Lemon aid

When the San Diego Chargers released Doug Flutie, they also aided Cleo Lemon who was stuck on the roster as the fourth quarterback. While the hill is still on an incline, he has taken a step forward.

The 42-year-old quarterback, Doug Flutie, was cut by the Chargers, which might mean the end of an amazing 20-year career. Flutie came to the Chargers in 2001, the same year he served as the team's starter.

"He was so cool in the huddle," center Nick Hardwick said of Flutie.

It might be the end of the line for Flutie. Although he's leaving the door ajar. And with the lack of backup quarterbacks who can come in and have a significant impact on a game, Flutie might get a call.

Especially if it comes from the Patriots, which might mean a return to his beloved New England.

When Flutie arrive in San Diego, it meant a serious change for the Chargers. Not so much what Flutie brought, but what he didn't.

The Chargers were reeling at the time. The Ryan Leaf experiment had gone terribly wrong, and the Chargers had a new sheriff in town. General manager John Butler had been hired to turnaround this franchise, and one of his first moves was releasing Leaf.

The Chargers finally swallowed hard and admitted the 1998 draft's second overall pick was never going to be anything but a giant headache. So in a move that resulted in little heartache, Leaf was bounced and in bounced in Flutie.

In a small way, no pun intended, it was a small step to respectability - even it didn't come until this past season when the Chargers returned to the playoffs.

Flutie's entrance delivered a dose of credibility to the team. It also represented a bit of a payback to the late John Butler and current general manager A.J. Smith. It was Smith who enticed Flutie out of the CFL, with a contract offer in Buffalo.

"Doug has had a great career in pro football and I feel proud to be part of it," Smith said.

Flutie should be, too. Labeled as being undersized from the start, Flutie was often swimming against the tide. But when he came - and Leaf left - it represented a tide in the Chargers' fortunes. Although, it didn't come as quickly as they hoped, it did come.

The release of quarterback Flutie could provide Cleo Lemon with the break his career needs.

"It helps Cleo first," general manager A.J. Smith agreed. "He sees, ‘wow, I have been hanging around here and working my tail off. I have been in the system and things are starting to unfold for me.'"

Lemon was the fourth quarterback on a team that carried four quarterbacks last year. His work was limited in practice - other than getting reps with the scout team - and knew a near-calamity had to happen for him to see the field.

And that's still the case, to a degree. While the Chargers are intrigued by Lemon's potential, two giant road blocks are ahead of him in Drew Brees and Philip Rivers.

But Lemon is only 25, and has the mobility preferred by many NFL teams. And with Flutie's release, he'll at least appear on more film in the preseason.

And really, Lemon could be auditioning for a backup role next season. It's possible the Chargers will let Brees walk after next year - or trade Rivers - which would turn the heat up on Lemon.

Many think he can handle it. He's seldom rattled and possesses a cool demeanor that could come in handy.

Lemon, an undrafted free agent out of Arkansas State, was inactive in all 17 games last season, including the playoffs. And that could hold true again this season. It held true in 2003 as well.

But getting a sniff of the field is all about climbing over the names listed in front of you on the depth chart. And in that regard, Lemon has one less hurdle to turn his career into something that has so far been bittersweet.

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