Youth is Served

One thing that is noticeable halfway through the NFL season is the young players on the San Diego Chargers, and around the league, are starting to become players. <br><br> The contributions are seen on both sides of the ball as rookies dot the landscape and are proving their mettle. It was perhaps most obvious this last week in Chicago. <br><br>

"A number of young players planned on not just where you fit, but how you fit in the NFL," said Bears Coach Dick Jauron. "You have to gain the unity of a group, knowing where your guys are going to be."

That was one of the main problems with a Chargers secondary filled with all new players. They have really just begun to know the intricacies of the game and where there help will be.

They still are not perfect as Marty Schottenheimer attests to.

"Early on we were playing two deep zone, and Sammy (Davis) didn't get the depth he needed. They threw a couple of balls over there, but then they threw one on him and he picked it off and made a good play on one later in the game.

Sammy Davis is just one of a number of youngsters progressing through the season on defense. Quentin Jammer is only in his second year and has made strides. Terrence Kiel is starting to make his mark on the field.

"Terrence Kiel has played well for us. I mean he was beaten (Sunday) on a ball in man to man coverage. That young secondary is going to have their moments, but I tell ya, they are well beyond where they were eight weeks ago."

"I am pleased with their progress."

Halfway through the season, there is still a ways to go. They still have to learn how to play together as one team and not individual units.

With the offense struggling, any failure the defense has is compounded.

As Schottenheimer said, "Twenty points a game is higher than you like, but certainly better than we did early on."

The biggest problem of the defense has been limiting third down conversions. They are not making their opponents pay for third and long and often times are left defending third and short.

"The offense did great," said middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. "They ran the ball and ate up the clock pretty good. It's a lot more fun when you get to sit on the sideline and watch them move the ball."

Conversely, Drew Brees is still the worst quarterback in the league on third downs and has a QB rating of 21.3. He has completed just 40.9% of his passes and thrown six interceptions on third down.

"We are not efficient on third down," Schottenheimer said. "It has become a game of third downs. We have to be able to create shorter third downs like Chicago was able to do. Third and one, twos and threes -- Those are the ones you are looking to convert 65-80%.

"The team has got to execute and do the things necessary to win."

On going for it on fourth and one with little time left:

"We knew we'd run that clock all the way down and then call a timeout and talk about it," Jauron said. "We were pretty sure we'd go for it, particularly when the play ended up inside the 1.

"In our opinion the only way we could lose that game was to get a kick blocked at that point. If we didn't score, we figured we'd leave them 99 (yards) to go with 20-some odd seconds left."

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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