Michael Lombardo: The decision to fire Schottenheimer was more about the defection of his coordinators than anything else. Cam Cameron (Miami) and Wade Phillips (Dallas) had complete autonomy on their respective sides of the ball last season, and Smith was not confident that Schottenheimer could maintain a high level of success without those two around.
The strangest thing in the whole ordeal is that Smith and Schottenheimer are very similar philosophically. Smith’s primary concern is just qualifying for the playoffs and giving his team a chance to make a run at the Big Game, and no one is better at producing winning regular seasons than Schottenheimer.
DF: Norv Turner, Schottenheimer's replacement, is known as a great developer of quarterbacks and a walking disaster area as a head coach. What does Turner's hire mean for Philip Rivers, and how do you think he can overcome the traps that upended him as a coach in the past?
ML: Norv Turner will help Rivers become more consistent, but it is unlikely Rivers’ numbers will jump very much. Recall, Rivers threw for 3,388 and 22 scores last season while leading the league in fourth-quarter passer rating. Any room for improvement is limited by the lack of talent at wide receiver, a condition only worsened by the injury to Eric Parker.
As for Turner’s tenure as head coach, he can only hope to follow the footsteps of Jon Gruden. Turner has a legitimate chance to come in and win a Super Bowl in his first year with a new team, simply by benefiting from the work put in by his predecessor.
DF: When the Seahawks travel to Qualcomm Stadium this weekend, they won't see a lot of LaDainian Tomlinson. However, they will have to deal with Michael Turner, who might be the best back-up running back in the NFL. What are your thoughts on Turner, and what does his future hold?
ML: Michael Turner is indeed the best back-up in the NFL and is a 1,600-yard season waiting to happen. Turner has great vision, power and speed for a 237-lb. back. If Tomlinson were a few years older, the team might consider trading L.T. and handing the reins over to Turner. As it is, Turner is in his final season in San Diego before cashing in as an unrestricted free agent.
DF: There's no doubt that the Chargers have the best outside linebacker duo in the business with Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips. However, the team lost inside men Randall Godfrey and Donnie Edwards, and former defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is now trying to reclaim his own coaching rep in Dallas. How will these changes affect San Diego's defense?
ML: The Chargers inside linebacker corps is as talented and deep as any in the league. New starters Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm have spent four years preparing for their new roles, and both have excelled in limited opportunities. Tim Dobbins, a fifth-round pick in 2006, is a hard-hitting enforcer in the mold of Godfrey.
Also, the team spent two draft picks on the position during this year’s draft. Third-round pick Anthony Waters is a beast who can get off blocks and harass quarterbacks; he could have been a first-round pick had he not missed his senior season at Clemson with an ACL injury. Seventh-round pick Brandon Siler was projected by most experts to go on day one; he is a natural leader with great range and instincts.
These young players are being coached up by former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera, who is the new inside linebackers coach in San Diego. Between Rivera and Ted Cottrell, who coached under Wade Phillips in Buffalo, the coaching staff should be able to build on Phillips’ success.
DF: Another area of concern on the defensive side is the secondary. What have the Chargers done to a.) Improve the overall coverage units; and b.)Stop Drayton Florence from head-butting opposing players at horribly inopportune moments?
ML: The Chargers attempted to upgrade their secondary through the draft, picking up safety Eric Weddle in round two and adding cornerback Paul Oliver in the supplemental draft. There is also hope for development from within, as Antonio Cromartie has a year’s experience under his belt and Bhawoh Jue is fully recovered from microfracture surgery. Additionally, new secondary coaches Bill Bradley and Kevin Ross are being counted on to out-teach the man they are replacing, Brian Stewart.
The one significant loss is Terrence Kiel, who was released following a statistically modest and legally deviant season. Despite his critics, Kiel was an above-average run defender who was underrate in coverage. If current first-stringer Clinton Hart starts in Kiel’s stead, that should be considered a definite downgrade.
DF (Bonus Question): When the Chargers changed their uniforms after the 2006 season, why the heck didn't they just go all the way back to the old AFL powder-blues, which are unquestionably the coolest unis in pro football history?
ML: The answer is simple: money. Now, the Chargers can sell both the new uniforms and the throwback Powder Blues. Additionally, the Chargers will wear the throwbacks twice a year, creating some extra buzz when they do. I would have liked to see a full-time switch to the Powder Blues, but it could have been worse…just look what happened to the Buffalo Bills.