Tough Decisions Await

The San Diego Chargers just finished their preseason and now are faced with the task of trimming their roster of 15 players by Sunday at 1 PM PST. The NFL mandate of 53 players on the roster must be met, as NFLE roster exemptions expire, and Friday night exposed potential surprises on the horizon. <br><br> "We're a better football team right now than we were this time a year ago," said Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer.

A day later on September 1, 2003 After 4 p.m. est. NFL clubs may establish a Practice Squad of five players by signing free agents.

Note a player may not spend more than two seasons on a practice squad.

"We'll sit down and look at the tape, and once we've done that, we'll decide which direction we're going to go," said Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer on Friday. "We're a better football team right now than we were this time a year ago, and when you are, it makes a number of those decisions even more difficult."

The first thing on the agenda is figuring out what to do with Stephen Alexander. His agent, Gary Wichard, said, "He tells me he feels great."

The only problem is Alexander has spent three days in Seattle to get a second opinion on a groin injury that has kept him out of practice for most of training camp. The team placed Alexander on the active physically unable to perform list, and by doing so they could PUP him for the first six weeks of the season. That may be the smart thing to do.

NFL Europe:

The developmental league did not work. There is talk among the owners about the future of NFL Europe and the Chargers may be in support of it, but does anyone remember the last time someone from the league that made the Bolts?

Seth Burford showed he could hand off with the best of them on Sunday. He attempted just two passes, tucked and ran for two more and was sacked once. Forget the competition between he and Lemon, the writing is on the wall for the former Chargers draft pick and despite the smiles he had after leading the team to a touchdown drive, his bags are packed.

Luke Butkus did not play at all Friday night at Qualcomm. After a semi-successful Europe campaign, Butkus did not carry it overseas. In Europe he was among the best centers, and then he got hurt and has not been the same since. He is already at the airport.

Scott Pospisil had the most spirited game of his career Friday with a pass defense and one tackle. A career that has no regular season experience and three seasons of Europe will not earn in-season experience with the Chargers. Too little, too late as Pospisil gets the boot.

Playing time:

Dahrran Diedrick was given that extra chance last week as the team let Nick Maddox go in order to bring in Leon Johnson. Little did he know he used up all his unused minutes last week and he would get no carries this week. With the Chargers backs averaging over 5.0 yards per carry, Diedrick is gone.

A Numbers Game:

Andrew Pinnock may need to get better as a blocker, and that will happen with the help of Lorenzo Neal, but he showed he can carry a pile and get those tough yards with regularity. Joey Goodspeed gets cut because of it.

Start out strong and falter as the season draws near. Players who do the opposite, get stronger as the season draws near are the keepers. Tony Okanlawon started by defending David Boston and camp and did well. Now he is allowing too many completions in front of him and seems to be the guy QBs test the most. As a cornerback, the less they talk about throwing your way, the better you are. He will hook on somewhere if he is let go by the Bolts.

He may have hands around the end zone, but he needs to have more exposure. He would be a good developmental guy if the practice squad was not filled. Grant Mattos could catch on somewhere else.

For a team that wants the playoffs, distractions can kill. Leonardo Carson has backing by the Chargers, but with the solid play of Jacques Cesaire and the improvement of DeQuincy Scott in pass rushing, he could be the odd man out to keep the focus on the team as the Bolts make a "push" for the playoffs.

The team cannot afford to keep three kickers and Mike Scifres is more ready than Hoambrecker. Besides that Christie could still kickoff if he needed too. Therefore the old Aussie, Darren Bennett gets kicked.

The Practice Squad:

Kevin Breedlove spent a lot of time on the line last night. Some was good, some was bad. He played center and guard and is caught up in a battle with veterans. He will not win this battle.

Cedric Henry signed up for the kiss of death. He changed positions with a week to go in the preseason. That may actually help him as the team sees his value from a developmental standpoint.

What?!? How dare you! Watch the game on Friday and notice Kassim Osgood out there with no passes thrown his way. Talk about hiding someone on the practice squad. The team will do just that. Less exposure on Friday night for a 6-5 receiver may keep him on the practice squad. He will not last all year on the squad.

He has the name, but he did not do enough to give him a spot. In a battle with Stephen Cooper, plain and simple, he lost. Jordan Kramer still will get some time to develop and he was a playmaker.

Had he made the 53 yarder on Friday, Christie would be getting cut. Mackenzie Hoambrecker hit it long enough and straight enough but from his spot on the left hash, it sailed wide left. Christie had a 44 yard attempt that hooked left by about 30 yards. The talent for Hoambrecker is there, he just needs some practice. What better place than the practice squad. He could even be a Bolt by the middle of the year as the starting kicker.

Final Notes:

Should Alexander stay with the team and not on the PUP or even IR, Antonio Gates will make this team. He is developing weekly into the best blocking tight end the Chargers have. Watch the game again and it will be obvious. Josh Norman may be the odd man out. Justin Peelle will stick in a Marty Schottenheimer offense.

There could be more surprises with some players getting "hidden" on IR for the year, but the magic day is coming up soon. Toniu Fonoti, the second year guard could be one of those players. He has suffered from a triceps strain and Plantar Fasciitis. pronounced PLAN-tar fashee-EYE-tiss) is an inflammation of the plantar fascia. "Plantar" means the bottom of the foot, "fascia" is a type of connective tissue, and "itis" means "inflammation".

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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