Season in Review: Guards

The offensive line was thought to be the weakest link entering the 2002 season. A solid 2002 Draft yielded guard Toniu Fonoti and a shrewd move by General Manager during the season brought in Kelvin Garmon, a product of Hudson Houck's in Dallas. The steadiness of Bob Hallen who was brought in revamped this portion of the line and molded it into a growing young unit lined with some veteran leadership. The Guard position had been totally revamped in the offseason and questions loomed.

Toniu Fonoti, a second round draft pick of the Chargers in 2002, began his career as a starter. Oh, and did we mention he was the youngest player in the league last season. Still, the man we refer to as "tiny", and all 6-4, 349 pounds of him came to play.

Fresh out of a renowned running team of Nebraska, it was wondered how he would play against the pass. Fonoti excelled. While he still has plenty or room for improvement, Pro Bowl accolades cannot be too far in the future. Fonoti played in 15 games, missing one with a bum ankle. His heart and determination, and of course his wide body, helped open holes for LaDainian Tomlinson and keep Drew Brees intact.

The biggest concern with Fonoti is a fluctuating weight problem. During the season he weighed in anywhere between his 349 listed weight and 368 at the top end. Towards the end of the season Fonoti appeared sluggish from the extra weight. Of course an ankle injury that stole some strength from his leg was also key to the decline, and a rookie season playing more games.

Fonoti will be the starting right guard for the Chargers for years to come. He is currently signed through 2005. 79 plays went through the right side of the line (between the tackle and the guard) this season for 418 yards, an average of 5.3 per play. Not bad for a rookie.

Bob Hallen, 6-4, 295 pounds, started the year as the left guard and made it through 13 games before being replaced as the Chargers looked to get bigger. Hallen provided solid leadership next to center Jason Ball.

Hallen did a nice job on the season in pass blocking but his run blocking was a little less than par as he faced defensive tackles who outweighed him and could fend off his blocks easier. The result was a season average of 3.8 yards per carry on 77 carries, netting 276 yards, when the play went through the left side of the line.

Hallen was signed to a two year deal in May of 2002 worth $1.5 million. His base salary for 2003 will be $650K. As a proven veteran in the last year of his deal, it would be a good idea to keep him. He provided adequate blocking in the rushing and passing game, and as last year told the Chargers, there can never be too many linemen dotting the roster. Add to that, Hallen is relatively cheap, and it is a match made in heaven.

Kelvin Garmon, 6-2, 350 pounds, replaced Hallen as the starter in the Denver game on Dec. 1st. At the time Coach Schottenheimer explained he wanted more bulk on the offensive line. Coach may have also wanted a mean streak to go with it as Garmon was fined $5,000 on the same day he was named starter for an unnecessary roughness call against Miami.

So what does Garmon do in his first start for the Chargers? He helps pave the way for Tomlinson to set a new single game Chargers rushing record with 220 yards against the No. 1 defense against the run at the time. Not too shabby. So how did this behemoth fall into our laps?

Garmon was acquired for a 2003 conditional 7th round draft pick. The condition is likely between choosing the Chargers pick or the Cleveland pick the Chargers acquired by trading Steve Heiden or potentially flipping picks, which will not happen since Dallas picks higher in every round. We have no confirmation on the exact condition at this time.

Garmon is an old Hudson Houck prodigy. Houck coached him in Dallas and when Garmon fell out of favor in Dallas after owner Jerry Jones said he failed to "buy into" the club's new blocking scheme. Dallas planned on releasing him and the Chargers traded for him since they liked him and did not feel they would land him on waivers. Kind of strange since Garmon started the first five games of the season for Dallas.

Garmon showed uncanny agility in his time in San Diego. He was often the lead blocker on screens and toss plays, getting in front of Tomlinson to spring him into the opponents secondary. Amazingly he has done this with his 350-pound frame. He is still young and now that he is again under the wing of Houck, he should continue to shine in the starting role.

Michael Keathley, 6-4, 296 pounds, is the only guard who was on the roster before 2002. Keathley has earned his fame from his days at TCU, that's right the same TCU Tomlinson attended and set records at. He is versatile and can play any position on the line. Last season he made two starts at right guard and saw action at left guard and center, playing in a total of 12 games in his second Pro season.

Keathley is an exclusive rights free agent. "Players with two or fewer years of experience who have no outside negotiating power. Their rights belong to their 2002 club provided they are made a minimum qualifying offer." Look for San Diego to make that offer and keep Keathley around. With his versatility, it offers a good solution as a backup everywhere along the interior of the offensive line. The Chargers would like to see Keathley add a little more weight to his frame this offseason. He has the room to comfortably add 20 pounds and still keep the agility that has made him valuable.

Note: No running plays that went outside of the tackles were considered when developing these stats. Only plays that went between two members of the offensive line were valid for comparison. Offensive linemen do pull to outside the tackle box on these types of plays, and it is hard to compute the real time stats.


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