Looking Ahead: 6 Key Questions

2004 is officially here. The San Diego Chargers have plenty of question marks heading into this offseason. It starts with the personnel and ends with the coaching. There will be major changes to this club, the chain reaction has started with two coaches being let go, and the facelift will make them barely recognizable to their fans. The six major questions for the immediate future:

1. Will the team keep the number one overall pick and pass on a potential franchise quarterback – again – or will they trade down?

It will be the most hotly contested question until April. The Chargers must decide if it is wise to pass up on Eli Manning, or Ben Roethlisberger, or will they simply choose the best player available based solely on need. Or, will the haul be better than the last time they traded down? Or, well, you get the picture…

2. What is the most pressing need?

There are plenty. But with the quarterbacks running for their lives behind a makeshift offensive line, a true left tackle is needed. Its importance cannot be understated or any quarterback that sets up behind the line will have trouble making plays. There are intriguing possibilities in free agency, but the top talent will likely be franchised. That leaves the draft. The top man is Robert Gallery, the Outland Trophy winner.

3. Is Drew Brees the future?

The most prominent question of the offseason that will ultimately decide everything this team does. Are they confident Brees is the player from 2002, or is 2003 his real persona? The team will likely bring in a veteran to compete, and they could opt for a young developmental QB in the draft. There will be more competition next season at the quarterback spot. What they do in free agency will explain a lot, but they will fear tipping their hand prior to the draft. 4. Where will the team find speed at middle linebacker?

A glaring hole in the Chargers defense is at middle linebacker where they lack a player with sideline-to-sideline speed. Can they acquire one in free agency, ala Al Wilson, or will they do their searching via the draft. Either way the position needs upgrading in a major way.

5. Where is the beef?

The middle of the Chargers defensive line lacked the stoutness to be effective against the run. The ends were no trick ponies that did not get it done in either phase, running or passing. Another big, able body is needed up front to take the pressure off the rest of the unit and open lanes for the linebackers to make plays. DeQuincy Scott led all defensive tackles in sacks as a part time player, would the team consider moving him to end?

6. Is there a playmaker in the future?

Everyone knows about LaDainian Tomlinson by now, and David Boston should be better next season, but who will step up in the number two receiver spot? Is Eric Parker the answer? Kassim Osgood? Likely, there are too many questions surrounding both of these players to not bring in some competition in the form of a veteran or another rookie. It won't likely be truly fixed next season, but it should get better with health and experience. One interesting name that could be out there, Curtis Conway.

There are plenty of other questions that need answers, such as will the deal for a new stadium dissuade the team from picking a quarterback in the first round, will the free agency spending go up and be creative to compete short-term, and what new coaches will be brought in to help this team succeed…there is an importance level to each and all will have a hand in the formation of the 2004 San Diego Chargers.

On a side note, listening to Marty Schottenheimer has me saying the word "ultimately" more than I want to.

When I asked several players about this, they all concur that they pick up on many of his nuances from all the repetition they hear.

"I swear I dont talk like this all the time," said one defensive player. "Marty is in my head with all his repition."

That is certainly a good thing and "ultimately" it will benefit the team down the road.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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