Optical Illusion

Preseason games, like rearview mirrors, should come with a warning: "Caution, your team is not as close as it appears." At times, the Chargers looked like juggernauts in beating the Arizona Cardinals, 33-31. Then again, there were times they looked downright incompetent. With less than two weeks before the season opener against the Chicago Bears, the Chargers have a lot of questions to answer.

The unit facing the most questions is the secondary. Drayton Florence continues to be picked on, yet Antonio Cromartie has been unable to make a run at his starting position. Meanwhile, Marlon McCree has been a liability in coverage and neither Eric Weddle nor Clinton Hart has stood up and claimed the other safety spot.

If the secondary does not improve in a hurry, Chargers ownership will rue the decision to allow Brian Stewart to leave and take the defensive coordinator job with the Dallas Cowboys. New coaches Bill Bradley and Kevin Ross have struggled to get their group on the same page and look to have undone the progress made last season, when the pass defense jumped from No. 27 in the league to No. 13.

There are also questions on the offensive side of the ball, namely: who is going to be catching passes from Philip Rivers? The first few responses are obvious, as Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson and Vincent Jackson are entrenched in their respective positions. Craig Davis and Malcom Floyd are locked in, too, although it is unclear who will start in Eric Parker's absence. After that, things get a little murky.

Kassim Osgood and Greg Camarillo are the veteran-most reserves and should see some playing time. However, Legedu Naanee has flashed in the preseason and could surpass both on the depth chart. Elsewhere, Darren Sproles and Scott Chandler appear to have worked their way into the passing arsenal. It is a luxury having this many weapons but there are not enough footballs to go around.

As for the special teams, there are concerns that some players will not be as effective once the regular season rolls around. For example, can Darren Sproles serve as the punt returner for all 16 games without mishandling a kick? He has made remarkable progress since his shaky-handed rookie season but still seems to fight the ball in at times. Davis is a more sure-handed option but is not as explosive.

Also, special teams coach Steve Crosby will feel a lot better if Nate Kaeding starts making his game-winners on Sundays. Despite coming off a Pro Bowl campaign, Kaeding still has much to prove before being called clutch. If the Chargers play another close playoff game and need a 40-yard field goal to advance, most fans would prefer John Carney take the kick.

No doubt, the Chargers have their fair share of questions marks. But it could be worse. They could be the Atlanta Falcons.

Lightning Quicks: Over the next few weeks, the Chargers will have some questions at running back as well. Michael Turner is out with a high ankle sprain while Tyronne Gross is expected to miss the season after injuring his knee against the St. Louis Rams.


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