Chargers toe the line

The San Diego Chargers move into the free agency period of the off-season with some decisions to make. It will, of course, affect how they plan for the NFL Draft in April.

One grey area is the offensive line.

Moving forward will take some care. The Chargers believe in building through the draft and perhaps if they had made the playoffs they would be in a position to add one superstar to the lineup to take them to the next level of winning the Super Bowl.

But that was not accomplished this year in what is viewed as a setback and it could affect how they view the free agent market.

The team has had success in lining up mid-level players and they may take a similar approach this year.

But with the likes of Jon Runyan, Jeff Backus and Steve Hutchinson on the market, they may need to change the plans slightly.

There is no dispute over the needs of the team but there is debate over how to address those areas of concern.

One thing is certain – the Chargers must find a way to make their best player happy. At the end of the year, LaDainian Tomlinson was downtrodden over the team's failure to thrive and reach the playoffs. He took it personal.

It should also be noted that in every game the Chargers lost, the opposition did a fine job of taking Tomlinson out of the game. In the team's seven losses, the offense averaged 65.1 yards rushing (456 total).

"We need more consistency," said head coach Marty Schottenheimer. "I think what needs to happen is we need to run the ball more efficiently. In games where we did not run the ball effectively, we didn't get the kind of point production."

That has to change. When Larry Johnson ran off nine 100-yard games in Kansas City, the team went 6-3. By contrast, the Chargers were 5-0 when Tomlinson surpassed the 100-yard plateau this year and are 20-8 overall when he reaches the century mark. They are, however, 17-34 when he fails to rush for 100-yards.

There is no bigger correlation to the win/loss column in San Diego.

The fact is no player is as dynamic as Tomlinson and it is amazing he has been able to do so much with seemingly so little. The offensive line has been put together with low round draft picks and it has been up to the coaching staff to perform some miracles. Hudson Houck did it first and created a legacy by brining in players in the lower rounds of the draft and making them into solid players. Carl Mouck did a heck of a job this year.

But the line was littered with inconsistency.

"I thought the only negative there was the inconsistency," Schottenheimer added. "In my dialogue with the line, they would agree with that."

Schottenheimer routinely points to the Kansas City offensive line as the best in football. And when your team has a player like Tomlinson, the goal should be to mold a line comparable to the Chiefs.

Tomlinson may have given his line props at the end of the year but you have to believe he could have done so much more with the talent he has.

Don't make a Barry Sanders out of Tomlinson – take care of the line and the rest will follow.


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