Chargers look to answer questions

The Chargers have a number of questions heading into the 2006 NFL season. Getting repitions for Philip Rivers ranks high among the priorities but it isn't the only thing San Diego must come to terms with before the whistle blows.

--QB Philip Rivers: Everyone continues to believe he is the real deal and can take over the controls of last year's No. 10-ranked offense and point it deep into the playoffs.

And the former North Carolina State star could do just that. But until he does it on a consistent basis, he is still the biggest unknown on a squad which doesn't have that many.

His 30 NFL passes aren't a large enough body of work to say without a doubt how he will fare as Drew Brees' replacement. But Rivers showed enough to the Chargers' brass -- especially general manager A.J. Smith -- that it didn't put up a fight to keep Brees.

But Rivers' start on September 11 for the opener will be his first NFL start. How he reacts -- especially in Oakland -- is worth watching.

--LT Roman Oben: A balky foot which has required two surgeries leaves the offensive line's most important position unsettled.

If the veteran Oben can rebound after missing the second half of the year, the Chargers will be able to exhale. Oben supplies leadership and is savvy enough to usually keep speed-rushers at bay.

But if Oben can't perform, the Chargers would have to turn to Leander Jordan; he was merely OK as Oben's replacement last year.

If Jordan doesn't fly right, the Chargers would then be forced to eye rookie Marcus McNeill. The Chargers would prefer easing McNeill into his pro career, rather than putting him at such a crucial spot so quickly.

So the key is Oben. If he's back, the Chargers don't have to worry as much about Rivers landing so often on his back. If not, Rivers' blindside could be tested repeatedly.

--WR Rashaun Woods: A first-round bust in San Francisco, Woods looks to San Diego to resurrect what was once a promising career after being a star at Oklahoma State.

Woods hasn't seen the field much because of injuries in his first two years and the 49ers' patience with him wore thin. So they peddled him for another first-round bust, cornerback Sammy Davis.

Woods, if nothing else, lands on a team that is in need of receivers. Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker are the starters, but after that the competition for the number 3 and 4 spots is wide open.

--KR/RB Darren Sproles: He was a hit last year returning kickoffs, averaging 24.3 yards per return. But he flopped as a punt returner (6-yard average), continually having difficulty fielding them.

The Chargers are hoping the shifty Sproles can be more well-rounded this year. Their experiment of getting him on the field on third downs wasn't a roaring success; he caught three passes for 10 yards. Still, they tinkered with lining Sproles up in various spots in the offense in the minicamps and will do the same at training camp.

If Sproles can hone his skills in his second season, it would be a big boost for the Chargers.

With him returning as the punt returner, he wouldn't force Eric Parker into action. Parker, at 6-0, 180 pounds can only take so many hits to his frame. And the Chargers would prefer he absorbs them as a wide receiver.

If Sproles can settle into a role on third downs, it gives the Chargers another option to concern defenses with. With proven offensive commodities like LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Keenan McCardell, defenses would be stretched thin if having to contend with the speedy Sproles, too.

First, Sproles must gain the confidence of the coaches that he can be relied on fielding punts and on critical third downs.


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