Blocking first priority for Brandon Manumaleu

After a down year among the offensive linemen, the San Diego Chargers used a fourth round pick in an unconventional way to strengthen the point of attack. They acquired a tight end.

This week's scouting report analyzes the play of tight end Brandon Manumaleuna. Acquired in an offseason trade with the St. Louis Rams in exchange for a 2006 fourth-round pick, Manumaleuna was brought in for his ability to block. He did just that against the 49ers, helping LaDainian Tomlinson rush for a career-high four touchdowns.

At 288 lbs., it is debatable whether Manumaleuna is a tight end or an extra offensive lineman. Perhaps the most fitting title would be baby sitter, as he spent much of 49ers game attached to rookie Marcus McNeill's hip. That strategy worked, as Philip Rivers was not sacked during the contest.

The Chargers use Manumaleuna in a variety of ways. On obvious passing downs he lines up in the backfield, where he and Tomlinson bracket Rivers; one of the two typically stays in to block while the other leaks out into the flat to provide an outlet option. Manumaleuna caught one three-yard pass doing exactly during the second quarter.

"He was brought in here with a definite purpose," head coach Marty Schottenheimer admitted, citing his ability to block. "He's a very talented guy. It's amazing because he's so athletic and has very good hands."

On all other occasions, Manumaleuna plays up on the line of scrimmage. He is often sent in motion, although he typically resets in his original alignment. Doing so forces the defense to declare its coverage, because if a linebacker follows Manumaleuna up and down the line it means the defense is playing man.

Manumaleuna shows great agility for a man of his size, allowing him to redirect defenders and prevent them from getting around the outside. This ability was on display during Tomlinson's touchdown plunge at the end of the first half, as he rode Manny Lawson to the outside, allowing Tomlinson to score uncontested.

The one glaring weakness in Manumaleuna's game is his lack of power. Despite his girth, he has a difficult time drive blocking and generating movement in the running game. Marques Douglas routinely held up Manumaleuna at the line of scrimmage, as the Chargers averaged less than three yards per rush on the day.

It will be interesting to monitor how Manumaleuna's role changes if Roman Oben is activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list this week. Oben, an 11-year veteran, hardly needs the variety of chaperoning that McNeill requires. It remains to be seen who will start at left tackle when – or if – Oben is deemed fit to play.

There will, however, always be a role for Manumaleuna in this offense. Antonio Gates - who caught a 57-yard touchdown against the 49ers – believes the presence of Manumaleuna in the line-up makes his job that much easier.

"The thing is, we want to maximize our abilities at that spot," Gates said.

Next week's scouting report will break down the performance of defensive end Igor Olshansky as he tries to slow down Larry Johnson and the Kansas City Chiefs.

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