Denis Savage, SDBoltReport.com: Cromartie has been fearless out in the secondary. He brings so much athleticism to the position that he can make up for false steps or lack of fundamentals. He gets his hands on the ball quite often in camp and so far in preseason but does have a penchant for putting his hands on the receivers as well. That will be his biggest learning curve. With three wide receiver sets so common, Cromartie will be vital to the team's long term success in pass coverage and he could be starting sooner than all of us think with Drayton Florence moving inside to cover the slot because of his anticipation.
San Diego Chargers first round draft choice, Antonio Cromartie, goes through stretching drills during his first day of football practice at the Chargers' training camp Wednesday July 26, 2006 in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
DF: Marty Schottenheimer is one of the most respected coaches in the NFL. How much gameplanning does he put into the preseason? Do the Chargers present multiple looks, or are they just running base formations and looking at individual matchups?
DS: Not much. The team will take a day to look at tape of the opposition. Schottenheimer's goal during the preseason is to evaluate talent. Therefore, the playcalling will be tailored towards getting everyone a look. Other than that, we won't see a whole lot of wrinkles.
DF: San Diego was decimated by Chicago, 24-3, last week. What will they take away from that game, and how might it affect their plan against Seattle?
DS: Penalties and special teams.
Schottenheimer hates having a team that is undisciplined and has been on his players all week regarding penalties. He terms them "self inflicted wounds" and is especially adamant about reducing penalties that occur before the snap. Expect those to be fixed or those players won't be around long.
He puts a lot of stock into special teams, one reason they have drafted a special teams player in each of the last four drafts. The coverage units stunk last week as lanes of responsibility were ignored. He put the team through extra coverage work this week and won't tolerate another poor showing.
DF: The Chargers and Seahawks have great defensive front sevens in common, but I'm interested in the Chargers' offensive line, which I believe is underrated. Schottenheimer has recently said as much. What can you tell us about San Diego's other line?
DS: Bring your lunchpail. The biggest off-season move for the offensive line had nothing to do with the line itself, per say. It had to do with firing Carl Mauck as their coach and bringing in respected line coach Jack Henry. The team unit didn¹t respond to the fiery ways of Mauck and have learned a lot more around the congenial Henry.
Nick Hardwick has gained some needed weight to handle the inside and is flanked by Kris Dielman and Mike Goff. Dielman is shaping up as the best of the bunch and grades out better and better each week. Goff remains a steady force but the tackles will tell the tale. Shane Olivea has always been seen as a player that would be a better fit at guard. He doesn't have the best of feet but is technically sound and ferocious. Left tackle finds a rookie, Marcus McNeill. He has flashed athleticism and footwork and his ascension will be critical to the team's success in keeping their quarterback healthy.
DF: In 2005, the Chargers were the best team not to make the playoffs. What has the team done that will get them into the postseason this year?
DS: This is, for the most part, the same team as last season.
Safety Marlon McCree was their biggest off-season addition. What is generally overlooked is how big of an impact a safety that can cover and keep over-the-top containment does to the cornerbacks. Instead of wondering whether the responsibilities are being covered, the cornerbacks will know they have the help they need and can play their position instead of trying to makeup ground for a safety that is too slow in closing the gaps. That should aid the defense tremendously.
The only other thing that has changed is the strength of schedule and travel. They won't have to fly cross-country five times this year or face what seemed like a record number of teams coming off their bye. They should be able to come out of the gate fast and the real test will be December when they face divisional rivals Kansas City and Denver back-to-back before heading out to face your Hawks. Ending versus Arizona won't be easy either. Working in their favor in that regard will be Rivers' growth from week one through week 12.
Since I am the gambling type, I am throwing out 11-5 for this year's team (and I did get their 9-7 record last year right).