Phase three important too

The old guard knows that it takes all phases of the game to win in the NFL. Special teams is a part of that – and just as big as any other. The Chargers are hoping the loss of Kassim Osgood does not set them back.

It's a philosophy that has helped Marty Schottenheimer become the winningest active coach in the NFL: run the ball well, stop the run well and fight like hell for field position on special teams.

But as anyone knows following the NFL, Marty Ball is extinct, with the Chargers presenting one of the most explosive offenses around -- an average of 29.8 points per game, second in the league. And while the Chargers are No. 1 in stopping the run, Schottenheimer has to be concerned something else will stop his team's run of five straight wins.

His team's special teams play. Which is why the loss of Kassim Osgood was such a huge blow.

"He is a core guy," said Schottenheimer. "He is one of our captains. His absence will have a definite effect."

That's not good news to one phase of the Chargers' that isn't clicking.

Fortunately for the Chargers, general manager A.J. Smith signed former Titans special teams stud Scott McGarrahan last week. He had 40 special teams tackles for the Titans in 2003-04. McGarrahan was a healthy inactive on Sunday night. Next Sunday, he will see a healthy amount of playing time on special teams.

Schottenheimer did point to several players who have stepped up recently.

"Reche Caldwell did a good job," Schottenheimer said of the effort against Oakland. "Matt Wilhelm had four tackles in the kicking game alone. Hanik Milligan performed well."

The Chargers' kickoff coverage teams have been better of late, but are still ranked No. 20th in the NFL. And part of the problem is kicker Nate Kaeding, who has been a dynamo on field goals but less than dynamite on kickoffs.

At one point this year, Schottenheimer gave the kickoff duties to punter Mike Scifres. He's having a fantastic year in his regular job, where his 39.6-yard net average is tops in the league.

But he wasn't much better than Kaeding on kickoffs. Kaeding had been bothered by a sore hip, but that is behind him so Schottenheimer returned the kickoff duties to him.

In the win over the Raiders, though, Kaeding's kickoffs didn't even reach the 15-yard-line. Schottenheimer is shooting for the 5- or 10-yard lines to give his shaky coverage units to get downfield.

"We are still not getting the ball inside the five like we want," added the coach. "Hopefully we get the depth with those kicks."

Lightning Quicks:

LaDainian Tomlinson sat out practice with sore ribs and while no one would come out and say it, a sucker punch from a Raider defender while Tomlinson was covered by a pile of players was the cause of his rib injury.

"We were playing the Raiders," Tomlinson said.

He would not go into further detail about the incident.


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