Youth, skill & a foul-tempered Sloth named Squeaky

On paper the San Diego Chargers are a team so thin they only have one side. Let's see, here. They have LaDainian Tomlinson and, uh… Hmmm, don't that beat all. They seem to have only LaDainian Tomlinson. Arguably he is the best running back in the NFL. But, sadly, they haven't figured out a way to clone him and adjust his skill set in each cloning to allow him to play all positions. There's got to be someone else. Let's see, shall we.

The defense is crap, isn't it? They aren't the dominating team they were several years back when they led the NFL in defense. Of course, they also went 1-15 during that same time. The defensive secondary, truth be told, is looking frightening. With young corners Quentin Jammer and Sammy Davis (not an easy man to get in touch with, might I add) and depth with Drayton Florence and the freshly acquired Jamar Fletcher as well as the perennially present Kevin House, this could be the team's strength.

They are a young unit that, unlike most of the other teams within the AFC West (Yes, I would be talking to the Raiders if they would but turn up their hearing aids) will only get better and better and could, within a couple of short years become the most feared secondary in the NFL. Add to the fine young cornerbacks Safety Terrance Kiel who, despite playing in all 16 games last year and starting the final 8, was never 100%, veteran Kwamie Lassiter who is moving back home to Free Safety, the vastly talented Hanik Milligan, quick Vernon Fox, and veteran Jerry Wilson the team should have the ability to shut down the pass.

At Linebacker the team boasts a man who, if he were on an east coast team (sportswriters are biased, I tell you!), would be a perennial pro-bowler, Donnie Edwards. Any team with talent like Edwards possesses is going to be decent at backer. Add some more veteran leadership in Randall Godfrey, someone intimately familiar with the Chargers' new 3-4 scheme in Steve Foley and mix in young guns Ben Leber and the solid play of Zeke Moreno and Carlos "please don't get a penalty" Polk and the linebackers are looking fierce as well.

During the offseason the Raiders once more opened their strangely always just enough salary cap coffers and forked out the cash to bring yet another octogenarian into the fold with the signing of Warren Sapp. Although, despite his advancing age, he brings the average age of the team down somewhat to just under 116, a scant 1,460 years younger than owner Al Davis. The Chargers, however, are young at defensive line as well.

With Marcellus Wiley Buckin' the Cowboy (seems somehow oddly apropos) in Dallas, the Chargers have experienced a youth movement. Jamal Williams and Jason Fisk are the elder statesmen with several barely old enough to drink rookies coming in to add some ferocity. Igor Olshansky adds quickness, strength, and massive quantities of Vodka on the outside, but I tend to think one of the best moves the Chargers made in the draft was acquiring Shaun Philips in the fourth round. If the youngsters get their game legs quickly this could be a quick, deadly defensive line.

Now we take a look at the much-maligned offensive line. The plus side regarding the offensive line is that it tends to get the only wide media coverage the Chargers can garner. Take a look at ESPN some time or CBS and you will, assuming you can get past Jeremy Shockey's sadly ailing foot (I weep for his foot, I assure you), find a two sentence blurb about how the Chargers Offensive line sucks and should commit ritual suicide. You may also find what amounts to an east coast sports writer's attempt at humor when they mention that it's a good thing Philip Rivers has a quick release. (HA! God, how I laugh each time at that! Brings a tear to my eye, really.) While it's true that the Chargers do not have a big name offensive line that runs out on the field and steamrolls defenders they are, at least, serviceable.

LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 1600 plus yards behind an offensive line that included a few rookies, an injured raccoon and a foul-tempered sloth named Squeaky last year. This year's line promises to be much better with several players returning from last year and the addition of Mike Goff and Roman Oben. At the time people scoffed and guffawed at the drafting of Nick Hardwick. "Why?" They asked between chuckles, "do you draft a center when you have a good young center already?"

The reason became clear when Jason Ball proved to be overly ambitious about his contract demands. Now with Jason (a third year player who missed most of last season with injuries should not be asking for more money) sitting on the beach in New Hampshire dodging the medical waste washed up the coast from New York and getting more and more puffy from mosquito bites, the acquisition of Hardwick is looking like a stroke of sheer genius.

Eventually the Chargers will address their offensive line both through the draft (Two first round picks next year!) and free agency (larger cap space than Mike Shannahan's ego). For now, though, the offensive line will continue to have to play smart. With a line coach like Hudson Houck that's definitely a given.

At Running back we have…LaDainian Tomlinson. ‘Nuff said.

Returning at fullback is Lorenzo Neal who is as hard a worker and smart a player as you're likely to find. Also there is Andrew Pinnock who looks to play a larger role this year. Yes, our backs still look good. (Please, God, I want that new Ferrari and LaDainian Tomlinson to never ever get injured. Thank you. Oh, yeah, world peace would be cool, too.)

Tight end, similarly, looks set with a TE by committee approach starring Justin Peelle as the blocking end, Josh Norman as the injured end, Ryan Krause looking to take Norman's spot and Antonio Gates as the human hand.

Wide Receiver lacks a big play receiver. The Raiders have lacked that since Jerry Rice and Tim Brown started collecting Social Security sometime in the 50s and no one ever says anything about them. The Chargers, though, make up in depth what they lack in game-breaking talent.

With David Boston rapidly getting larger and larger in Miami, working toward his ultimate goal of becoming his own small country in the mold of the Vatican, the Chargers turn toward oft-injured journeyman Kevin Dyson to fill the number one slot. On the other side will lurk Reche Caldwell who, if he ever manages to learn how to catch the ball more often than he misses will be a good receiver (thus the term receiver, one who receives). Behind them is Tim Dwight who really needs to look into some extra lung protection, Eric Parker, Kassim Osgood, Grant Mattos, Luke Powell, Malcom Floyd and a partridge in a pear tree. Fortunately, the Chargers' opponents will be fixated on LT, which means the receivers should get some pretty favorable coverages.

At quarterback there is an interesting situation. Drew Brees is young and talented. A smart player who loves to work but can't always seem to find his own players or, in fact, hold on to the ball at all. Behind him, though, you have Philip Rivers who looks to be the choice of the hour at quarterback. Either way, though, you have talent and youth with Doug Flutie providing sage like back up between basketball games and intravenous injections of Metamucil.

Finally, to bring this rambling beast together is special teams. With Darren Bennett fending off demands by Randy Moss to get the ball on special teams too or he's going to hunt down the neighbor's dog and shave it, the Chargers have turned their punting game over to Mike Scifres (sigh-fres not skiffers or sckiphers). A cannon leg, a smart kid, but still a rookie for all intents and purposes. And we finally have a kicker in Nate Kaeding, who can not only kick the ball during kick-offs, thus freeing up a roster spot for yet another wide receiver (maybe James Lofton would be willing to come out of retirement. After all, Jerry Rice is a hundred years older and still playing), but also kick the ball through the uprights at a distance greater than forty-eight feet.

Although the Chargers lack a vast quantity of big names, they are building a young, solid team that will grow and learn and be massively deadly in a couple of years. With teams in the NFL getting older and older our Chargers are growing up. Be careful ESPN, pretty soon you'll have to actually learn the names of these players rather than commiserating with New York over Jeremy Shockey's foot and Eli Manning's temper tantrums.

Jesse Hayner can be reached at

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