The Chargers will begin the year without tight end Antonio Gates, which is certainly a big blow. But it is not the end all for San Diego.
They still have LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield and a Pro Bowler at quarterback in Drew Brees. Playing without Gates might actually help Brees shed his tendency to look towards his sure-handed tight end. There were times last year when Eric Parker was open down the field and the ball went elsewhere. The perimeter receivers will be essential to the team's success in 2005 as teams look to blanket Gates and take that option away.
"This our third or fourth year in this offense and we are able to be creative," Brees explained. "We are able to create matchups with the weapons we have. It is exciting when game-planning for a team."
The key to this game, however, will fall on the offensive line. They return all five starters to the unit and will be asked to get physical from the start.
Head coach Marty Schottenheimer will want to establish the running game early and often as he knows it will be the difference in the fourth quarter when the tired legs of the defense, who will play their first full game of the year, appear and LaDainian Tomlinson makes that one cut to take it the distance.
"They play pretty straight-forward but they are very physical and very efficient," Schottenheimer said.
"They are a team that is right in your face," added Tomlinson.
This is no longer a line that includes two rookies but one that is seasoned after a full year of working together.
"With the young guys we picked up last season who came in and did a great job and now we are sticking together for another year," right guard Mike Goff said.
There is a misconception about a Bill Parcells coached team that says he will run the ball at all costs. If the situation calls for it, Parcells will throw the ball.
While he understands the running games' importance, he will abandon that philosophy quickly if there is little room against a team that ranked third in the NFL against the rush a year ago.
The Chargers have yet to prove that they will be better against the pass and gave up a number of long receptions throughout the preseason.
"The average gain per attempt," Schottenheimer said of his concern with the pass defense. "Once we put all the pieces in place it will become apparent that we are better."
"They should expect more because we expect more," countered cornerback Quentin Jammer.
Dallas quarterback Drew Bledsoe isn't a mobile quarterback and will definitely take his share of sacks. But if he has time in the pocket he has a number of weapons to choose from.
There is no doubt they will challenge the Chargers' secondary to step up and make plays while mixing in the run to keep the defense honest.
This will be a chance for the linebackers and defensive line to make plays on Bledsoe and gain confidence in their pass rush prowess. With Jamal Williams getting double-teamed in the middle, look for the blitzes to come from that area as a lane opens up with two men on the nose tackle.
Jue, who will get the start over Jerry Wilson at free safety, didn't have a great camp but has more speed and upside than the veteran. He also feels that this team is up for the challenge because of the chemistry that has developed.
"It's a young, hungry team," he said. "Everybody takes care of each other."
On Special Teams:
This will be the unveiling of rookie Darren Sproles in a regular season game. His athletic ability has been glimpsed in the preseason and he was often a cut away from breaking into the open field.
As his blockers get used to his moves, he should improve. One definite in his favor will be consistency from his lead blockers on special teams rather than the stew of players that were thrown into special teams duty during the preseason.
The preseason had its perils for kicker Nate Kaeding. He will open at home where the crowd can cheer before he kicks. He was 3-for-7 in the preseason but is in no way on the hot seat.
One of the reasons he was so well liked as a rookie was his ability to bounce back from failure. He isn't the Rick Ankiel of football, but a good kicker who had a bad stretch of games.
Mike Scifres is about as steady as they come. He performed as solid as we have come to expect in the preseason and looks like he added some hang time to his already impressive stats. One kick in Minnesota appeared to have come close to hitting the roof of the Metrodome. No question he is a weapon that neutralizes his opponents. Start the Pro Bowl parade early on this one.