Chargers at Houston Game Snapshot

<b>KICKOFF:</b> Sunday, 1:00 ET<br> <b>GAMEDATE: </b> 9/12/04<br> <b>SURFACE: </b> Grass<br> <b>TV: </b> CBS, Gus Johnson, Brent Jones<br> <b>SERIES: </b> 2nd meeting. The San Diego Chargers lead series, 1-0, after handing the Texans their first loss ever in 2002. The Chargers, though, face a team that has swept its two season openers, beating Dallas and Miami.

*2003 RANKINGS: Chargers: offense 14th (6th rush, 19th pass); defense 27th (25th rush, 21st pass). Texans: offense 31st (23rd rush, 29th pass); defense 31st (31st rush, 31st pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Texans had the league's second-worst run defense last season, so they know they'll get a heavy dose of Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who should be fresh after playing in just one preseason game. But DE Gary Walker and NT Seth Payne are back and expected to play for Houston, which will attempt to limit Tomlinson's big plays and force Chargers QB Drew Brees to win the game. One of the Chargers' strengths is a young and improving defense, but their line is a serious question mark and the Texans will pound away with RB Domanick Davis. If Davis can get going early, it will make it much easier for QB David Carr to find primary receivers Andre Johnson and Corey Bradford.

FAST FACTS:
Chargers: The defense allowed 46 pass plays of at least 20 yards last season and a league-high 36 touchdown passes. ... Marty Schottenheimer's 10 season-opening victories are the most among active coaches. ... Third-four of the 43 players on the roster have three years of NFL experience or less. Texans: Can become the first team ever to win its first three season openers. ... QB David Carr threw more touchdowns than interceptions just three times last season.

PREDICTED SCORE: Texans 24, Chargers 20

PERSONNEL NEWS

Chargers:
-- DE DeQuincy Scott (abdomen) has worked all week and will play Sunday.
-- WR Tim Dwight (hamstring) hasn't practiced this week and he'll likely sit Sunday. Reche Caldwell will replace him, opposite Eric Parker.
-- C Jason Ball still hasn't contacted the Chargers. Ball, an exclusive rights free agent, has requested a trade. He didn't report to training camp.
-- LB Shaun Phillips (shoulder) has been upgraded to probable.
-- T Courtney Van Buren (knee) has been upgraded to probable.
-- LB Matt Wilhelm (shoulder) has been upgraded to probable.

Texans:
-- After going through training camp, Marcus Coleman believes he is right on track to help the Texans after making the transition from cornerback to free safety. "I'm really comfortable," Coleman said. "Everything has gone well so far. I know where everyone is supposed to be, and I know where I'm supposed to be, and that's the main thing."
-- FB Moran Norris left Thursday's practice with an injured left shoulder. Coach Dom Capers said the injury did not appear to be serious, although Norris will be re-evaluated Friday.
-- RB Jonathan Wells, who led the team in rushing in 2002, worked briefly at fullback during Thursday's practice. He replaced starter Moran Norris, who left the field with an apparent shoulder injury.
-- NT Seth Payne left sick midway through Thursday's workout and did not return.
-- The Texans plan to use WR Derrick Armstrong when the team goes with a four-receiver set. The top three spots are occupied with Andre Johnson, Corey Bradford and Jabar Gaffney.
-- Kailee Wong and rookie Jason Babin will start at the outside linebacker spots in the season opener against San Diego. Coach Dom Capers said the game would dictate how much playing time second-year pro Antwan Peek gets.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Chargers:
Ready or not, the Chargers head into the season.

Will this one be different from last year's 4-12 debacle? A season which ran their streak to eight for not making the playoffs or producing a winning season.

The Chargers, who face the Texans on Sunday, are universally picked to finish in the AFC West basement again. In fact, they bring up the end of most rankings which includes all NFL teams.

But running back LaDainian, the lone star of this team, doesn't agree with those predicating another down year for the Bolts.

"That's our approach: Why not us?" Tomlinson asked. "Every year there are teams that move to the forefront of their division, and why can't it be us? We've obviously put in the hard work and dedication in training camp, so why not us?"

There's a long list why the Chargers won't rebound.

There's questions about the new offensive line, the lack of talent at wide receiver, an unsettled situation at quarterback, and a defense which is being asked to switch to 3-4.

But Tomlinson is keeping the faith.

"Our strength is a group of guys that work really hard together," he said. "We don't have the guys that are flashy anymore. We got hard-core, bring your hard hat, lunch pail guys. In the past, that has got it done for teams. You don't have to have a lot of superstars."

But more than one would help.

Texans:
Houston Texans coach Dom Capers said Thursday that Jerry DeLoach will start at nose tackle Sunday in the season opener against San Diego.

DeLoach has been getting a majority of the repetitions with the first-team defense through training camp and the preseason while starter Seth Payne recovers from major knee surgery.

During practice this week, DeLoach and Payne have been splitting the repetitions with the first unit. Capers hinted that they could see about the same number of snaps against the Chargers.

"Jerry deserves to start right now," Payne said. "Honestly, he's playing better than me. Hopefully, I'll keep getting better as things go along. Jerry's been working very hard, and he's played very well in four games. I've played one half. Right now, we're worried about winning games. We're tight on the defensive line and don't care who starts as long as we win."

Payne suffered an ACL injury in the second game of the 2003 season and has undergone three operations since. The coaches brought him along slowly during training camp and the preseason.

Payne will reclaim his job once he gets more game action early in the season. He was in on 38 plays in the preseason finale against Tampa Bay and was pleased with the way his knee responded to his first game in almost 12 months.

"I felt good," Payne said. "Really, I think I had more all-over body soreness. My knees weren't really an issue. I was pretty surprised by my endurance. I've actually got some juice in my legs. I'm not worried about my conditioning. I was a little worried about it going into last week's game, but I felt pretty fresh in the game. ...

"The situation so far has been that Jerry starts at nose. Unless somebody says otherwise, I assume that's going to be the case."

DeLoach is one of just five players who have started every game for the Texans over the past two seasons. Center Steve McKinney, guard Chester Pitts, and linebackers Jay Foreman and Kailee Wong are the others.

"I wouldn't say people have forgotten," said Deloach, who lost his starting job at right end when the Texans signed Robaire Smith in free agency. "I'm glad I had that opportunity, and hopefully that will continue on Sunday. If not, I know I'm going to be out there. It doesn't matter."

The Texans have six defensive linemen on the roster - Gary Walker, Smith, Corey Sears and Junior Ioane are the others - but Capers usually had only five active defensive linemen on game day during the team's first two seasons. The Texans can get away with having just five because the outside linebackers play as ends on passing downs, meaning they need only one or two traditional linemen for those downs.

Additionally, the Texans use a rotation system on the defensive line. So while the starters are on the field for most of the plays, the backups get plenty of action, which helps keep everyone fresh.


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