Paving the Way

Add my name to the list of naysayers. When I looked at the weakest link of the Chargers, I looked no further than the blocking up front. The goal of an offensive line is to lead the league in fewest sacks allowed, and have the top rushing offense in the league. San Diego ranks second in rushing yards per game at 161.7, and are tied for second with the fewest sacks allowed (8). That is a pretty strong way to deny my original thoughts coming into the season.

First let's give credit to new offensive line coach Hudson Houck who has taken this hotchpotch offensive line and turned it into something special, with replaceable parts.

"They've sure done a fine job and a lot of the credit goes to Hudson Houck and the players themselves, especially when you lose one of your starters, Cory Raymer, right off the bat,'' general manager John Butler said.

Butler orchestrated the rebuilding of this unit this offseason, acquiring Raymer as his new center, bringing in Bob Hallen at left guard, and drafting Toniu Fonoti in the second round. Then Raymer tore his Achilles tendon in the third week and was replaced by undrafted rookie Jason Ball.

Center Jason Ball and guard Toniu Fonoti, both rookies, were part of a Chargers' offensive line that helped spring Tomlinson and the Bolts' rushing attack for 172 yards against the Raiders defense that entered the game ranked third in league against the rush. Two rookies playing integral parts in the makeup of this line. The scary thing is they will only get better. Ball was among the surprises of camp when he made the team. Everyone knew about Fonoti, yet he still had to pick up the nuances of NFL pass protection after cutting his teeth at run-happy Nebraska. And McIntosh, a native of Jamaica, rarely misses a beat despite being in only his second year as a starter. Sounds like the solid makings of a formidable line for years to come.

"Fonoti progresses each and every week,'' Butler said. "I thought he stepped it up another level against the Raiders. He's starting to feel comfortable, and he knows what he's doing. He's just doing it and not thinking about it.''

"It's Coach Houck,'' McIntosh said."He gets the players in the right position to make plays."

Added Butler: "Yeah, but he doesn't play on Sundays.''

The truth is that these parts have come together quickly, making this unit among the best in the league.

"I don't think the offensive line gets enough credit,'' running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "I think Drew Brees and myself get too much credit. The line is a big reason why we are 6-1.''

The Chargers called "power" plays 20-something times against Oakland. At one point, they said, it seemed as if they ran the play 10-12 consecutive times.

"We were just hitting it right down the middle," left tackle Damion McIntosh said. "They said we couldn't do it, and we were making a point that we could."

"We heard a lot of negative talk last year, McIntosh added. "This year, no one is talking about us.''

"These guys are only going to get better,'' Brees said. "They're not at their peak right now.''

"They gave us everything we could expect and some stuff we hadn't seen and probably will never see again,'' said Vaughn Parker, the line's elder statesman in his ninth year, "and even though they stopped some of the runs, we still plugged away.''

Just as much credit deserves to go to the wide receivers for the job they do in the blocking scheme. From Tim Dwight flying down to make a block in New England, to Curtis Conway making two blocks on one play, and fast forwarding to recent games where Reche Caldwell has delivered crushing blocks in Kansas City and Oakland, the receivers are taking pride in the work they do.

Now the line prepares to face the second worst run defense in the league, the New York Jets. You can see the smiles from here. More power to the trenches. They say they could not do it and take pride in proving everyone wrong.

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