Chargers Game Day Primer

In the trenches. I went on record as saying that is the battle that would win the war this week between the San Diego Chargers and the Cleveland Browns. Now is not the time to back down, but rather it is a time for the youth and inexperience to step up and block their way to a victory. A good showing in the trenches will be the difference between 1-5 and 0-6.

"We have to do a better job of preparing ourselves." -- Coach Marty Schottenheimer, on why the team has struggled.

The Chargers have already faced many injuries to their offensive line. First Toniu Fonoti was placed on injured reserve in training camp. Then starting right tackle Vaughn Parker, the gatekeeper, was placed on injured reserve. Bob Hallen has since followed him and is gone for the year. All this and the season has yet to reach the halfway mark.

"(Marty Schottenheimer is) telling them to keep on fighting and keep on swinging and good things will happen," said Kenard Lang, a member of Schottenheimer's Redskins team. "They're not going to lie down. They're going to keep on coming and coming like a pit bull trying to lock his jaws on you."

That is the mentality of this revamped offensive line. The right side of the line has been mix and match. Center Jason Ball has had more partners next to him than at a square dance. Solomon Page, who originally started the season at guard will slide out to play tackle and Phil Bogle, filling in for an injured Parker and Page, will slide inside to guard. It will mark the first time Bogle is playing guard in the NFL.

The inherent problem for the Bolts, they are facing a much-improved front four in Cleveland. Courtney Brown, in particular, seems to be coming into his own.

"He's playing well and he's only going to get better," said LaDainian Tomlinson. "There's still a little rust, so you're just catching a little glimpse of him now. He's going to be like a shooting star and just take over. I'm very happy for Courtney. Everybody is. The good thing about Courtney is that he works hard. If he's dinged up or aching, he doesn't make excuses. If the coach asks him, ‘are you okay?" and he's hurting, he's not going to say, ‘I'm hurting.' He's not a crybaby. He'll keep on going and fighting. He'll keep on going until the wheels fall off."

That is bad news for the revamped right side of the Chargers line. Expect to see some opportunities where Brown stunts to the inside to get the better matchup with Bogle.

The X-Factor in all of this is Lorenzo Neal. Neal has proven he is out for blood and he can't be happy with an 0-5 start. He has already made his mark in San Diego, and on the oppositions pads. He throws his weight around and will be leading the charge in the running game.

"Lorenzo is one of those guys that is so powerful – when he blocks there's explosion and he's able to clear the way through the hole.," said Tomlinson. He's a headhunter – he leads with his head and he's always trying to hit somebody. He's the type of guy you want on your team."

For the Bolts to win, they need a complete effort from the line and Neal. Since the Jamal Lewis debacle, the Browns' run defense has been solid. But Tomlinson is capable of lighting up any defense and his shiftiness will make the Browns pay if they're not disciplined.

The numbers are actually mind blowing. Since yielding 295 yards to Jamal Lewis, the Browns have given up an average of only 63.5 rushing yards per game. The Eagles have the NFL's best run defense. They allow only 68.2 yards per game.

"We have our test with the running back (LaDainian Tomlinson)," said Lang. "It's going to be a good game. I'm really going to enjoy it."

Just as the Browns are salivating when they look at the offensive line of the Chargers, the Bolts are wagging their tails with excitement over the revamped Browns offensive line. Right tackle Ryan Tucker is the only offensive lineman still playing in his original spot at the start of training camp.

"In college, it was always exciting to see an ‘O' line that was beat up when I was on the defensive side of the ball," Chad Beasley said. There's no question (the Chargers are) going to be a little bit bright-eyed and ready to go."

Beasley will get the start at guard this week with Shaun O'Hara out. Beasley took three snaps in place of Paul Zukauskas against the Raiders, his first in the NFL. The former defensive lineman has that mean streak to play on the offensive side of the ball and Browns Coach Butch Davis is not concerned.

"He's very smart, athletic and strong," said Davis. "He has a defensive temperament. He was a starter at Virginia Tech and played on some good football teams. Last year was a transition for him. He had never played on the offensive line. He got a chance to work during the off-season and, certainly, during training camp. For the last six weeks, since you never know of the seven or eight guys you have available who you're going to make active, we've asked he and Enoch (DeMar) to both play guard and tackle. They've practiced that way on the scout team and on offense, so that helps them a little bit."

"I feel responsible for keeping (the running game) going," Demar said. "I can't sit and say, ‘I'm a rookie and (make excuses).' I have to do it right and if I don't, I have to take responsibility for it."

Melvin Fowler, playing center for Jeff Faine this week, started the season at right guard but played so badly he was benched. He has been inactive two of the last three weeks and played only on special teams in the other. A third-round draft pick from Maryland, Fowler may have his last chance to salvage his career in Cleveland.

In addition, left tackle Barry Stokes continues to play with a sprained ankle. Right guard Paul Zukauskas was briefly hurt against the Raiders but returned to the game. The Browns have been without left tackle Ross Verba (torn biceps tendon) since the preseason finale.

"We'll make do," Davis said. "I expect those guys will step in and do well. We were in a similar situation a year ago when Dave Wohlabaugh was injured. Melvin Fowler had to step in and start against Tampa Bay. We have a lot of confidence in him and think he'll be fine."

"We just want to come out and execute offensively, not turn the football over and continue what we've been doing in the running game," said Browns quarterback Tim Couch. "The last two weeks, we've had over 100 yards with William (Green) and obviously we want to keep that going.

"Obviously we have some injuries up there and we're going to have to have some guys step up, but if these guys do have to come in and replace these guys, I feel confident they're going to come in and get the job done and hold it down until the guys come back."

Green has really come into his own of late. The Browns want to continue him on his 100 yard pace and the Chargers, not one to deny a 100 yard rusher will be hard pressed to stop him. Until they prove they can, and they have a chance this week, it is hard to deny.

Jamal Williams and Jason Fisk will have to provide the run stuffing this week. They have done a decent job plugging up the middle, but Fisk has not been able to take advantage of one on one matchups. This week may be his shot to follow up a good game against Jacksonville.

Marcellus Wiley may be asked to flip along the line to take advantage of the matchups and perhaps go against the ankle-impaired Stokes. He has not provided the consistent pressure that earned him Pro Bowl status and his hefty contract. Compounding matters is the uncertain status of Adrian Dingle. He had a minor procedure done to his knee, and it could hamper him when the contact begins.

If the Chargers defensive line does its job, it will open up lanes of containment for the linebackers. The linebackers have worked all week on simplifying matters and staying in their gaps to at least limit big plays. At this point limiting big runs may be all that the Bolts and their fans can hope for. Still the potential to have a big day against a banged up line is there.

As stated, if the Chargers hope to win this week, it will happen in the trenches on both sides of the ball. A complete game is a necessity. One week away is the National stage and San Diego already has a bad rap on Monday night (just ask Wiley). More fuel to the fire and the questions on whether it was a mistake to let Junior Seau go will slowly fade away with wins.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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