Especially Bad

The Chargers have the league's No. 1 offense, No. 2 defense and a losing record. That's because San Diego's special teams are historically inept. How did things get so bad, so fast? There are three main factors, two of which were preventable.

Factor One: Injuries

Injuries have taken their toll on the special teams. David Binn, the franchise leader in games played, was lost for the season with a groin injury suffered in the season-opener. Since then, P Mike Scifres has had three punts blocked. None of the snaps were errant, but they were not delivered with the velocity and pinpoint accuracy that made Binn a legend.

San Diego has also lost several valuable cover men to injury, including Donald Butler, Larry English and Jyles Tucker. Also, Darrell Stuckey would have been a much bigger factor if not for a hamstring injury that derailed his development.

Factor Two: Priorities

San Diego has not placed a premium on special-teams players, an organizational philosophy that is threatening to wreck the 2010 season. Fans point to the offseason loss of Kassim Osgood as a turning point, but San Diego has been undervaluing special-teams contributors for years.

From vets like Carlos Polk and Hanik Milligan to youngsters like Nick Roach and Eldra Buckley, the Chargers have failed to hang onto players who can dominate on special teams. The team has always believed young players can be coached to succeed in those roles, but as evidenced this season, it is not always that easy.

Factor Three: Desire

Watching the Chargers struggle on special teams reminds me of a conversation I had with RaShawn Jackson at this year's Senior Bowl. Jackson is a fullback out of Virginia who signed with the Carolina Panthers after the draft. Jackson played kickoff, kickoff coverage, punt, punt return and field goal for the Cavaliers.

"With special teams, it is 90 percent want-to and 10 percent mental and technique," he told me at the time.

Rather than taking a flier on a special-teams dynamo like Jackson in the seventh round, the Chargers went with TE Dedrick Epps, who didn't survive the final round of cuts and was released from the practice squad before the first week of the season.

As a result, Steve Crosby is left with players lacking in the want-to department. His team K.O.'d Kassim Osgood and let The Birdman fly the coup. While these moves are great for inspiring puns, they are debilitating for a team that's trying to be special.



Can San Diego's special teams be fixed? Talk about it in the message boards.




Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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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