Chargers Award Predictions for 2006

With Chargers season ready to kickoff, it is time to unveil Mike's second annual Preseason Award Predictions, in which I predict who will win each of the team's awards at season's end. First, let's take a quick look back at how I fared last time around.

There were some definite hits, such as postulating that Hanik Milligan would be the special teams MVP. Naming Keenan McCardell the offensive MVP-to-be wasn't bad either, seeing as he ended up with a career-high nine touchdowns. There were also some misses, like claiming Terrence Kiel would win the same honor on defense. But this is a new year and time for a new set of predictions.

Team MVP: Antonio Gates

Although many would consider LaDainian Tomlinson a lock for this award, Gates is the player the team can least afford to lose. He completely controls the middle of the field, forcing opponents to single cover receivers and to pay a little less attention to Tomlinson. His 23 touchdown receptions over the last two years are the most ever by a tight end during such a span.

The team will be counting on a big game from Gates in Oakland.

"Players come to play in big games," Gates said. "This is one of those games for us - AFC West game. It is imperative we come out with a win."

Offensive MVP: LaDainian Tomlinson

Tomlinson is the best running back in the game and will be counted on more than ever this season. He will be expected to carry the team's running game, to function as an outlet receiver for Philip Rivers and to block blitzing linebackers who are coming after his young quarterback. One thing Tomlinson has yet to do is lead the league in rushing, but he will have every chance to cross that chore off his to-do list this fall.

Tomlinson, like Gates, will need a big game against the Raiders.

"It is a fun place to play, a fun atmosphere," Tomlinson said. "It is nice to shut them up. They are talking all night and all of sudden they aren't talking anymore."

Defensive MVP: Shawne Merriman

Merriman didn't start until week seven last season and still finished with 10 sacks. He started in the Pro Bowl and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year, and now has a year's experience under his belt. He is a fiery, vocal leader who energizes the defense.

Merriman knows what to expect on Monday night.

"It is going to be a smash-mouth football game," he said.

Special Teams MVP: Kassim Osgood

Were in not for a late season pectoral injury, it likely would have been Osgood and not Milligan who represented the AFC in Honolulu. Osgood has great size and power, but the key to his success is his attitude. He had 19 special teams tackles in only 11 games last year and it a dominant blocker, too.

Lineman of the Year: Jamal Williams

Williams was named to his first Pro Bowl last season and the invite was long overdue. The 348-lb. lineman consistently dominates the line of scrimmage and quickly collapses passing pockets. He demands double-teams on every snap, freeing up the linebackers behind him to flow to the football and make plays.

Most Inspirational: Steve Foley

While the details of Foley's shooting have not all come to light as of yet, it is clear his teammates have rallied around him. Foley is a hard worker, a comedian and a mentor to younger players. Many of his teammates believe he is being mistreated not only by law enforcement but by Chargers management, who have elected to withhold his salary this season. The players have vowed to dedicate their season to Foley, someone who always demanded the best from those around him.

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