It was a trick play designed for the red zone. Marcus McNeill (6'7", 337 lbs.) checked in as an eligible receiver and looked as if he were going to clear the way for another LaDainian Tomlinson jaunt into the end zone. Instead, McNeill slipped into the flat and snared a one-handed catch in the corner of the end zone.
McNeill delivered two one-handed catches during that practice, prompting Chargers fans to envision the touchdown celebrations he would surely unveil during the regular season. However, McNeill broke both of his hands that season, which sidelined his dreams of putting points on the board.
OT Marcus McNeill
In the tackle-eligible play, McNeill first tells the referee he's lining up as an eligible receiver. He must remain the end player on his side of the line, so the Chargers would likely compensate with four big bodies on the opposite side of the center: Mike Goff, Jeromey Clary, L.J. Shelton and Brandon Manumaleuna. This gives the illusion of a power running play.
The tackle-eligible pass is especially effective in an offense like San Diego's, where the running game is such an ever-present threat. With Tomlinson joined in the backfield by Jacob Hester (13 TDs last season), opposing defenses will have to key in against the run even with the announcement of an eligible tackle.
There are some negatives to throwing to an offensive lineman. For one thing, it's hard to justify throwing to a tackle when the Chargers have the game's best tight end in Antonio Gates and a towering red-zone target in Vincent Jackson (6'5", 241 lbs.). There isn't much reason to alter the existing formula, given Philip Rivers' career numbers inside the red zone (27 touchdowns and zero interceptions).
Also, despite his one-handed snags in practice, McNeill is hardly a proven pass-catching commodity in game situations.
Don't expect this wrinkle to unfold in any close-game situations. However, if the Chargers are playing with the lead and looking for a way to capture the offense's imagination, look for Norv Turner to dial this up and ask Rivers to throw a high, soft pass to the team's tallest player.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.