Chargers Review: Center

When your 2002 Lineman of the Year goes down to injury, it does not bode well for your team. When that team is the San Diego Chargers, on a line that has not played up to snuff, the problem is intensified. Such was the case for the 2003 squad and a 4-12 season became the reward.

Jason Ball began his second year as the anchor of the Chargers offensive line. In his rookie year, Ball earned the Lineman of the Year Award as voted on by his teammates.

It wasn't meant to be this season as Ball struggled through an ankle injury – an injury that hit many of the linemen throughout the course of the season.

Ball played in the first five games of the season before suffering his injury in the third quarter of game six. Ball came back to play in two more games before the injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season.

The reason Ball was missed so much is his leadership intangibles. Ball has quietly garnered the respect of his teammates and was seen as the glue of the line. Even in his rookie season, many players commented on his tenacious approach to the game and ability to make the proper checks at the line. Ball demands more out of his teammates and is not averse to calling them out. He knows his assignments and his line mates better than anyone. Thus he commands attention when he speaks.

One of the unnoticed aspects of the game where Ball excels is his consistency with snapping the ball. He has developed a rapport with his quarterbacks and delivers the ball in a spot that is easily grabbed. It wasn't until he was forced to the sidelines with an ankle injury in game six that a fumble from a snap occurred.

Ball is a hard working, tenacious blocker at the point of attack. He understands his assignments and where to give help. His strength lies in his quick hands off the snap and ability to push a defender into an area where he has help. Ball has been the best lineman the Chargers have had over the last two years.

Where Ball struggles is in his pulling. He will never be confused with Kevin Mawae. He does not have the foot speed to match his ability to pop out of his stance quickly. Therefore he has a tough time traversing down the line to get in front of the play. He just refuses to give up on a play, which allows him to net the intended results.

Ball is feeling much better now and will reclaim the starting job in '04.

Echoing the sentiments of a few players on the line, "Cory Raymer was the guy that kept it all together through the personnel changes." For that he was rewarded with the Lineman of the Year honors, sharing the award with defensive tackle DeQuincy Scott.

In an odd twist, Raymer replaced Ball this year, similar to Ball replacing Raymer a year ago. Raymer came in and did a serviceable job to mend an aching line. He has more athleticism than Ball, but does not have the same fiery attitude to go with it. Therefore, the line suffered. Through several stretches, when a different lineman was next to him week-to-week, the transition was tough. Part of the reason Doug Flutie was eventually brought in was the erratic play of the line and it started up the middle.

Raymer is not as sure handed with his snaps as Ball. Several got away from him and only the luck of the team saved it from being mentioned more. Heck, the Chargers even scored a touchdown on one fumbled snap.

Raymer is slightly better at pulling than Ball and that allowed for more play outside the tackles with Tomlinson. Coming in, off an injury that kept him out a full season, Raymer did a fantastic job.

Raymer proved he could do the job when called upon and has some value as a guard should the need arise. Raymer will likely be back – after he restructures.

David Brandt gets an incomplete after being signed by Chargers on Oct. 8, dressing for seven games but not playing in any of them.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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