The Bye Line

Schottenheimer said he'll leave no stone unturned this bye week in trying to turn around the Chargers. He better hope that those turned over stones do not end up in the hands of fans. Harking back to the offensive line and its composition at the break of Camp Carson, there was probably no part of the offense that had more interesting possibilities...

Time warp forward through five losses to go 0 for 2003, give us a bye week to gather the pitch forks and torches for the anti-Schottenheimer lynching party, and it seems appropriate to revisit where we are with the line.

Here is what I said before the start of training camp this year, "Last season's injuries to both starting tackles and loss of the starting center sent the warning bells off in Murphy Canyon. Hudson Houck did a masterful coaching job keeping the line glued together so that the offensive did not implode, but it was clear that depth at the tackle positions and upgrade for one of the guards was high on the shopping list." ……….Stop me if you have heard this tune before.

Upgrade at one of the guard positions with Garmon is incremental, and the premature dispatch of Toniu Fonoti to the IR while perennial walking wounded Stephan Alexander still is off of that list is nothing more than another inane move by Schottenheimer. Score the depth at guard as a disappointment. Losing Fonoti was tantamount to playing an inferior hand going into the deal. Fonoti and Page were the best options at guard, although Garmon had a very good camp all the way around. Solomon Page is better than Bob Hallen or Cory Raymer at guard. The issue is what happens when we once again lost a starting offensive tackle and have to play Houck's plug-and-play line game again.

Vaughn Parker is done for the year and is in all likelihood for the Chargers and his career in San Diego. Parker was entering his final year of a decade working with a helmet sporting bolts, and somehow losing one of the remaining three guys that were from the 1994 Super Bowl squad seems telling. The only solace we can take from this situation is that at least we have more depth this time around. There is no mention of playing Peelle at a tackle position just yet.

Page is slowly recovering from an ankle injury two weeks ago. The bye week purchased just enough time to allow Page to get the wheel under his 325 pound frame back to the point of filling in for Parker. What was clear through reviewing the game tapes for the Kansas City and Denver games is that the rushing holes on the right side of the line with Page and Parker were intermittent. McIntosh's thorough roasting during the Kansas City debacle took the critical eye off the right side of the line, but the rushing results, especially in short yardage, did not get it done.

Given the injuries, Hallen and Phil Bogle were working at right guard and tackle, respectively. The fact that Hallen made the roster and then ended up starting a game was a revelation. To Hallen's credit, he did a solid job while filling in. Bogle has done a very good job at right tackle, especially when you consider that the undrafted free agent surpassed 3rd round pick Van Buren. The Charger's scouting department and Houck's tutelage may have once again mined a diamond in the mode they did with Ball last season.

Phil Bogle has started the last two games versus Oakland and Jacksonville. He graded out higher in his first effort versus the Raiders. He demonstrates great balance and blocking in space. It was clear that there were monster holes in the game versus the Raiders when LT ran amok. Bogle had some help from the TEs and Neal chipping versus the Jaguars. Looking at the tape after the game, most of the right side breakdowns were in the T-G or C-G gaps. Hallen left the game with a strained pectoral muscle which meant that Cory Raymer was playing RG. That was bad news. What is clear is that Raymer is a one trick pony. He should be strictly regarded as a back up for Ball in a glass case with the label, "Break Glass. Use in Emergency Only!"

Ball has the talent and has shown enough output and progress to continue playing him in the starting rotation for the Chargers. Page will probably get his preference to work at tackle, so that would earn Bogle the right guard position. What is clear is that Houck will continue to have both guys ready to handle the assignments for both positions. Depth at this point is going to come in multi-role capability rather than body count alone.

Damion "Big Mac" McIntosh was a solid performer on the left side the last two seasons prior to his injury. No such luck this time around. Playing in the last year of his contract, he is making the decisions to have him somewhere else next year easier. Vonnie Holliday and Bertrand Berry embarrassed McIntosh. Holes for LT are better on the left side with Garmon and McIntosh, but the lack of pass protection has forced Brees to wear out cleats while scrambling for his own welfare. Courtney VanBuren spelled Big Mac during the later phases of the game against Jacksonville. Note that there was a vacuum of comments about this, which is curious since McIntosh was not listed on any injury reports either during the game or thereafter. Van Buren does bring a nasty attitude, and that could be reason enough for his introduction during the Jaguar game. Schottenheimer's favorite diatribe this week includes an attitude adjustment, and Van Buren brings that to the table.

Houck systematically assembled a massive and young approach to the offensive line. The Chargers now have starter back-up depth at OT, and now the issue is do we have the ability to have them learn real time like the defensive backfield, and can they fix the underperformance at the guard depth. Most of Ball's issues are interactive with the guards on both sides, and that needs to be fixed if the Chargers are going to be able to drill holes for LT and improve the protection for the quarterback.

Kevin Breedlove was resigned by the Chargers and was placed on the active roster on October 5th to provide depth at guard. Let that be a sign as to the depth concerns at guard.

The key metrics for the offensive line before the start of training camp were:
• Starting caliber depth at center
• Back-up depth at both tackles
• Experience at both guards
• Huge draft and UDFA talent to vie for back-up positions
• Entering a second season for Ball, and Fonoti, and crew under Houck

As of the bye week, it is still the same hit list. Unfortunately the Chargers have had to employ bullet number two and do not have Fonoti to help out this season. It still starts up front with the offense and so goes the offensive point production and season. If we have to use any more depth on the offensive line, then it is for digging a hole to bury this season.

Jeff Sturgis can be reached at sturgisjg@netscape.net

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