Chargers Expect to Bounce Back in '08

Now the tough time starts - waiting for your quarterback's knee to heal. As well as the team's heart. Let's start with the second first. The team was devastated when it fell short in the franchise's fourth AFC Championship Game in franchise history. But in the weeks following the loss to the Patriots, the good which came from the season overcame the bad.

Remember, this squad started 1-3 and was no better than .500, 10 games into the season. So for them to go toe-to-toe with the then-undefeated Patriots - playing for the most part without LaDainian Tomlinson and a gimpy Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers - the Chargers are pleased with the progress they have made. They lost, 21-12, when they had to settle for four field goals despite being in the Patriots' red zone three times.

Their feeling is their deep push into the playoffs will serve as a foundation for future years, one of which they hope ends in a Super Bowl title.

Now, about Rivers.

The gutsy quarterback played with a torn ACL in the conference title game after having the knee scoped earlier in the week. His presence out there fighting through an injury which would have sidelined most other players, didn't go unnoticed by his teammates.

Rivers was always known for his leadership, but that respect has only grown in leaps and bounds.

"Amongst his teammates, I don't think it surprised any of them that he was out there playing," team president Dean Spanos said. "That's the kind of person he is."

The Chargers hope mending quickly is also among his attributes. He underwent the surgery soon after the loss in New England and is expected to be out six months.

"The doctors said they were extremely pleased with what they did with the surgery and they felt it will be a very speedy recovery," coach Norv Turner said.

About that six-month window of rehabilitation?

"That's realistic," Turner said. "But (the team doctors) know Philip's work ethic and they know how he is and they're putting that timeframe that they would put on anyone. But they know that could be speeded up."

Rivers injured the knee during the Jan. 13 playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The team initially described his injury as a sprained medial collateral ligament but it was later revealed that the ACL was torn.

Rivers first underwent an operation two days after the injury, a procedure designed to give him a chance at playing in the AFC Championship Game. He passed for 211 yards while being intercepted twice.

"I thought Philip played pretty good," Spanos said. "I think he did a great job during the game. You would have to ask Philip if he thought his ACL injury or his knee injury had any impact on his ability to play during the game.

"But I'm glad he was in there and I thought he did a great job."


DE Luis Castillo
Donald Miralle/Getty

NOTES, QUOTES

--DE Luis Castillo is certain the best is yet to come for the Chargers. "We know we are a great team," he said. "And we will do some great things in the future."

--ILB Stephen Cooper is the first Charger in six years not named Donnie Edwards to lead the team in tackles. With Edwards in Kansas City, Cooper recorded 179 tackles in his first year as a starter.

--SS Clinton Hart set career highs in tackles (109) and interceptions (five).

--CB Quentin Jammer wasn't surprised with CB Antonio Cromartie's breakthrough year in which he made the Pro Bowl and led the NFL with 10 interceptions. "He might be the most athletic guy in the league," Jammer said.

--Rookie LB Brandon Siler found it tough to get on the field in the base defense but he opened some eyes with his special teams work. Siler led the squad with 21 tackles.

--The team fired receivers coach James Lofton and replaced him with another Hall of Famer, former Charger Charlie Joiner.

--The team has been selected to play the New Orleans Saints in London next October.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He never changed. He never blinked at times when he was getting criticized for different things that were going on. He never made us feel like he wasn't confident in what he could do and what this team could do." - RB LaDainian Tomlinson on his head coach, Norv Turner.


FS Marlon McCree
Christian Petersen/Getty

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Chargers could let a couple starters go early in the offseason. It's an offseason in which the Chargers don't seem to be big players in free agency.

Safety Marlon McCree was merely OK last season and the team is intrigued with second-year player Eric Weddle. If McCree is shown the door, the ball-hawking Weddle would step in as he proved himself last year on a number of occasions.

Also, Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal's role in the offense has diminished under coach Norv Turner and he could be let go; Andrew Pinnock is a cheaper replacement. Maybe that's why Turner gave the ball to Neal on consecutive plays in the Pro Bowl to let him finish his career with a touchdown.

TEAM NEEDS/OFFSEASON STRATEGY

Ah, the joys of being a young team which advanced to the AFC Championship Game. The Chargers head into the offseason minus a glaring needs which needs to be plugged.

Their biggest free agent, in their eyes, is probably backup quarterback Billy Volek. They are already expecting to lose cornerback Drayton Florence but should be OK at that position.

The team could add a running back, maybe in the draft, with Michael Turner - LaDainian Tomlinson's fine backup - leaving to find work as a starter.

But most of the work here is going to be adding depth at certain spots. Whatever starters from 2007 not returning, there is already a solid backup in place.

1. Defensive tackle: Even with Pro Bowler Jamal Williams clogging the middle in the 3-4, the Chargers would be wise to look to the future here. Williams has 10 years under his belt and is having a hard time staying healthy.

2. Offensive tackle: Jeromey Clary stepped in for Shane Olivea last year and did a pretty decent job. But long-term the Chargers might look for a possible upgrade.

3. Quarterback: With Philip Rivers coming back from a serious knee injury and the possibility of backup Billy Volek fleeing in free agency, the Chargers could look here.

MEDICAL WATCH: --QB Philip Rivers had a torn ACL repaired in his right knee. His rehabilitation time is expected to be roughly six months.

--DT Jamal Williams skipped the Pro Bowl with a chronic ankle injury. Not known yet if surgery will be required.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson ended the year with a sprained knee ligament which would usually take four weeks to heal. He isn't expected to undergo knee surgery.

--LB Carlos Polk ended the year on IR (biceps) but should be ready for training camp.

--WR Eric Parker never played with a toe injury which put him on IR. He will be ready for the minicamps.


CB Drayton Florence
Stephen Dunn/Getty

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--CB Drayton Florence is a decent corner and could start for many teams. But he was pushed aside with the emergence of Antonio Cromartie and reduced to the nickel role.

--RB Michael Turner has long had the eye of many NFL general managers with his explosive running between the tackles. Turner saved the Chargers in the AFC divisional playoff game when coming on for an injured LaDainian Tomlinson. He's about to become very rich.

--QB Billy Volek didn't hurt his stock in that same playoff game as he subbed for a gimpy Philip Rivers and led the Chargers on the game-winning drive. The Chargers might not be so blasi about letting Volek slip away, especially with Rivers coming back from a serious knee injury.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--G Scott Mruczkowski is a decent backup and seems to be a favorite of the coaching staff. He likely sticks.

--K Dave Rayner was brought in to cover for Nate Kaeding on kickoffs as Kaeding was kicking with a broken left leg. Rayner isn't in the picture, unless for being a training camp leg as Kaeding is expected to recover and resume the kickoff chores.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

--RT Jeromey Clary stepped in and started the final six games, including all three in the playoffs. When Shane Olivea's play became inconsistent, Clary stepped in and the line had some of its best games of the season. He'll be back.

--WR Malcom Floyd is probably not coming back as it seems his window of opportunity with the club has expired. He had a hard time being active on Sundays and with Craig Davis, Chris Chambers and Eric Parker expected back next year, Floyd will likely to be elsewhere.

--CB Cletis Gordon saw some action in occasional dime packages with mixed results. But with Florence going and Gordon able to return punts in a pinch, he'll probably stay.

--CB Steve Gregory doesn't figure strongly into their plans; hard to say his status.

--DT Brandon McKinney had some decent spurts when filling in in the rotation of Jamal Williams, Ryon Bingham and himself. Considering Williams' age and health status, McKinney should be back.


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