Behind Enemy Lines: Part II

Chargers expert Mike Lombardo offers his opinion on how players are reacting to Turner and staff, and answers other questions from managing editor Todd Korth:

Todd Korth: Are players buying in to Norv Turner's system with the Chargers?
Mike Lombardo:
The players have quickly taken to Turner. Unlike many situations where an unfamiliar coach comes in and cleans house, Turner was hired to maintain continuity on a team universally considered a Super Bowl contender. He served as San Diego's offensive coordinator in 2001 and installed the same offensive system that remains in place today.

The defensive side is manned by Ted Cottrell, who was also brought in to maintain continuity. Cottrell coached under former coordinator Wade Phillips when they were together in Buffalo. There have been subtle changes made on both sides of the ball, but most of the players are flattered that ownership brought in a new coaching staff specifically suited for the players already onboard.

TK: Do you sense that the chemistry has changed between the current staff and the one led by Marty Schottenheimer?
The great thing about Marty Schottenheimer is that he never put the cart before the horse. He focused on the basics – protect the football, avoid unforced errors, take it one play at a time -- and his team won virtually every game it should as a result. The Chargers were 12-0 against non-playoff teams last season. The players respected him because of his attention to detail and his proven track record, as he won more than 200 games as a head coach.

Turner has some impressive résumé material of his own, having won a pair of Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys. However, his 59-81-1 career coaching record makes his leadership techniques far less infallible. The switch to Turner has not affected chemistry as of yet, but a few more games like last Sunday's debacle and the dissenting voices will become increasingly audible.

TK: Why is the Chargers offense struggling so badly? Is it the defenses that they faced in the first two weeks, or their own miscues?
It has to be a little bit of both. The Chicago Bears and New England Patriots boast two of the league's stingiest defenses. Plus, quicker defenses like Chicago's are ideally suited for stopping the shifty LaDainian Tomlinson, who is the driving force behind the Chargers offense. L.T. usually has big games against the Patriots, but the Chargers fell so far behind so fast that they had to abandon the running game.

Also, Rivers has thrown too many bonehead interceptions. Against the Bears, he tried to force a pass to Antonio Gates against an obvious double-team. Against the Patriots, he threw to picks where he got caught guessing what a defender would do before the snap and paid the price for it. If the Chargers get Tomlinson back on track and do a better job protecting the football, they should begin to resemble to unit that led the league in scoring last season.

TK: How much has Shane Olivea's back injury affected how the line has blocked for Rivers and Tomlinson?
Losing Olivea is a huge blow. Not only is the team down a fierce competitor and ferocious run blocker, but it compromises continuity as well. The Chargers returned all five starting offensive linemen for the first time since Tomlinson was drafted back in 2001 and they couldn't even keep them all on the field for the first month of the season.

Rivers will be less affected than Tomlinson, as Olivea is suspect in pass protection. In fact, his replacement, Jeromey Clary, is the superior pass blocker. However, Olivea is far better at getting to the second level, finishing his blocks and opening cut-back lanes for Tomlinson. It appears Olivea will be out for the Packers game and that is a big loss for the Chargers.

TK: If defenses key on Tomlinson and Gates, which other players do the Chargers try to utilize on offense?
The first answer is clear: Vincent Jackson. The third-year pro is the undisputed No. 1 receiver and has shown flashes of greatness. After coming into the league from Northern Colorado, he has adjusted to their higher level of competition and appears primed for a breakout season. He used his gigantic frame (6-foot-5, 241 lbs.) to dominate as a blocker and a red-zone threat; he led the team's receivers with six scores last season.

After Jackson, things get a little murky. First-round pick Craig Davis is the other starting receiver, but he is still working on a limited package of plays after missing much of the offseason with a nagging groin injury. Third-year pro Malcom Floyd is also an inviting target at 6-foot-5, but he has yet to develop into a complete receiver. His specialties are go routes and red-zone fades. Until Eric Parker returns from a toe injury, that is a deep as the receiving rotation gets.

If the Packers shutdown Tomlinson as the Bears and Patriots did, Michael Turner will step in and try to spark the running game. Several rumors had Turner going to the Packers in a draft-day trade this season, so the oft-considered "best back-up in the NFL" will be eager to show the Packers what they missed by not pulling the trigger.

TK: Who has been the Chargers' top rookie contributor so far this season?
This has to be second-round pick Eric Weddle. Although he is still a back-up, Weddle contributes in the dime packages and on special teams. He is the ultimate jack of all trades, with the ability to play man-to-man, zone or blitz with equal efficiency. He lines up at safety, linebacker or cornerback, so it is difficult for defenses to account for him.

Weddle also makes heads-up plays on special teams, like in week one, when he recovered a fumbled punt by Davis. So far this season, he has eight tackles and a sack. This comes on the heels of an impressive preseason in which he intercepted three passes. If he continues to impress and the first-string secondary continues to struggle, he will supplant Clinton Hart in the starting line-up by midseason.

Mike Lombardo is Editor-in-Chief of E-mail him at

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