Chargers Review: OT

The offensive line as a whole was bit by the injury bug and it never let go. Two players eventually saw injured reserve, while countless other man games were lost to the spreading virus. Rookies eventually manned the offensive tackle position and earned some stripes, but what was perceived as a strength heading into the season was left shaking thru the flu season.

Damion McIntosh was looking at a big paycheck at the left tackle spot. His heart was questioned a year ago when he went out with an injury and missed, in the coaching staffs' eyes, too many games.

With unrestricted free agency on the horizon, McIntosh was in prime shape to make some bank. Instead, his bank account was cleaned out. He struggled in pass protection and in the first game of the season he allowed all three quarterback sacks. Vonnie Holliday simply robbed him of his dignity that day.

McIntosh bounced back to an acceptable level, but it was not the play a team expects from its starting left tackle. For the second year in a row, McIntosh was felled by questionable injuries, mostly to his ankle. The team wanted to see him gut it out and play. McIntosh finally did in week 15 after two weeks off, but was forced out of the game early with the same ankle injury that forced him out in week 13.

In the running game, McIntosh paved the way for LaDainian Tomlinson. His pulling was effective to the left and when only he and Kelvin Garmon were healthy from the starting unit at midseason, almost every running play ran their way.

The biggest problem was his pass protection. Too often he was a reason Drew Brees or Doug Flutie ran for their lives or checked down to their outlet receivers. If not for their escapability, the quarterbacks would have been sacked far more often in '03.

Worse still, McIntosh was the most penalized lineman on the year. His mental errors were many and given his talent base, it has become hard to figure out. From coming in out of shape to his play this season, McIntosh's season was a mystery.

McIntosh is an unrestricted free agent and if he does come back, it would be as more of a stopgap. There is a feeling that he could return and be effective as a right tackle.

Solomon Page was signed to a one year cap friendly deal in the offseason with the idea of starting him at right guard and tackle for the season. It was thought to be a win-win deal for both parties as Page reestablished himself as a top notch player.

Page ended up starting at right guard for three games before going down with an injury. He eventually moved to right tackle for two games before again suffering an ankle injury. Page then came back to play two games at left tackle showing his versatility.

Considering the fact he only started seven games, four at tackle, the investment was not worth the pain. His play left none enamored and only solidified the belief that he has a questionable work ethic. With his abilities, Page could be a very good guard, but it is hard to believe he wants that. For a man trying to reestablish his name as a top tackle or guard, he did little.

He is an unrestricted free agent again this offseason and the Chargers will likely look to add depth somewhere else.

Courtney Van Buren struggled with being an inactive third round pick early in the season. Then opportunity knocked and he became the starter at right tackle before being placed on injured reserve near the end of the season.

Van Buren played the second most games at a tackle position for the Chargers in '03, seven. He was not ready for that burden. Hailed as a super athlete despite his size, Van Buren had trouble maintaining blocks and was often found lunging towards opponents. That placed him in a bad position as they ran around him. More alarming was seeing him get overpowered at the point of attack in pass protection. It seemed he was playing on his heels too much and was getting knocked off his assignments too easily as a result.

Van Buren may have a bright future. He was thrown into the fire earlier than he should have been. Van Buren uses a cerebral approach to the game and is often one of the last guys to leave the practice field. He made huge strides in '03 and could be a factor in years to come. He likely isn't ideal to be the starter in '03, but could surprise if he makes the jump he did towards the end of the season.

Vaughn Parker lasted three games before going to injured reserve. The anchor of the line came back week's later to add coaching to his resume. Parker spent time with the younger members of the team giving them pointers and working to make them better. Parker has a year left on his contract and he may be back, provided he restructures. Parker adds experience and a veteran presence to the line and he would likely take a backup role. Given the last two years on the offensive line, that would guarantee Parker starts at some point in the season.

Phil Bogle started spot duty at right tackle and had his initial struggles on the outside. He had some trouble with his footwork, dropping back to quickly in pass protection and opening up an inside lane. He learned from his mistakes later in the season and showed improvement, but he is best suited for guard.

Admittedly, we have had some fun with "Offsides" Ed Ellis in the past, but the hulking tackle was signed off the street late in the season and did a solid job in pass protection and run blocking, without committing any penalties. Oddly enough, Ellis has been on the field for three of Tomlinson's four 200 yard rushing performances and Tomlinson's top performance as a rookie.

Odds of Ellis returning appear slim…bad choice of words for the 6-7 behemoth.

Reggie Coleman gets an incomplete after being signed to the practice squad on December 3rd, 2003.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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