Chargers Game Day Primer

Run, Run, Pass? The San Diego Chargers offensive line will have its hands full this weekend against a talented Detroit Lions squad. Without a full compliment of healthy players, the Bolts will have to rely on Barry Sanders-esque moves from their star tailback, LaDainian Tomlinson.

San Diego brings LaDainian Tomlinson to town on a mission. Beat the younger brother. There is an inherent problem:

Detroit is brimming with confidence after stuffing the NFC's leading rusher, Ahman Green of Green Bay last week, holding him to a meager 54 yards rushing, one of his lowest outputs of the season.

"I'll tell you what, that front four is very, very impressive," said San Diego head coach Marty Schottenheimer of Detroit's defensive line. "Of course, I had Dan Wilkinson in Washington and he was a very good player for us down there. The game he played the other day against Green Bay is as good as I've ever seen Dan play. I thought he was dominant in that game, and with Shaun Rogers, they're very similar-type players. You don't move them very far. They don't go very far."

Lions' head coach Steve Mariucci admitted that he was pleased with what he has up front, particularly Rogers and Wilkinson. "I've bragged about our defensive line group several times. They are the ones who have to control the line of scrimmage and protect our linebackers so they can run to the ball, push the pocket and contain the quarterback. We've been able to do that quite a bit of the time with just a four-man rush. I like our two interior tackles, good players."

Tomlinson says he knows what he's up against facing Detroit. "It's definitely going to be tough. They have a good defense. That definitely will be a challenge for us and we've got to be ready to play. I think their front four is one of the best in the NFL that I've seen – they really cause a lot of havoc. I think that's the biggest thing for me. Their front four is awesome."

Tomlinson has heard that one of his favorite players, Lions' legend Barry Sanders will very likely make his public return to the franchise by attending his first game as an ex-Lion this week and the idea of playing in front of one of the all-time great excites him.

"I'm going to have to watch some Barry Sanders' tape this week. We've just got go in and keep those guys from penetrating into the backfield just to give the running game a chance and possibly make some plays."

Tomlinson has been likened to Sanders for his evasive maneuvers and game-breaking runs. Now he has a chance to show one of his idols just how good he is.

Detroit's defensive front four should be able to exert its will on San Diego's young offensive line, but that won't stop Schottenheimer from giving the ball to Tomlinson at least 15-20 times. As long as San Diego is within striking distance they feel giving the ball to their third-year back is as good an option as passing the football and their right. Problems arise when the Chargers go conservative or forget the running game altogether. They must remember to go deep and throw some different looks to give their quarterback more time to scan the field.

Amidst a growing concern at the future of the quarterback position, Schottenheimer said 41-year old Doug Flutie would be the starter. Mariucci said that Flutie's years of experience pose a potential problem for the Lions.

"He's a heck of a drummer. Didn't he beat Joey in the little thing the other night? Joey is just in the tank," said Mariucci alluding to Flutie's defeat of Harrington in the Monday Night Football music contest.

"I remember coaching against him when he was in the USFL and I remember him, well, coming out of Boston College. He had a little magic to him. It's hard to explain what it is. He can just play the game. He is smart, he is quick. From what I understand he is a gym rat. He is very athletic. He can do a lot of things. He's been lucky enough to stay healthy during his lengthy career. Typically, smaller guys get banged up and he has been able to survive and bounce around and play in every league. He is an exciting guy. He can create. He is just a dangerous guy. He is a Fran Tarkenton kind of guy. He moves around. He makes plays with his legs and his arm. He's got more arm than you think he has so he is a special guy."

Keep an eye on Detroit native Antonio Gates. Gates, the undrafted free agent that made the squad out of training camp. Now, he's their starting tight end.

"We obviously liked him and the feeling was that he had an opportunity to develop because he was athletic, he was bright and as the thing began to unfold, it became very obvious that he could be physical and could enjoy physical play," said Schottenheimer. "I don't want to get overzealous about the young man, but barring injury, I think he's got an opportunity to be a terrific tight end in the National Football League. He blocks and he likes to block. He's physical and he obviously he's a good route runner. His catching radius is probably the best of anybody on our football team."

Schottenheimer said that the 6-4 260-lb Gates has an "x" factor about him. "A couple of things have factored in. He wasn't intimidated by the big stage as evidenced by his role on the basketball team at Kent State in their play in the NCAAs and his role in that. We knew he wasn't going to be intimidated by the big stage. In discussions with him, he was a very down to earth young man and I know Detroit was trying to sign him. I understand that they were going to sign him as a defensive lineman and it was interesting because I was kidding him just today about that and he said, ‘Coach, my biggest plays as a player were on offense, not on defense.' But he's a fine young man and really an exciting young prospect."

Gates caught his first TD pass of his career last week, an 18-yarder from Flutie and will likely get the start this week for San Diego.

The San Diego head coach will, for the first time, work against his brother, Detroit defensive coordinator Kurt Schottenheimer and Marty admits, it will be awkward.

Experts have pointed to Flutie starting as a sign that Marty really wants to beat his brother, to heck with the franchise. The problem remains, if he wins, what then?

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

Mike Fowler contributed to this report

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