Deja Q for Chargers

The year was 1998, and Chargers head coach Kevin Gilbride traded up one spot to take Ryan Leaf as his franchise quarterback of the future. The Chargers held the second pick that year, and chose Leaf when Peyton Manning went first overall. What resulted was a 5-11 season with Leaf throwing for 1,289 yards, two touchdowns, and 15 interceptions. There were also multiple public moments, which showed he was having trouble making the transition to the pros.

Manning's rookie season resulted in 3,739 yards with 26 touchdowns and 28 interceptions. While his team went 3-13, there was promise of good things to come.

In 2004, the Chargers hold the first pick, and the decision falls to head coach Marty Schottenheimer, General Manager, AJ Smith, and Buddy Nix, Director of Player Personnel. This time they control the choice. Whether to take Eli Manning of the University of Mississippi, or Ben Roethlisberger, an early entrant to the draft from the University of Miami of Ohio, assuming they go quarterback. A look into Schottenheimer's past could indicate which way he will go. It is apparent that Drew Brees does not fit with what he is trying to do.

Schottenheimer made his reputation as a head coach in Cleveland, and in Kansas City. His best Cleveland teams, specifically the '87 bunch that lost the AFC Championship to John Elway and the Broncos, featured Bernie Kosar at quarterback, the combination of Ernest Byner and Kevin Mack in the backfield, and Webster Slaughter at wide receiver. More important, however, was the defense on those teams. They had lockdown corners on both sides of the field in the form of Hanford Dixon, and Frank Minnefield. The defensive line was sturdy, and Clay Matthews plugged the middle of the field at linebacker.

Fast forward to Schottenheimer's Chiefs teams of the mid-nineties, and you see a common thread. Another set of lockdown corners in the form of Dale Carter and James Hasty, an exceptional middle linebacker in Derrick Thomas, and a sturdy defensive line headlined by Neil Smith. On offense, the running back committee of Kimble Anders, Marcus Allen and others made solid contributions, as did the receiving core. Just as Kosar was a model of consistency and made few mistakes in Cleveland, Steve Bono threw only 10 interceptions against 21 touchdowns for a team that went 13-3 in 1995. Similarly, Elvis Grbac threw only 6 interceptions against 11 touchdowns for a team that also went 13-3 in 1997.

If history tells us anything about a successful Schottenheimer team, you know there will be defense, a productive ground game, and a quarterback who makes good decisions on the field.

Schottenheimer has made moves this summer to create a team that more resembles his philosophy, and the majority of the moves have been on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Randall Godfrey was signed away from Seattle to a three-year contract. Another linebacker, Steve Foley, was brought in from Houston, and also signed a three-year contract. Safety Jerry Wilson, who put up 82 tackles last year, was re-signed to a one year deal, and cornerback Jamal Fletcher comes over in the trade that sent David Boston to Miami. Fletcher will likely be a nickel back behind Quentin Jammer and Sammy Davis, but may have a chance at a starting role if Davis does not improve on his technical weaknesses. These additions will join defensive standouts Jamal Williams and Donnie Edwards (162 tackles) to form a bolstered defensive unit.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Chargers have attempted to shore up the line blocking for superstar back LaDainian Tomlinson, who not only rushed for 1,600 yards, but also caught 100 balls for another 700 yards. Leander Jordan comes from Jacksonville, and Mike Goff comes over from Cincinnati, having spent four years blocking for Corey Dillon. Wide receiver Kevin Dyson has also been brought in from Carolina to provide a long-ball threat, if he can remain healthy.

The question remains, if the Chargers decide to take a quarterback, which one do they select?

The uneducated opinion would say to take Manning because he is a Manning, and he played in the SEC as his brother did. He never got over the hump, however, like Peyton to win an SEC title, and there have been observations that he does not read, and adjust to the blitz well. This is an essential skill for any rookie quarterback.

Roethlisberger, on the other hand, has the knock that he played in the MAC, where the competition was lesser, and allowed him to put up the gaudy numbers (4486 yards, 37 TD, 10INT). He is a physical specimen at 6'5", 241lbs with a strong arm. He is also able to move out of the pocket to make plays. Manning has a similar physique at 6'4, 224lbs, but the lack of mobility could be the difference. The key here will be fit. As Falcons GM, Rich McKay, noted about quarterback picks in a recent interview, "He's got to fit what you do, and be very proficient at the way he fits it."

It is not clear yet which QB this is, but the Chargers are taking ample time to figure it out. A scout team, including Schottenheimer, recently attended private workouts for Manning, Roethlisberger, and Philip Rivers, the North Carolina State quarterback who, according to many, is rumored to be the Chargers target should they decide to trade down to acquire extra picks. Rumor also has it that currently the Chargers have Roethlisberger rated ahead of Manning.

If history tells us anything about Schottenheimer and what he may be thinking, look for the Chargers to take Manning if they keep the pick. He seems to like QBs who will stand and throw rather than improvise. If they trade down, look for them to take a defensive stud, and get a quarterback later. The Tom Brady phenomenon has shown that it is not a necessity to find a franchise quarterback in the first round. The Chargers also have too many offensive and defensive holes to believe that one quarterback will make them disappear. Solid football men like Schottenheimer know that, and will plan accordingly.

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