San Diego Charger Diagnosis: Mid-Season Review

A quick recap on the diagnoses done for the first eight weeks of the season. How are the players doing? What suggested steps have they taken to improve their game? Who is ahead or behind schedule at the break? The Chargers are clearly the surprise team of the NFL defying just about every pundit in sports. The team still remains one of the youngest in football, and even though the Chargers have had a great start there is still room for improvement.

Week one:
Antonio Gates, TE

Gates, simply put, is the best tight end in football today. Tomorrow could bring a different story, but since the game against the Houston Texans no team has been able to stop Gates or match his production. Gates is no longer slipping under the radar for he is now a household name and is practically a shoe-in for the Pro Bowl (thanks to the thousands of fantasy football leagues). The only uncertainty with Gates was the potential of being lost in some games due to his inexperience. Gates, since his diagnosis, has continued to make big catches at key moments. If it is second and fifteen he might only come up with a nine yard reception, but it is plays and weapons like this that make the Chargers one of the best offensive teams in football. And for the record, he has caught 38 first down receptions, one behind the leading receiver in the category and is second in the league in third down receptions with 19.

Week two:Sammy Davis, CB

Davis has been picked on more than just about any other corner in football. During his diagnosis it was noticed that he is prone to give up big plays early on. Since the Chargers, defensively, do not show a lot in the first couple of series it is vital for Davis not to get beat initially. Davis has been unfairly criticized for the Chargers ranking in pass defense. Any corner thrown at in excess of twenty times a game will give up yards. But for the most part Davis has played containment well of late. The Chargers defensive backfield woes come more from the safety play than that of the corners. Davis is not a very physical but covers like glue. He fits well in what is one of the most versatile groups of corners in the league.

Week three:Igor Olshansky, DT/E

Olshansky has come along nicely since the Denver game, and has stepped up tremendously against the run. If one recalls, Olshansky was getting his lunch handed to him until he made an adjustment and started playing off the line more. Olshansky seems now to understand various blocking schemes better and at times has been a dominating run defender. He has also done a better job of getting separation from the offensive line in attempt to either block passes or pursue the quarterback when rushed out of the pocket. The more reps Olshansky gets the more he will get out of the habit of playing too upright. When his pass rushing skills evolve, Olshansky could be a true force at defensive tackle.

Week four:Reche Caldwell, WR

As predicted, the offense incorporated Caldwell in a lot more reverses and other specialty plays. Caldwell really stepped up his game this season but now has a much tougher task ahead of him. This injury is extremely unfortunate for Caldwell (not that any injury is not), because it would have been really interesting to see what type of season he would have put together with his new demeanor. Caldwell needs to consult other receivers who have been through the same surgery before to get himself ready for the days ahead. His career is not over by any means, but in the next twelve months or so his mental endurance will surely be tested.

Week five:Nate Kaeding, K

Kaeding's first miss of the season finally came against Carolina. But instead of letting it dictate his performance throughout the game, he fought back a drilled a forty-four yarder putting the Chargers up by four going into the fourth quarter. Kaeding continues to impress with his fortitude and accuracy. As stated earlier, though, his kickoff percentages are far from being desired and he must keep them in bounds the rest of the way. The Chargers have been fairly good this year on kickoff coverage, but have also yet to face some of the more dynamic kick off returners, they will meet this year. This could pose potential trouble, especially against Kansas City whom San Diego, at the very least, has to split the series with.

Week six:Shane Olivea, OT

Olivea should easily be in line to make the All-Rookie team this year. He has arguably performed better than any other offensive line rookie in the NFL. Aside from some serious penalty errors (most notably the holding penalty with two minutes left against Carolina), Olivea is one of the main reasons the Chargers have had such a dynamic offense. He has performed solidly in every facet of the game. The one area he needs to work on, though, is creating a more explosive surge at the point of attack. Olivea lost a lot of weight coming into the season which probably affected his strength somewhat. He might be better suited at guard over the long hall, but in terms of this year, he has been an absolute Godsend at tackle.

Week seven:Ben Leber, OLB

Leber has improved considerably the last two games of the season. He's done a better job playing the run and has been consistently solid covering the tight end. The diagnosis is still predicting that at some point in the near future his job will be taken by Shaun Phillips. Most of the dominating OLB's in the 3-4 are in the 260-pound range, so Leber's future might be better suited inside. Leber is only getting by because of his amazing speed, and consequently, has developed more into a role player than anything else. As Phillips begins to learn the intricacies of the defense he will begin taking more and more of Leber's snaps. If Leber wants to maintain his starting position into next season (which he is certainly capable) he must be more physical and has to do a better job shedding blockers.

Week eight:Toniu Fonoti, OG

Although everyone is doing their part, Fonoti has been the foundation for the success of the offense this year. He is the reason the Chargers are dominating on third and short, and is also the main reason the Chargers still continue to run effectively without a healthy LaDainian Tomlinson. Fonoti has also developed into one of the more versatile blockers for San Diego as well. He is primarily the only guard for the Chargers who pull-blocks on sweeps and bootlegs. Thus far Fonoti has not had a letdown in his performance. If his play carries through the second half of the season as it did in the first, Fonoti is well on his way to becoming one of the best lineman in the NFL.

Byran Martin can be reached at

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