Chargers reward: practice the mistakes

The San Diego Chargers were back at practice on Monday with a slate of things to work on. From ironing out penalty woes to working on technique, the work has just begun. The good is rewarded with words, but the bad – the reward is an increased workload on the practice field. The other side also pointed out some of the woes Saturday exposed.

First the good news. Drew Brees had a solid game. He seemed to add some zip to his passes on Saturday after a year of balloons assailed Qualcomm.

Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer was pleased with his performance stating, "He made a couple of really good throws the other day. He's made considerable improvement in the area of knowing and anticipating where the receivers are gong to be."

While that is definitely true, Drew Brees also missed his fair share of throws and the receivers were the ones to make him look better than he was. Rather than catching a few receivers in stride, his ball was delivered behind them.

Antonio Gates showed his body control, learned from years banging the glass and fighting for rebounds. He really had no business catching the touchdown pass he did from Brees as he had to literally go backwards to make the play and then scrum around for the loose ball to catch it just before it hit the ground.

Reche Caldwell made a nice adjustment on a ball to make one such catch but if he was hit in stride he may have broke free for a touchdown.

"He has done a much better job with the details," Schottenheimer said. "We are hoping he continues to progress. He can be a factor. He is as talented as a receiver as I have been around. There is more to it than just skills."

The starting center also got winning marks from the coach for his play. Ironic that it comes as the talk of re-signing Jason Ball increases.

Nick Hardwick, for his part, played well on Saturday. It was his first taste of life in the NFL and considering his rush into the starting lineup, he shone brightly.

"He played pretty well for us," Schottenheimer said. "His intelligence serves him pretty well. He certainly passed the first test. Nick is very intelligent and has very good quickness."

And Hardwick will need that quickness to combat the stunts, blitzes and different defensive packages he will eventually see. Saturday may have been a taste, but it was merely a spoonful.

It is the life of a game in the preseason. No coach wants their enemies to start compiling tape on their schemes.

Perhaps that is why Schottenheimer continued with trepidation, "It remains to be seen where it will go from here. At this juncture Nick is ahead of David (Brandt)."

There was no mention of Jason Ball but the coach left some lingering thoughts on the subject.

The coach also praised two players, not once but twice in the same setting. He went on record with his delight at the return game and Wes Welker and the punting by Mike Scifres.

"I was pleased with Wes Welker and the punt return," said Schottenheimer. "Mike Scifres punted extremely well. (He) was outstanding punting."

Welker had a 44 yard return which setup a field goal to put the Chargers ahead late in the game and Scifres nailed three of his punts inside the twenty and none were returned.

"I thought they outplayed us on special teams for the most part, especially in the punting game," Indianapolis Head Coach Tony Dungy agreed.

The kickoffs and field goals, however, were not so good. Nate Kaeding debuted and missed a chip shot from 25 yards out, pulling it wide left and his kickoffs barely crossed the Indianapolis 15 yard line.

Steve Christie could have done that and made the 25 yarder to boot.

Kaeding was a third round pick of the Bolts and a lot more will be expected of the rookie. If he thought Saturday was a pressure cooker, wait until he is kicking a 25 yard field goal at Arrowhead Stadium.

The coach acknowledged the kickoff depth was not where it should have been but did not touch on the penalties, surely a sore spot with the coach. Think about this. How hard is it to count how many men are on the field?

Eleven is the magic number in case you were wondering.

Other faults popped their ugly heads at the wrong time. The first two Schottenheimer acknowledged, "You can't get down inside the six yard line and then get two negative runs. Third down on offense we have to be considerably better."

The blocking up front in goalline situations needs help. They did not create much push and Michael Turner was hammered behind the line twice and stopped at the line a third time. He had little room to maneuver when the defense was on him as he got the ball.

The two problems are ironically linked.

No one probably even noticed but the Chargers were a miserable 2-for-17 on third down. That equates to making the grade 17 percent of the time. The Chargers were fourth from the bottom wrung last year with a 31.5 conversion percentage in 2003. It could be a dilemma the team again faces in '04.

Short yardage has always been an area the team needs help. Mike Goff and Toniu Fonoti should help in those areas but it is something to watch. The team had hoped to get a few more looks from Andrew Pinnock in those types of situations but injury has forced him to the sidelines.

"It's good for the confidence of the team to know that you could get the job done late, never give up, keep your poise and show leadership (skills)," Joe Hamilton, who led the game winning drive said. "It was important for the third group that I was in to help us keep our confidence."

If that is true for Hamilton, the reverse would be true for the Chargers squad that allowed the touchdown. Hamilton was 10-of-12 during the final drive. Two of the completions went for no gain and the Chargers had a golden opportunity to shut the door on fourth down. Weak coverage blew that chance. Then there was the missed opportunity by Shaun Phillips.

"We're working hard to be the best secondary in the league," first team cornerback Quentin Jammer said. Without depth that may not be possible.

There are other positional techniques that need attention.

Rushing off the edge means just that but you have to either get in with pressure quickly or keep your lane. If a back gets outside of your rush he may have room to run with blockers.

When all is said the Chargers continue to need molding. Three to go until the season.


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