Special Teams, Special Drill

The kicking game of the San Diego Chargers is one place to start when considering what needs to be upgraded this offseason. For the first time in practice Friday we got a taste of what to expect in the form of new blood, Mackenzie Hoambrecker.<br><br> Then it was game time when the offense poured onto to the field to attempt to go 80 yards for a touchdown, complete with downs. The defense was given the task of stopping them, and no punting was allowed.

Mackenzie Hoambrecker lined up for 11 field goals from various spots on the field, starting from 33 yards out. Darren Bennett held the snap each time. From inside the 40, Hoambrecker was perfect. He lined up for three within 40 yards, two from 33 and one from 38 and made them cleanly.

Hoambrecker then lined up for four more from outside of 40, two from 43 yards out and two from 48 out and again made them all.

Then the stress test ensued. Hoambrecker lined up for two from 51 yards out and sent one wide right and the other fell a good distance short. The coaching staff moved the ball in again after that and Hoambrecker nailed the next two, both from 43 yards out.

He ended the day 9-11, perfect from 48 yards and in, with six attempts over 40 yards. Considering Steve Christie was 5-12 from outside the 40 and the ones he made were from 40, 40, 41, 49 and 51, it was a revelation to see Hoambrecker make all four attempts from 48 yards out and more actual good attempts than Christie had all season.

We promised coverage of the 80 yard drill and here it is:

As briefly touched upon earlier, the offense took the field at the 20 yard line and was given the task to drive the 80 yards downfield in the quest for a touchdown. The defense was asked to stop them from generating any yardage. Since no contact can truly happen, any reception or carry was marked down after the defense got two hands on the ball carrier. Remember even in the trenches, no "real" contact was happening; it was more a push fest.

With a full set of downs, and a full playbook at their disposal, Drew Brees stepped under center.

We didn't really take notice that much of what down it was, or how many yards were gained, but the results will define itself as this plays out. Some unremarkable plays have even been left out.

Brees opened it up, dropping back to pass. The defense was swarming and the secondary in pursuit across the field. No one was open! After a few stutter-steps, Brees took off in a scramble to gain a few yards.

LaDainian Tomlinson was the next name called and Adrian Dingle got into the backfield virtually untouched making a stop behind the line. Dingle has provided some nice upfield pressure against the pass in the past and it is nice to see his game evolving after signing a three-year deal this offseason.

As we detailed yesterday, Brees threw a ball up to David Boston near the sidelines but the ball was behind him and popped off his shoulder pads, falling incomplete. Tony Okanlawon was in coverage on the play, holding his own in.

Tomlinson again got the carry and Ben Leber pounced on the draw play with penetration through the middle, stopping LT at the line.

Brees took the next snap and found a wide open Stephen Alexander just off the line. Alexander bumped his assignment in the blocking game before releasing and was able to take the ball past the marker for a first down.

Dingle got penetration again in run defense and stopped Jesse Chatman at the line for no gain.

After two more runs gaining minimal yardage Brees took a 4th down shotgun snap and found Josh Norman near the sidelines. Norman caught the ball and turned to gain the yardage needed for the first down getting pushed out of bounds by Otis Leverette a few feet past the marker. Leverette had dropped into coverage on Norman and proved to be no match for the speedier tight end.

After two more running plays that did little, Drew Brees took the snap and found nary a man open in the secondary. Tomlinson was crossing the middle of the field about 7 yards away and Brees was feeling the heat of the pass rush. Brees tried to push a shovel pass to LT, but it was wide of its mark, falling incomplete.

In the sequence of the game environment, offsides was called on Jacques Cesaire. Brees used a hard count to draw him offsides and provide a little relief for the sagging offense.

Sitting at the defenses' 40 yard line, Brees dropped back looking for Boston all the way and fired a pass into the end zone. Okanlawon, in coverage was battling for position with Boston and was able to distract him enough to make the pass go incomplete.

Brees came off the field after that play, giving way to Cleo Lemon and the play of the day.

On the very first play that Lemon was quarterbacking, Lemon pulled one of the sweetest play-actions I have seen. After faking the handoff to LT, Lemon rolled out to the right, hiding the ball as most of the defense pursued the left side where they thought the ball was. Lemon set and delivered a pass that was a little too far for Eric Parker and appeared headed right to a defender. Parker leapt through the air in an all out dive and was able to get his fingertips on the back of the ball as it was sliding past, pulling the ball in before he hit the ground for a reception. The instant replay would have clearly showed he had his hands under the ball and it never hit the ground. As he fell to the ground, both the offense and defense erupted with "Whoa!" and defenders scrambled to give him a pat on the back saying, "Great catch!" The coaching staff was hooting and hollering along with the rest of the team and Cam Cameron yelled, "Nice catch Eric" above the noise.

Finally after all the congratulating the drill continued. We always reiterate that there is very little actual hitting going on, since it is meant to protect the players and not part of the players association rules for offseason workouts, but lets be honest, it will happen from time to time. The next play it did happen, or maybe it was just all the weight bearing down. Courtney Van Buren, run blocking for LT bowled over Stephen Cooper. Maybe that was Van Buren's idea of a push. VB literally walked over him as if he was not there. The idea of that strength and raw power helping the running game is enough to make you salivate.

Hard-hitting Hanik Milligan was the next defender to come up big. Using the rarely seen finesse side of his repertoire, Milligan gracefully got a hand on a ball intended for Terry Charles on a post pattern. The deflected ball bounced into the air and was almost picked off by another closing defender who dove for it. Unfortunately I cannot tell you who that was since I could not see the name or number. It would seem I need more practice reps as well.

With that play the horn sounded ending the drill at the 20-yard line and no touchdown. The half winded down and the defense, with its bend but don't break philosophy comes away with the win. The horn not only sounded the end of this drill but the end of Friday's practice.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net or via the following link: Denis Savage

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