San Diego Chargers Diagnosis: Reche Caldwell

Coming into this week, the San Diego Chargers were put in a must win situation. It has not been as if the Chargers were playing all that bad in their two loses, but, next to LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego has been lacking in the big play department. In the first week, Antonio Gates came up big to help catapult the Chargers to victory against Houston. In the game against the Tennessee Titans, however, it was Reche Caldwell who proved to be the catalyst.

One of the marks of being a great receiver is making big plays when your team needs them the most. Big plays can be as simple as a three yard catch on third and short or a turnover. It is not necessarily the amounts of yardage that is important, but the circumstance of the game in which the play is made. On a desperate drive by the Charger offense, Reche Caldwell came through with which could very well be one of the defining moments of the season.

The difference between this season and last is the Chargers would have found some sort of way to lose this game. But evident from the play thus far this team is indeed different. The Titans worked their way back into the game on a fabulous and unexpected onside kick and two long time consuming drives (despite the lopsided score the Titans still won the time of possession battle by almost 16 minutes ). Most on the sidelines were just hoping for a couple of first downs or maybe a field goal. Whatever the case, the defense needed to be off the football field for a few minutes. Brees then made a dreadful pass that looked as if it were going to be intercepted and returned the other way. The play resulted in a touchdown but not in the way the Chargers initially thought. It was Caldwell who came through when his team needed him the most.

Caldwell extended his arm making a circus catch which could easily be the head liner for any highlight reel. This play not only electrified the crowd but was the final nail in the coffin for Tennessee. If the interception had been made the results could have been catastrophic for the season. The difference between this squad and last years is exemplified in this particular play and in the overall play of Caldwell.

"I thought it was a play we needed to get the momentum back," Caldwell said of his one-handed grab. "You can say it was luck."

No one questioned whether Caldwell had the ability of becoming a good wide receiver. Some scouts had touted him as the most gifted wide receiver to come out the University of Florida. But, like most of the other receivers from Gainesville, many gurus where quick to label him with the bust tag after his first two seasons. The success of Caldwell's season thus far is not characterized by how many touchdowns or how many yards he has gained, but by the pledge he made in the off season to study film and do the tedious tasks it takes for any player to be successful in this league.

Even though the circus catch is the highlight of his performance, the transformation in Caldwell's game is more evident in the other three times he touched the ball in week four.

Caldwell's first catch came off a deep pattern which can more be attributed to mental preparation than athletic ability. Caldwell noticed the defending corner was playing him "tight" off the line of scrimmage. He took advantage of this by making a couple of shifty moves and getting behind the defense. Drew Brees was able to get the safety to bite and went deep to Caldwell. Most often this play could and should result in a touchdown. But, unlike last season, Caldwell was able to finish the play despite a poorly thrown ball. If the ball had been delivered over his left shoulder the play is six points, but instead it was delivered over his right shoulder leading him out of bounds. Needless to say Caldwell did an excellent job making the adjustment to salvage what last year would have been "another missed opportunity."

Caldwell's second catch, though not nearly as flashy as the other two, again exemplifies the night and day difference between his play this season compared to last years. The route was a simple sideline pass for 3-5 yards. This play, maybe more than any other, shows the degree in which Caldwell has grown as a receiver. Caldwell was able to push the corner up field enough to create separation so he could come back to the quarterback and make the reception. Caldwell showed discipline in his route; reliable hands despite having a defensive back breathing down his neck; and enough physicality to create separation, completing the high percentage pass. If Caldwell can continue to effectively play physical the opposing corners will have to give him more respect off the line, which will only open up more opportunities for him throughout the season.

Caldwell was also included on a little trickery in the second quarter as he rushed up the right side for twenty yards on a reverse. Normally this duty is solely designated to Tim Dwight. But the staffs' confidence is increasing steadily as Caldwell continues to deliver one solid performance after another. On the play, Caldwell effectively used his athleticism by showing his ability to run in the open field. Now, every time Caldwell goes in motion the defense has to make adjustments in case he cuts back for either a pitch or the reverse play. This will also provide the Chargers with more opportunities in future games of running misdirections now that Caldwell has emerged as a legitimate threat.

Diagnosis for next week: Caldwell has emerged as the Chargers number one wide out and will need him when they face a very tough opponent this week against Jacksonville. Caldwell is coming off his best game to date, and consequently, the Jacksonville defense is sure to key in on him. If Caldwell maintains his consistency with the slant patterns and the sideline passes, the deep routes will fall eventually. Also, depending on how the game progresses, Caldwell needs to continue to be automatic on catching the short patterns. This will allow the offense to develop some sort of rhythm because Jacksonville is the type of team that feeds off the success of their defense. The last thing the Chargers can afford to do is to string together numerous "three's and outs." Caldwell mind find himself catching five to seven passes next week for minimal amounts of yardage, but as long as the chains are moving he will be doing his part.

"We can beat any team in this league if we continue to do what we did," Caldwell said of the team's performance on Sunday against Tennessee.

Diagnosis for the season: Caldwell has done a superb job building one strong performance on another. Several weapons have emerged this season (aside from Tomlinson) which will open up plenty of opportunities for Caldwell to make big plays. Caldwell is currently on pace for a thousand yard season, and even though it might seem early talking statistics, he needs to make the plays week in and week out. If the Chargers do not continue to develop a passing threat then opposing defenses will continue to stack the line eliminating any chance for San Diego to have an effective offense. As long as Caldwell can put up solid numbers (with the help of Antonio Gates), the Chargers rushing offense will continue to flourish. By mid season if San Diego has developed a consistent and balanced attack, the solid and hard play will be evident in the "win" column.

Byran Martin can be reached at

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