Playing-Time Puzzle

The bye week come at the perfect time for the Chargers, as impact players like Steve Foley, Eric Parker and Drayton Florence have been dogged by injuries for weeks now. The Chargers used the week off to get healthy and now must make some crucial personnel decisions. Because when these key starters went down, the players behind them stepped up, and now the coach staff must decide how to divvy up playing time.

Heading into the season, critics complained that Foley was the team's only pass-rushing threat. However, his two-week absence has forced Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips to step up their respective games. Those two have combined for five sacks in the last two games, after combining for only four during the seven weeks Foley was on the field.

"That is every week for every team," Phillips said of the injury bug. "Someone has to step up."

Now, Foley is healthy, and the team needs him back on the field. He is a vocal leader, an intimidating physical presence, and a veteran who can be held accountable in clutch situations. The coaching staff must find a way to get Foley, Merriman and Phillips ample opportunities to rush the passer, as each member of that trio is a dynamic pass rusher.

The Chargers may also have a decision to make at the wide receiver position. Eric Parker has been nagged by an ankle injury for weeks now, and Reche Caldwell has stepped up in his absence. On the season, he has caught 15 passes for 240 yards despite receiving limited playing time, and although he has lost two fumbles, he appears to be a go-to receiver for quarterback Drew Brees.

"I made sure I protected the ball," Caldwell said of his effort in the win over the Jets.

Also complicating the matter is the development of rookie Vincent Jackson, who caught his first pass last week against the Jets. Now Jackson appears to be coming on, Caldwell is reestablishing himself, and Parker will have to fight for time upon his return. He may not lose his starting spot, because he is a diligent worker with terrific hands, but he will no doubt lose some time to the Caldwell and Jackson combination.

"We are encouraged by the progress Vincent Jackson has made," head coach Marty Schottenheimer added.

Drayton Florence is in a situation similar to Parker's. His starting spot may be safe, but the team will have to make time for the players behind him. Sammy Davis, the team's first-round pick in 2003, has picked up his play since being reinserted in the starting lineup. He has improved his play against the run - registering 11 tackles in week eight alone – and has tightened his coverage as well.

Then there's Jamar Fletcher, a player the team was leaving inactive on game days earlier this season. He had a sack and a fourth-quarter interception against the Eagles, and made a game-saving pass defense against the Jets with under two minutes to go in last Sunday's game. Florence may be team's most talented cover corner, but he has a habit of gambling and losing focus. Now, the team knows that if Florence slips, there are others behind him willing and able to take his position.

Having too much depth is a problem most teams would love to have, but it can be a problem nonetheless if handling incorrectly. A.J. Smith has put more than enough pieces in place, and it is now up to Coach Schottenheimer to find a way to get the most out of each player and their unique skill sets. If he can do that, the Chargers should find themselves back in the playoffs. If not, this team could end up worse off than Ty Law trying to make an open-field tackle.

SD Super Chargers Top Stories