McNeill more than a rookie

For all the praise the Chargers' young quarterback has received, their young left tackle has been just as impressive. Rookie Marcus McNeill had another strong showing in Cincinnati.

He lined up against Justin Smith, the Bengals' sack leader coming into the game, and shut him out. He also helped lead the way for LaDainian Tomlinson, who scored four touchdowns and averaged over 4.7 yards per carry.

"Going against guys like Shawne and SP (Shaun Phillips) – it has helped me out since I got here," said McNeill.

Despite McNeill's early success, an analysis of his play shows he is still very much a rookie. That is not to say he is ineffective, rather he is deployed differently to help him avoid vulnerable situations.

For example, on plays where the Chargers ran to the right, McNeill would often block down on defense tackle John Thorton, allowing a tight end – Antonio Gates, in most cases – to block the defensive end. The Bengals, however, did a good job exposing this scheme, as they chased many such plays down from the backside.

On passing downs, McNeill has clearly developed, as he no longer has a tight end attached to his hip. Instead, the Chargers use Tomlinson to flank Rivers' blindside. Tomlinson's stellar vision is an asset pass defense, where the team trusts him to know when to stay in and pick up the blitz and when to flare out as an outlet receiver.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer was pleased with the play of McNeill and his fellow linemen, and believes the big win may energize the group going forward.

"No one needs this energy more than the guys up front, knocking people around and getting stepped on. It can be a relatively thankless task, as you know. Our line is doing a terrific job," Schottenheimer said.

The line is gaining not just energy, but versatility as well. The group had used an elephant package at times this season, lining Shane Olivea up as a tight end on the left side with Brandon Manumaleuna filling in at right tackle.

Against the Bengals, the Chargers flipped that alignment, moving McNeill over to the right. Credit offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, because the unpredictable Chargers even threw a pass out of that run-heavy formation, a 27-yarder to Malcom Floyd that set up one of many Tomlinson touchdowns.

"Our offensive line is playing incredible," Tomlinson said. "It is the best I have seen a group play since I have been here. The understanding they have of each other and understanding what we need to get done. They are allowing us to move the ball up and down the field."

Kudos goes to Marcus McNeill, because while most rookie left tackles are liabilities, he is helping to drive the league's highest scoring offense.

Next week, when the Chargers travel to Denver to take on the Broncos in a crucial divisional showdown, we will analyze the performance of linebacker Carlos Polk.

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