If I were a carpenter...

While LaDainian Tomlinson and Donnie Edwards are undoubtedly spectacular players, they were not the reason for the Chargers success last season. After all, in 2003 Tomlinson led the league with 2,370 yards from scrimmage and Edwards registered a remarkable 200 total tackles, and the Chargers were still the worst team in the league.

The reason for the turnaround was the players that too often go unnoticed. Players like Jesse Chatman, Jacques Cesaire and Reche Caldwell stepped up their respective games when called upon, and helped carry this team all the way to the playoffs. The problem as I see it is that now each of these players is being seemingly phased out by Chargers management.

Jesse Chatman set career highs last season with 407 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. More importantly, Chatman closed out games. He averaged six yards a carry, and gave LT the confidence that he could step off the field without the team suffering because of it.

Now, the Chargers have picked up Michael Turner and Darren Sproles through the last two drafts, and Chatman will have to battle to keep his job. He has beaten the odds ever since he made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent, and it says here he will do so again by making the team this fall.

Then there's Jacques Cesaire. While he registered only a modest thirty tackles last year, he tied up blockers so that Edwards and Steve Foley could have the magnificent seasons that they enjoyed. Even though he only got to play because Adrian Dingle's knees were slow to recover from off-season surgery and because DeQuincy Scott adapted poorly to the 3-4 defensive alignment, Cesaire made the most of every opportunity thrown his way.

Just like Chatman, Cesaire will be fighting for a roster spot this August. With Dave Ball making a healthy return and Luis Castillo being brought in via the draft, Cesaire will likely duke it out with Dingle and Scott, with two of them making the team and one going home. Cesaire has proven he can play, and should be given every opportunity to do so again in 2005.

Lastly, there's Reche Caldwell. When Caldwell went down in week six last year, he was on pace for over 1,000 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns. While injuries have become an unfortunate recurring theme for him, one can't deny the potential shown by Caldwell when inserted into the role of go-to receiver.

Now, with Keenan McCardell in town and Eric Parker having developed an outstanding chemistry with Drew Brees, Caldwell with have to fight Vincent Jackson, Kassim Osgood and Malcom Floyd for playing time. Given Marty Schottenheimer's affinity for receivers with height, this could be a "tall" task for Caldwell, no pun intended.

While I respect A.J. Smith's desire to add talent and competition to the Chargers roster, I can't help but question the phasing out of some of the Chargers most vital players. All three of the aforementioned Chargers will hit some degree of free agency next fall, and it would be a shame to let them walk without giving them another chance to see what they can do.

If it weren't for these players stepping up their games to begin with, the Chargers may have never even made it to the playoffs. If they are replaced before they even hit the field this September, the Chargers may not make it back again.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@sandiegosports.net

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