San Diego Charger Diagnosis: Eric Parker

The San Diego Chargers are one step closer to something nobody gave them a chance for at the beginning of the season. The success of this team is due to the various unknowns playing their roles to perfection. The play of LaDainian Tomlinson, Quentin Jammer, and recent addition Keenan McCardell has been well documented. But what has not been touched upon nearly as much is the key contributions of "no-names" such as Eric Parker.

The University of Tennessee product might only see limited action during the course of a game, but makes the most out of every opportunity he gets.

The game against the Kansas City Chiefs exemplified the success of the Chargers this season. Compared to prior seasons, the bigger names on the Charger squad are statistically having off-years. What makes this team more exciting than any in recent memory is how so many unknown (and not to mention undrafted) players come up big when San Diego needs it the most. An excellent example is the gutsy performance by Eric Parker against Kansas City.

Parker got off to a fast start gaining nineteen yards on a reverse play. This play was later revisited by the Chargers in the third quarter helping them tie what ended up being a back and forth slugfest. Parker has not only come up big from the line of scrimmage but has supplied San Diego with a consistent presence in punt returns. Coming into the game Parker was averaging a little over nine yards a return. Up until this season, Tim Dwight handled the punt returning duties. Due to health reasons his play was limited though. Because of the emergence of Parker the Chargers have been able to maximize certain players strengths by limiting their play, and in Dwight's case, giving him sole kick return duties. The result is a very formidable duo that has helped San Diego maintain one of the better special teams in the conference.

In the past six contests Parker has averaged four catches a game. Though his statistics are not mind blowing, he has developed into on of Drew Brees' favorite secondary targets. The coaches have made it a point to put Parker in the best position to utilize his strengths. Aside from the reverse hand-offs (which too is an excellent indicator of his speed) Parker showed his ability this past week to stretch the field by catching a fifty-five yard pass - setting San Diego up for their first touchdown of the game. Parker's downfield ability has allowed San Diego a formidable option when Brees is unable to deliver the ball to either Antonio Gates or McCardell.

With the addition of McCardell and the emergence of Gates, Parker should begin to play a bigger role for the Chargers. Since most defensive backfields will match their two best corners against Gates and McCardell, Parker will find himself pitted against nickel backs and backups. Consequently, the Chargers will find themselves with some advantageous match-ups during the next five games. Brees will find more opportunities to connect deep passes to Parker off the play-action pass. Also, with the recent success of the reverse hand-offs Parker will get more opportunities to show case his speed. And at the very least it could prove to be a solid diversion.

Over the course of the year Parker has developed very solid hands. He is catching the ball in traffic much better than he did earlier in the season. Parker runs very accurate routes and often finds himself slashing open in crossing patterns. It is no secret, however, Parker is more of a finesse player. He uses his agility to get open but often finds himself tied up in one-on-one coverage. Parker has improved though, which is evident in recent successful deep patterns, and as a result now appears to be more of a complete wide out. When facing zone coverage schemes Parker is at his best. He has come up big several times this season on third down and long by finding holes in the zone defense and picking up the first down.

Parker is in the first year of a fresh new contract. It is clear that he figures into the long term plans of the organization as long as he continues to develop at the pace that he has. Parker is small in size and could do himself a favor by putting on a little weight in the off-season. What makes him dangerous, though, is his speed and that above else should not be compromised. If Parker can develop more physically and increase the ways he utilizes his speed he can emerge as a very good number two wide receiver in this league.

Diagnosis for next week: The Denver Broncos will probably match up their best corner (Champ Bailey) against either Gates or McCardell (or a combination there of). Parker will have an excellent chance to make an impact as he did against Kansas City. The Chargers will probably fake the reverse early and go down field on a play action pass. With the success San Diego had last week, Denver is more than likely to keep an eye out for any type of reverse hand-offs. Parker will probably get an opportunity or two down field while the Chargers use Gates and McCardell as a diversion. If Parker can maintain his sure hands he could very well have another big game. Finally, Parker has been very good in his punt returning decisions. The Bronco game could very well come down to a special teams turnover, so it is vital for Parker to continue this trend.

Diagnosis for the season: The Chargers need to win three more to assure themselves a playoff berth (though two may be enough). Eight victories ties the season high since the last time San Diego has made playoffs. This next victory is a major hurdle for anyone on the team since Marty Schottenheimer's first year. San Diego has shown excellent poise the last two weeks by not only winning on the road, but winning see-saw battles. Parker has been around San Diego longer than many players on this team. He has a great opportunity to distinguish himself as a leader. Ultimately, what will dictate whether the Chargers make the post-season will not be the play of some of the bigger names, but the consistency and diligence in the unsung heroes such as Eric Parker.

Byran Martin can be reached at Byran@sandiegosports.net

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