Chargers Game Day Primer

Jimmy Smith returns to the lineup in Jacksonville this week. His approach back could not be more different than that of David Boston. While Boston made a hasty apology, Smith stood in there and spoke with the media. He may not have given all the details, preferring to move forward, but he did acknowledge his mistakes.

The two had vastly different suspensions and this is not an attempt to compare the two. What is does show is the difference in mentality between the two and the team's view of the events.

Although the NFL's drug program is confidential, Smith apparently entered the league program when he tested positive for cocaine during a traffic stop in November of 2001. At the time, he denied he had ever used cocaine and said the test was flawed.

Smith's suspension didn't officially start until Aug. 31 -- the week before the first regular season game -- but he decided to leave the team in training camp on Aug. 16 so he could spend more time at a treatment facility.

"A lot of stuff is confidential," said Smith. "I regret everything in the past. I think the most important thing is that I've gotten over one hurdle. There are many other hurdles to jump."

"He can't wait to get back on the field. I can't wait to watch him. The fans can't wait to watch it. We're all excited," Matthew Hatchette said.

Strong words from the man Smith is likely to replace. Hatchette now is forced to battle it out for number two with JJ Stokes.

"We welcomed him with open arms," Brunell said. "The guys are excited to have him back. He's one of our best players. He's a leader. He's a great guy. He's been here since day one."

I had tremendous support from Mark and all of my teammates," Smith said.

Brunell expects Smith to have an immediate impact.

"Are you kidding me? He'll do whatever he wants to do. He's a man among boys out there. Of course, I'm his biggest fan. He's going to catch some balls. No question. I know I'll throw to him," he said.

Smith said, "Me and Mark have a history together. We kind of spring-boarded our careers together."

Brunell is saying this from the sidelines while his favorite receiver returns to the field. Byron Leftwich gets to enjoy the addition of Smith, a boon in his second NFL start.

Smith added, "At this point, it doesn't matter who's back there. Byron is an exceptional athlete. He's the future. We all know that. No matter who's behind the center, we've got to get it done this weekend (against San Diego)."

Leftwich said, "Nothing against the other guys, but you talk about Jimmy Smith and you're talking about one of the best receivers in the league. When he steps on the field, the opposing team knows 82 is out there."

"Oh, man, I got a smile on my face. When he walks in the huddle, he's just got something about him. He's got gr

eatness written all over him. I'm so happy to have him back," Leftwich said. Smith, meanwhile, was just happy to be back in the Jaguars' locker room.

"This locker room is a family. I miss these guys. I'll tell you when something is taken away from you, you realize things you take for granted. I'm very fortunate to be standing here today," he said.

Smith said it was the toughest situation he's ever met.

"I think by far. I've been through hospital stuff and holdouts. This is the toughest battle that I've faced in my life," he said.

When he was asked if he'd licked his addiction, he said, "It's an ongoing battle. You just continue to deal with that issue on a day-to-day basis. Hopefully, I'll overcome it. You can never say you've licked it. That's what gets you in trouble."

"I guess the main thing is I want to say thanks to Wayne Weaver for giving me an opportunity to be here today. And I want to thank the fans who sent cards and had me in their prayers. It's a special feeling," he said.

So while Smith is confronting any wrongdoing, David Boston is avoiding the controversy by not speaking to the media.

"I'm here just to make a statement," David Boston said in a press conference to reporters. "First of all, I want to apologize to my teammates, the organization and the fans for not being able to participate in this Sunday's game. I'm anxious to get out on the football field this week. I know I've made a lot of mistakes in the past and I've learned from them and I'm moving on.

"It was funny, I was watching the game and I ordered some food and I couldn't even eat because I was too very disturbed. And I let my teammates down and I want to get back out there and play. So that's what I'm here to do."

Not many teammates rushed to defend Boston. A few did, but there is concern that he did not address his teammates and word is Marty Schottenheimer is not pleased with his shunning of responsibility. Marty may have been outwardly calm when he spoke with the media, but he is fuming behind closed doors.

"Everyone makes mistakes," wide receiver Tim Dwight said. "He's just got to keep pushing forward. I think he's made some definite strides. You can tell a huge difference in practice now than you did when he came in April. There's a sense where now he hustles a hell of a lot more, and he takes more pride in blocking. He's always been a good receiver; catching the football and getting open have never been a problem. But doing extra things like getting downfield and blocking is something he's doing more of."

The seven-year, $47 million contract that Boston signed with the Chargers this spring as an unrestricted free agent includes an addendum that allows the team to recover $3 million in past or future earnings if the fifth-year veteran is suspended.

It took until Friday before Boston actually owned up to his actions. "If I keep going around here acting a fool, then I think they probably will (seek damages). But I think right now that's not even an issue," Boston told the Union Tribune. "Now I'm eager to get out there and show what I can do, show the people what type of receiver they have in me."

So while things are rosy for both returning receivers, the future is what will make or break them. Smith returns to a rookie quarterback and Boston returns possibly $3 million in cash…

BY THE NUMBERS: Jimmy Smith, who had only missed one game in the team's first eight seasons, has now played in 127 of 132 games after missing the first four this year with a drug suspension.

Fearless prediction:

Boston makes amends on the field this week with 7 receptions for over 100 yards and a touichdown.

Smith will struggle only because of limited practice and his timing with Leftwich. Four receptions for 42 yards.

Other Matchups:

Charger RB LaDainian Tomlinson vs. the Jaguars' run defense. The Jaguars are ranked seventh in the league in rush defense, but that's misleading because teams throw so much against them.

The Jaguars don't give up a lot of yardage on the ground, but they can't get the opposing team off the field. The Texans averaged 3.0 yards a rush last week, but they ran 37 times so they had a 35:14 to 24:46 edge in time of possession.

Tomlinson ran 28 times for 187 yards against the Chargers last week and is second in the AFC to Baltimore's Jamal Lewis with 419 yards. If Tomlinson can control the ball, he can give the Chargers the edge.

The offense revolves around Tomlinson in San Diego. When he does well, it opens the offense up to do special things downfield. The return of Boston and Dwight to compliment the youthful energy of Eric Parker and the rest of his undrafted crew should supply the difference.

The Chargers might pull a fast one on the Jaguars, leaning on the pass more than expected. Jacksonville has one of the NFL's most stout run defenses, and even though that's where the Chargers butter their bread -- on the run -- the passing game is primed for a breakout game with David Boston and likely, Tim Dwight returning. Plus, Tomlinson can be -- and is -- used as a primary receiver. That could give him more space to run in, rather than pointing him toward the jam-packed pile in the middle.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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