Chargers health a concern

The motto heading into 2004 is staying healthy. Marty Schottenheimer could come up with no reasonable explanation when questioned about the degraded health of the linemen over the past two seasons. <br><br> The positive news is Toniu Fonoti and Vaughn Parker are on their way to healthy status. Fonoti was even fiery in his season ending meeting with his coach, a good thing for the San Diego Chargers heading into '04.

"Healthy offensive linemen," Schottenheimer pointed to for 2004. "What we have experienced over the last couple of years has been troubling. We have a tendency to have offensive linemen who end up injured. That has been a concern from a year ago and reinforced this year."

On one hand, the early indication has Schottenheimer pointing at his strength and conditioning coach, Dave Redding.

It is ultimately his job to make sure the team stays limber and can make it through the inevitable bumps and bruises of the year. With twelve guys getting a taste of injured reserve and many more missing significant chunks of the season, putting Redding at the head of the list seems natural.

But, this is the NFL. Injuries will happen and there is no way to stop another player from falling on your leg while you are in a compromising position. Bodies will fly, it is part luck, part conditioning ideally.

"It is so hard to identify – why did a guy get hurt," says Schottenheimer. "I don't know if there is any common thread to the injuries. I wish I knew. That has been an issue for us the last two years that I have been here.

"This year we have been far better conditioned. The weights had been managed considerably better. Maybe it is just a matter of chance."

Perhaps recognizing his gaffe, Schottenheimer points to the conditioning as being sound. Chance has sent four offensive linemen to the sidelines for the year and many more missed a significant sum of time.

In total the Chargers rolled out nine different starting units along the offensive line in 16 games.

It is hard to pin it all on Redding. Compounding matters is how many players ultimately ended up out for the year.

What kind of progress has there been on Vaughn Parker?

"Vaughn is making pretty good progress," Schottenheimer said after meeting with him Monday. "I fully expect he will be healthy once again."

Parker looms with a hefty $4.3 million dollar cap charge in 2004. The likelihood of him coming back at that salary level is somewhere between none and none.

What can't be understated is his knowledge of the game and the fact that he stayed close to the team and helped the line in a "coaching role" as the season wore on.

Parker made sure he was contributing on some level and he would be welcomed back at a significant reduction in salary. Would he retain a starting role? That is up for debate, but he is quality insurance, having played both left and right tackle in his career.

The other concern and a much-anticipated update in regards to Toniu Fonoti, the embattled second year pro that was placed on IR before the season kicked off.

"As for Toniu, I visited with him and had an interesting discussion with him," Schottenheimer said. "The time we decided to put him on IR. That made his concerns and anxiety rise even further. He felt as though he let everybody down and he wished we had not chosen to put him down."

To start the year, there were concerns over how Fonoti was managing his weight after it ballooned some towards the end of 2003.

Then an injury to his elbow in July forced him to the sidelines and a pain in his feet kept him out even longer. Unable to come up with a timetable for his return, the team put him on IR.

The team felt like they did not have to be as patient with Fonoti due to the increased depth along the offensive line after signing Solomon Page and the play of undrafted free agent Phil Bogle during camp.

Projecting injuries, however, was not in the equation.

"In retrospect, I wish we had not put him down," Schottenheimer admitted.

Fans would agree with that. A wasted season for a second round draft pick is never welcome. He was viewed as a cornerstone of the franchise, a lineman who would be with the team for the long haul, paving the way for LaDainian Tomlinson.

Questions regarding his commitment immediately popped up when he was thrown on injured reserve. There was talk that he would never manage his weight effectively.

Schottenheimer said after meeting with him, "He is in pretty good shape. His weight is reasonably good.

"The last time we weighed him, the number we looked at, he was five pounds over – in the last week or ten days."

Players are generally weighed once a week before the Sunday game and are given a prescribed weight. What Fonoti's prescribed weight is not known. This offseason for the young offensive guard will hinge on how he manages that weight and the kind of shape he is in come training camp. He has been penciled back in as a starter in 2004 and if that does not pan out, the line could be another mess next season.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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