• Welcome to America's Finest Sports Forum and Podcast!

    afsportsforum.com is one of the largest online communities covering San Diego sports. We host a regular podcast during the major seasons. You are currently viewing our community forums as a guest user.

    Sign Up or

    Having an account grants you additional privileges, such as creating and participating in discussions. Furthermore, we hide most of the ads once you register as a member!

Calling My Shot


Well-Known Member
Big points to anyone who gets to the end of this extremely long-winded rant.

Call me a homer, mock the rose-colored tint of my glasses, scoff at just how full I see the glass you can only describe as half-empty, it won’t make me doubt my prediction: The Chargers are going to win Super Bowl XLI.

This is not an annual exercise. I don’t pronounce the Bolts soon-to-be-crowned Super Bowl champions every August. In fact, because of the youth of this team, I’ve been pointing to this year for some time as the one that would begin the Chargers’ reign. Sure I’d hoped, as all of us did, that last year would be our year, but deep down I knew we lacked the experience. It was too much to expect that a team so young would be able to endure the rigors of one of the toughest schedules in league history in 2005 and emerge ready to run through the loaded AFC playoff bracket.

But after 40 years without a Super Bowl victory, the Chargers are finally ready. They have finally achieved the perfect balance of youthful exuberance and game-tested experience, of all-world talent and team-first selflessness.

Obviously, my prediction will only come true with a little luck. It will require an occasional, fortuitous bounce and a minimal number of major injuries, but after last season, that doesn’t seem like too much to expect. In 2005, it seemed every odd bounce of the oblong pigskin landed in the hands of a no-name Eagles special-teamer who streaked down the sideline for the devastating, winning score, every pass that glanced off Gates’ hands was intercepted by a Steelers’ linebacker, every punt that Scifres uncharacteristically shanked setup an opponent’s fourth quarter, go-ahead touchdown. I mean, our CBs had as many interceptions that were called back because of penalties away from the ball (2) last year as they had actual interceptions, and at least three times as many dropped Ints. Just how many uppercuts can Lady Luck lay on one team’s chin before they’re counted out?

But that was last year. This year’s Chargers have seen what it takes—the grit, desire and focus required to transform the five season-killing plays that doomed them in 2005 into the plays that will vault them to the top of the 2006 football universe.

Obviously, that championship attitude begins at the top with Marty Schottenheimer. Even now, I can hear many of you snicker at the thought of Marty hoisting the elusive Lombardi Trophy. Well snicker if you must, but Marty is a winning coach, the winningest actually among active coaches, and he has gotten more out of less than just about any coach in NFL history. Seriously, how many of the teams Marty has led to the playoffs were actually championship-caliber, with QBs like Bono and Krieg and DeBerg and Grbac? I look at those 13-3 KC teams, and I don’t see playoff debacles as much as I see regular season miracles. Those teams had no business achieving as much as they did, so it seems unfair to demonize Marty for the miracle he did perform because it was not as spectacular as the one he was unable to. At last, Marty has a complete team, and he is poised to guide them to new heights.

The biggest thing Marty and his staff bring to the 2006 Chargers is stability. This is Marty and Cam Cameron’s fifth season together in San Diego. Marty and the players have grown comfortable with one another. They believe in each other and know what to expect. The players on offense are very familiar with Cam’s offense, as Cam is familiar with them and their abilities. This is Wade Phillip’s third season guiding the Bolts’ D. The defense is young, talented and not lacking in confidence or attitude. They are ready to become a dominant unit, and their exceptional understanding of Wade’s system will aid them in accomplishing that.

As Bill Belichik has repeatedly stated, the greatest asset a head coach can have is a great QB, and Marty finally has one in Philip Rivers. Rivers is a winner. You will not find anyone who’s had any prolonged exposure to Rivers who would describe him in any other way. Rivers is not some athletic phenom or one-year wonder who has not consistently proven his merits as a football player where it counts—on the field. In almost any game he’s ever played in, Rivers has been the best player on the field, and like many of the greats—Marino, Elway and Favre—River’s father was a football coach. Rivers is an instinctive football player and a lifelong student of the game. Those are not things that can be learned on the fly, in a few Offseason Coaching Sessions or with a few hours of film study. They are engrained in early childhood and nurtured during an adolescence and young adulthood focused tirelessly on the greatest sport in the world.

In addition to his tremendous football acumen, Rivers begins his NFL career as the most experienced QBs in league history. He had a record 51 NCAA starts in a career that could only be described as epic. Honestly, if Rivers had shaved a tenth of a second off his 40 time and cleaned up his unorthodox delivery before leaving NC State, he would have garnered nearly as much attention as Elway and Marino did coming out of college.

All the things I’ve mentioned about Rivers suggest his NFL growing pains shall be few, but what of his potential? How high is his ceiling? Based on past performance, I think Rivers will become nothing short of a Hall of Fame QB. He combines his innate understanding of the game, his tremendous competitiveness and his exceptional leadership with a Marino-like, blink and you’ll miss it release and pinpoint accuracy. This is not a system QB set of skills Rivers possesses; they are skills that will make you shake your head in disbelief. As Norm Chow put it, Rivers is a “Wow” guy.


Well-Known Member

Aiding Rivers in his celestial career trajectory are a pair of future Hall of Fame skill players in LT and Gates. These two have more than enough ability to keep the offense rolling should Rivers occasionally falter. Both Antonio and LT are on pace to shatter career records at their respective positions. So if teams want to throw the kitchen sink at Rivers, he can rely on these two to help him out. Single cover these two, and they will not only make a play. They’ll take it to the house. Rounding out the Bolts’ set of skill players that are clearly among the five best in the league are KMac, a selfless, playmaking veteran, Eric Parker, an under-appreciated weapon with darting quickness and heavy-bag toughness and Vincent Jackson, a phenomenal young talent who is both the biggest and the fastest receiver on the Chargers’ roster.

I didn’t mention Lo’ Neal among the skill players, because that is not where he belongs. He belongs with the beef up front. Lo’ is essentially a sixth offensive lineman, or seventh if Manu is in the lineup. He’ll wear down a team’s linebacking corps with his teeth-chattering hits, that is if the big men up front allow him to reach the second level cleanly. And herein lies the key to the Bolts season—the offensive line.

The task falls to a gimpy Roman Oben, a career backup in Leander Jordan and an untested rookie in Marcus McNeill to man the left tackle spot. Some believe Oben will not play at all this season, but I doubt that to be true. Roman has been on the road to recovery for months, and while foot injuries can be slow to heal when the foot that’s healing has to support hundreds of pounds of big ugly, Oben would not be working so hard to get back into shape if his season was already over. I believe Roman will be ready at some point this year to step in and be this team’s starting left tackle for their championship run. Until then, it’s up to Jordan and McNeill to step up. Leander played well on 85% of the snaps last year. The other 15% were game-killers. Jordan’s game experience last year and his competition with McNeill should help his stamina and consistency. If Jordan can’t pick up his play, then it falls to McNeill to prove that he’s talented enough to play solidly despite his lack of experience. Between McNeill and Jordan there should be enough determination and ability to hold down the LT spot until a healthy Roman Oben returns to the lineup.

As for the rest of the line, Dielman and Hardwick are two emerging talents on the offensive interior. Both have limited offensive line experience, and both are continuing to improve. Hardwick, who was not strong enough at the point of attack last year, is only now developing an offensive lineman’s build. He has added great strength to his lower body that should give him the leg drive to handle the big defensive tackles that pushed him back last year. Dielman was a defensive lineman in college who is just beginning to understand the nuances of the pro game. With an exceptional teacher in Henry replacing the less than professorial Carl Mauck, Dielman’s game should get better. Evidence of his improvement can be found in the Oklahoma drill yesterday. I know it was just a drill, but I think Antonio Gates is still raving.

Not much can be said of Mike Goff, and that’s hardly a bad thing. Goff is just a typical all-business offensive lineman. He’ll bring his trademark intensity and hard work on every snap, leading by example and doing an unheralded job waging war with some of the most athletic big men on the planet. While Olivea seemed to take a step back from his rookie year, he’s a relentless competitor, and the adversity he faced should help him as he applies another year’s worth of knowledge to the right tackle spot.

Enough about offense, let’s focus on where championship teams are forged, on the defensive side of the ball. The Bolts’ defensive unit is on the fast track to becoming dominant, and that all starts up front. Wade sets the tone with his aggressive, blitzing style of play. Foley and Merriman bring a nasty demeanor. Igor, Jamal, Castillo and Godfrey bring the hammer. Nowhere will you find a more tough, talented and intimidating front seven.

For my money, Castillo, Jamal and Igor are on the verge of becoming the best 3-4 defensive line in league history. They do the dirty work the 3-4 requires—fill your lane, occupy your man (or men) and let the linebackers have the glory. Should Merriman, Foley and Phillips occasionally all be kept out of the QBs face, the big studs up front do possess the athleticism to pressure the QB. As for running the ball, forget it. With Igor, Jamal and Castillo winning the overwhelming majority of one-on-one matchups, the linebackers are just too fast and relentless to be kept out of the backfield. RBs are stopped in their tracks by our defensive line’s push, so the RBs best strategy is often to get down in a hurry and avoid the punishment wrought by our wrecking crew of linebackers, as Priest Holmes can attest.

As good as our defensive line is, they are lacking quality depth. The backups are not bad football players, but they are nowhere near the studs that start. The defensive line is probably the place where the Bolts could least afford an injury, since the drop off from starter to backup is greater than anywhere on the field, with the possible exception of tight end.

As depth goes, our linebackers have no such trouble. While they aren’t as good as Merriman, Foley, Edwards and Godfrey backups like Phillips, who is really closer to a starter than a backup since he sees the field on most passing downs, Cooper, Willhelm and Dobbins are more than capable of laying the wood if the starters need a blow.

Much has been made of the Bolts’ secondary in the last few years. The CBs have been mocked for their lack of big plays, and their occasional soft coverage. But at last they have a true quarterback of the secondary, a safety in Marlon McCree they can trust to play his deep responsibility and lead them with confidence and playmaking ability. Joining McCree as a starting safety should be Clinton Hart. While Hart never seems to win a job in TC, he consistently makes plays on Sundays. Hart and McCree are exactly what the Bolts need at safety. They don’t need a Kiel-type run stuffer. They need two cover guys who can run sideline to sideline and make plays on the ball.

With two safeties that will be in the right spot over the top, Jammer and Florence should have the confidence to play their men more tightly. Jammer quietly had a breakout season last year, becoming the kind of shut down corner many of us believed he could be. While he did not make enough interceptions, he was in position to have picked off at least five passes, one of which would have gone for a TD had Quentin just held onto the ball. And Jammer has shown the ability to improve. Last year he improved his ability to track and get in position to play the ball. This year he’ll work on watching the ball all the way into his hands before trying to run back an INT. Florence has been an enigma thus far in his career. He flashes amazing skills, but he lacks consistency. Another year of experience and the addition of all-world talent Antonio Cromartie should be just what Florence needs to hunker down and play with more poise and confidence. Should he falter, Cromartie has the ability to step in and play well, despite his limited experience. Even if Florence does play to his potential, Cro could quite easily unseat him as a starter by mid-season. Cro is just that good. He’s a once in a generation athlete who has proven in limited experience that he is also a game-changing football player.


Well-Known Member
On Special Teams, the Chargers feature some young and talented specialists. Mike Scifres is the best punter in the league. He might not kick it as far as some, but his tremendous hang time makes it nearly impossible for teams to return punts. Scifres, in reality, is the punt coverage team. Rarely do those guys have to do anything but run down and hope the returner drops the ball after calling for the fair catch. Scifres should be among the top 5 in the two most important statistical categories for a punter—percentage of punts returned and net average. Nate Kaeding has shaken off the devastation of an overtime playoff miss two years ago and is posting tremendous field goal accuracy. He is poised to take the next step toward becoming one of the best clutch kickers in the game. After sustaining an injury early last season, Nate struggled with his kickoffs. If he’s fully recovered, and proves that he’s continued the work strengthening his leg and core muscles, leading to deeper kickoffs, Kurt Smith will be a footnote in Chargers history. If Nate struggles to consistently boom kicks to the goal line, Kurt Smith might just be the Bolts second-most valuable rookie, behind only Antonio Cromartie. Smith’s ability to boom kicks deep will be all a talented coverage unit needs to be among the best in the league, with beasts like Osgood and Milligan (has he ended his ridiculous holdout) being joined by returning special teams demon Carlos Polk and rookie Tim Dobbins.

On the return front, Darren Sproles should build on a very successful rookie season returning kickoffs. Sproles showed great moves as he returned six kickoffs forty yards or more. The only thing Sproles lacked was a TD return. If he adds a TD to his 2006 resume, Sproles will be mentioned among the elite returners in the game.

The punt return situation is a little less settled. Sproles struggled returning punts last year. He’ll get another look there, and hopefully he’ll be improved after an offseason of hard work. The team’s most talented punt returner, Antonio Cromartie, will probably not see action returning punts, at least not early on, when Marty and Wade will have him focused on learning the cornerback position. If not Cro or Sproles, it’s a tossup as to who may be the punt returner, as the team is reluctant to inflict more punishment on the fearless Eric Parker, who takes his share of punishment with his receptions over the middle.

So there you have it, the ingredients for the next Super Bowl Champion. Like all NFL squads, they are not perfect, but the 2006 San Diego Chargers are as good a team as there is in the NFL. All that’s left is to go out and prove it.

I can spend a bunch of time breaking down the Bolts’ schedule, but it’s unnecessary. The Chargers have become a talented enough team that who and where they play is immaterial. They have the ability to beat any team anywhere, an ability they will regularly display on their way to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 4, 2007.