No telling how they will fare

Choosing the starting quarterback was easy. Now the San Diego Chargers will have to perform on the field and it isn't about just the quarterback. The entire team has to rise up if they hope to win the opener against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. It starts on defense.

The Chargers moved to what is supposed to be a more aggressive defense this offseason. They switched from the 4-3 to the 3-4. The preseason has promised results, but this is for real. The marbles are being tossed and the ring is tightening on the Chargers.

"When you look at our defensive football team the transition to the 3-4 has created some problems for us, but in the overview we're much better for having done so," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

The reason is simple. Youth. The defensive side of the ball is littered with young, yet to emerge, talent. The secondary is still green. The defensive line has seen an infusion of younger, quicker bodies and the linebackers are the elders.

Many players have never been associated with the 3-4 defense before.

"You can never with any certainty predict how young players are going to develop," Schottenheimer counters. "It was the middle of last year when Quentin Jammer, for example, began to play with more confidence. I think that's what it really comes down to, confidence in what you're doing so you don't have to think about it. You don't concern yourself about the outcome, you just go do it.

"I've been pleased with this defense. We've got pretty good team speed on defense and they have been quite aggressive. I think the nature of this defense; it enables you to do that."

Steve Foley is one of the few veterans of the defense and returns to meet his former team. He has seen the progression of the defensive transition from the start.

When asked about the progression through camp and into the preseason, Foley is not ready to say the team has grasped it all.

"That is one thing about the 3-4," Foley began. "It takes time. You have more linebackers and with that guys have different responsibilities and different adjustments, a lot of different adjustments you have to worry about. It is not something that is going to happen overnight."

There has been an air about the team dating as far back as mini-camp. The Chargers jettisoned those who did not believe in what the team was attempting to accomplish. They wanted players and got players who seem to be in it for the long haul.

Last year, the Chargers were beaten and battered in every which way. It started fingers pointing and players whined, some in public, others in private.

In the opener, when the enthusiasm for the season was running high, the Chargers were trounced in the first half, down 24-0 by halftime against Kansas City. That pattern continued through a large part of the season. The Chargers were left playing catch-up. It was one of the reasons that the team decided change was in store. Not just the personnel and coaches – they had to also change the scheme.

Don't fault the lack of giddiness heading into this season.

"The fact remains that we went 4-12 last year and we're in the process of developing our football team," the coach said.

And the story of the season evolves. Instead of the push year we are left with "process of developing."

Denis Savage can be reached at

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