarterback.

CB: What's the feeling amongst the fans about GM A.J. Smith? Smith has a pretty good track record with his draft picks, but the stinginess about the McNeil and Jackson situations as well as the firing of Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-win season are certainly questionable.

ML: Smith is a polarizing figure in San Diego. He makes a lot of moves fans disagree with -- the ones you cited are just a few examples -- but the results are difficult to ignore. He took over as GM in 2003 and the Chargers have won five of the seven division titles since that time.

In addition to his successes during the draft, Smith has done a nice job of locking up the franchise's core players. Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Nick Hardwick, Kris Dielman, Shaun Phillips, Luis Castillo and Quentin Jammer are just a few examples. That's why many people feel the McNeill camp is at fault during this impasse; you have to believe if he showed up and played ball, the Chargers would reward him with a lucrative long-term deal.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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