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Aug 17, 2005

By Casey Pearce, Chargers.com
Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Chargers Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer spent most of his Monday and Tuesday individually meeting with his players and reviewing a disappointing outcome to a season filled with much to build on.

“We all share the same disappointment in the outcome of the season, but our feeling is that the cup is half full, not half empty,” Schottenheimer said. “That’s based on the fact that once again the record not withstanding, I feel that we’re a better football team than we were even at this time a year ago.”

Offensively, the Chargers were among the league’s best in several categories. They finished fifth in scoring with 26.1 points per game, second in red zone offense with a 70 percent touchdown rate and were fifth on both third (42.3) and fourth down (64.7) conversions.

“I think we showed an ability as an offensive football team to score points,” Schottenheimer said. “I think we showed an ability to do the things that are important in the course of any season. Third downs, we were very, very effective. We were second in red zone scoring. We got some nice things done.”

The Bolts also finished the year with the NFL’s top-ranked run defense, giving up just 84.3 yards per game on the ground. After finishing 31st in the league in sacks per pass attempt in 2004, the Chargers improved to ninth this season.

The increased pass rush also helped the Bolts’ secondary, even if statistics don’t quite show it.

“We think that we made considerable progress in the front end of our defense because of our ability to rush the passer and stop the run,” Schottenheimer said. “The numbers against the pass weren’t where we would like them to be, but compared to our divisional opponents, we were pretty good.”

Schottenheimer made a point to praise a handful of players who exceeded his expectations. Linebacker Shawne Merriman is a strong candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year Award that will be handed out next week.

Defensive end Luis Castillo also made the transition to pro football better than his head coach could have hoped, and guard Kris Dielman entered the starting lineup in Week 3 and made significant contributions. Schottenheimer also expressed his pleasure in the play of cornerback Quentin Jammer, particularly over the course of the second half of the season.

When asked about the schedule his team played, Schottenheimer refused to allow it to be a crutch. The winning percentage of the Chargers’ opponents was the highest in the NFL, and the Bolts played five games on the East Coast and four against opponents coming off of bye weeks.

“You can talk about all the different things, but the reality of it was that it was the most difficult schedule in the league,” Schottenheimer said. “So what? You’ve got to go play it. Nobody cares about that. I don’t care about it. You have to win. Winning is what we’re all about.”

It’s safe to say that turnover margin played the most significant factor in the Bolts’ record this fall. After finishing +15 a year ago, the Chargers fell slipped to -8 this season. Ten of the league’s top 11 teams in turnover ratio made the playoffs.

“We didn’t take the ball away as much this year,” Schottenheimer said. We were considerably below the numbers of a year ago. On the offensive side of it, the fumbles and interceptions were a big part of what happened to us. Those are things that we have to resolve.”

At this point, Schottenheimer said that he has no plans of making changes on his staff, although he might not have a choice in the matter. The Houston Texans received permission to speak with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron about their head coaching vacancy. Cameron served as the quarterbacks coach of the Washington Redskins when Houston General Manager Charlie Casserly held the same position in the Nation’s Capital. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is also considered a candidate for one of the eight openings.

Schottenheimer did not convey whether or not any other teams had requested permission to speak with Cameron or other Chargers assistants. In respect to other organizations, the Chargers will only confirm such contact once another team announces their interest.

The Chargers’ offensive line has been a large topic of discussion lately, and Schottenheimer addressed it Tuesday. After seeing relatively no changes in 2004, injuries four of the five starters up front had an effect on the 2005 group. Right guard Mike Goff was the only player to start all 16 games on the line this season.

“We didn’t play with the consistency that is necessary when it comes to pass protection,” Schottenheimer said. “I think part of that was the absence of Roman (Oben) because he is such a stabilizing force in that group. I thought the only negative there was the inconsistency. In my dialogue with the line, they would agree with that.”

Offensive line coach Carl Mauck was dealt a difficult hand considering he had to utilize different players at different positions, but Schottenheimer praised Mauck for his effort in his first season back with the club.

“I think Carl did a good job,” Schottenheimer said. “The fact that he’s played the game is a big positive. When he relays information to the player, the player understands where he’s coming from because he has in fact been there.”

Schottenheimer will spend the next few weeks reviewing film, evaluating players and preparing for what appears to be a promising 2006 campaign.

“We were 9-7,” Schottenheimer said. “That’s not what we expected to be, but it is in fact what we are. Now we’ll begin the process of moving forward into the 2006 season.”