Chargers Expect Deep Playoff Run

The Chargers entered camp confident and assured they had one of the NFL's most talented rosters. Still, they had questions -- most of which revolved around the coaching staff.

Norv Turner took over for Marty Schottenheimer as head coach. The coordinators were fresh, with Clarence Shelmon taking the offensive reins from Cam Cameron; Ted Cottrell replaced Wade Phillips on defense.

But by all accounts, the transition has been as smooth as a LaDainian Tomlinson touchdown run or a Philip Rivers touchdown pass.

"I can already tell," Rivers said, looking toward the regular season, 'it's going to be fun."

Last season ended with a big bummer when the Chargers squandered their top seed in the AFC and a fourth-quarter lead to the Patriots in the playoffs. That ultimately forced Schottenheimer out the door and a coaching staff that had more changes than the roster.

But in the name of continuity, little has changed with the Chargers, who are gunning for their third AFC West title in four years.

Turner? There's no doubt he's in tune with the offense as he installed it as the team's offensive coordinator in 2001.

Shelmon? He's been directing the Chargers' bread and butter -- Tomlinson -- as the team's running backs coach since 2002.

Cottrell? He runs the 3-4 system that Phillips employed; Cottrell was Phillips' defensive coordinator when Phillip was the head coach in Buffalo.

So while there are fresh faces roaming the sidelines, there's no need for name tags with the players.

The team that last year led the league in scoring and in collecting sacks, returns nine starters on offense and eight on defense.

The starting wide receivers were among the few question marks on offense. To date, Vincent Jackson looks like a No. 1 wideout and rookie Craig Davis seems primed to stretch the field.

Inside linebackers Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm, and strong safety Clinton Hart are new. While Wilhelm has been slowed by a calf injury, the defense looks as strong as ever.

But this season -- unlike few others in the Chargers' star-crossed history -- will be determined by how the team does in the playoffs. The Chargers brass has made it clear going 0-2 in the playoffs since 2004 is unacceptable.

The Chargers seem primed to make it to only their second Super Bowl.

"Having just about everybody back and with the additions we've made. We know what the expectations are," said Rivers, a Pro Bowl selection last year in his first season as a starter.

"There hasn't been a whole lot of dialogue in the locker room about what we expect and what we've got to do and all that rah-rah (stuff) because we know how disappointed we were last year and what we should have done."

It was a tough lesson to absorb and one that should deliver dividends this season. The Chargers are not only talented and young, but hungry as well. Unless the team suffers a devastating injury -- i.e. losing Tomlinson -- there's no reason that the Chargers don't go deep in the playoffs.

"Now it's a matter of getting back at it," Rivers said, "to get it done."

COACHING: Norv Turner, 10th year, 1st with Chargers (58-82-1)

REMEMBERING: 2006 record: 14-2 (1st in AFC West); lost in divisional game to Patriots, 24-21.

PREDICTING: 2007 regular season record: 10-6 (1st in AFC West); lose in AFC title game.


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