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4 San Diego Chargers The coach is conservative, but all systems are go for David Boston and a newly energized offense

Sept. 01, 2003
Sept. 01, 2003

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Sept. 1, 2003

NFL Preview 2003

4 San Diego Chargers The coach is conservative, but all systems are go for David Boston and a newly energized offense

By Michael Silver Projected lineups and PVRs compiled by David Sabino

Early last March, San Diego's star running back, LaDainian
Tomlinson, sat at a sushi bar trying to persuade prized
free-agent wideout David Boston to sign with the Chargers. The
bar was at Seau's, a Mission Valley restaurant that is owned by
future Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, though the
proprietor, perhaps appropriately, was nowhere to be found.

This is an article from the Sept. 1, 2003 issue

"Hey, man, I need a big-time receiver," Tomlinson said to Boston.
"Drew [Brees] needs a big-time receiver."

"Cool," Boston replied. "I need a big-time running back!"

The next day Boston, who led the NFL in receiving yards in 2001
with the Cardinals, canceled a planned visit to Baltimore and
signed a seven-year, $47 million contract with the Chargers. That
deal, along with the trade of the 34-year-old Seau, who is
probably the most popular player in franchise history, to the
Dolphins and the release of strong safety Rodney Harrison--long
the Robin to Seau's Batman--sent a clear message to Chargers
fans: Get ready for some electricity, because San Diego is going
to be an offense-driven team. "There are going to be games when
we'll need 40 points to win," says Brees, who is entering his
second season as the starter. "With all our weapons, we're
capable of doing that."

Such potency would seem incompatible with Marty Ball, the name
given to the control-the-clock approach that usually
characterizes coach Marty Schottenheimer's teams. But as tempted
as he might be to hand the ball to the quick, physical Tomlinson
on every play, Schottenheimer knows Boston's skills are too
enticing to ignore.

At 6'2" and 245 pounds, and with bulging biceps like Popeye's,
Boston caused double takes the first time he stepped onto the
Chargers' practice field. Blessed with speed, explosiveness and
fabulous footwork, Boston was taken with the eighth pick in the
draft by the Cardinals in 1999. He racked up 1,156 receiving
yards in his second season and 1,598 in his third year before
trouble set in. First came an off-season arrest for driving under
the influence (he pleaded no contest to two DUI charges), and
then Boston tore a tendon in his right knee, which limited him to
eight games and 32 receptions in 2002.

When the Cardinals elected not to re-sign Boston following last
season, the Chargers were standing by ready to recruit him. "I
made my bed in Arizona, and I was going to lie in it," Boston
says. "But as soon as they didn't name me their franchise player,
I knew they didn't want to win. I had a chance to pick what I
wanted in a team, and the first thing was a strong running game."

With 2,919 rushing yards in his two seasons, including a
franchise-record 1,683 in 2002, Tomlinson was an obvious
attraction. "He has an opportunity to become one of the
preeminent backs in NFL history," Schottenheimer says. "He
reminds me a lot of Walter." As in Walter Payton. No pressure
there.

To help Tomlinson fulfill those expectations, the Chargers signed
punishing fullback Lorenzo Neal, a blocker so gifted that he made
last year's Pro Bowl as a member of the Bengals. Then again, you
won't hear many Bengals jokes in San Diego. Having gone seven
years without a winning season--only five fewer than the
Bengals--the Chargers have the second-longest such streak in the
NFL.

Last year the Chargers started 5-1 and were 8-4 before dropping
their final four games. Then, in April the team lost general
manager John Butler to lung cancer. With stadium issues raising
doubts about whether the team will remain in San Diego, this
franchise can use some good news.

It's not lost upon Boston, Tomlinson and Brees that they have a
chance to make more than a short-term splash. All are 25 or
younger, and each is from Texas--leading to the inevitable
comparisons with the original Triplets, Michael Irvin, Emmitt
Smith and Troy Aikman, who were the foundation of the Cowboys'
success. "With David here, we think we can be a new version of
the Triplets," Tomlinson says. "I'm glad to have him." --M.S.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH LOOK OUT Tomlinson, who ran for 1,683 yards last year, may be even tougher to stop now that the passing game is better.COLOR PHOTO: NFL PHOTOS WILLIAMSCOLOR PHOTO

UNDER THE GUN

He has an Ivy League diploma, a Hummer with monogrammed floor
panels and one of the coolest nicknames (Dat Dude) in the NFL.
But Columbia grad MARCELLUS WILEY also has a big contract, and
after having just six sacks in an injury-plagued '02, the
seventh-year pass-rush specialist is being counted on to return
to Pro Bowl form.

ENEMY LINES
An opposing scout's view

"They could be scary good offensively, but I think they'll
struggle on defense. There are lots of question marks when a team
loses Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison. Marcellus Wiley has been
trying to become a leader, but that's hard to do when you're
hurt, as he was during camp. Jamal Williams is another big-time
player with a nasty edge, but he's also trying to rebound from
injuries.... The linebackers will play within the system better
than Junior did, but they're not playmakers. Donnie Edwards is a
good athlete, but is he a game-changer? I don't think so....
Quentin Jammer hasn't learned to play in the NFL. His last name
epitomizes what he did in college--he'd backpedal, jam a guy and
run with him. In the NFL you've got to cover.... David Boston and
Lorenzo Neal will help that offense go. Drew Brees won't dominate
on his own, but he can make plays.... They had to get Boston,
because nobody else out wide makes you nervous; I'm not going to
lose sleep over Reche Caldwell. If they ever play [first-year
man] Terry Charles, though, watch out.... The line doesn't have
quickness, but it'll mash you and create lanes for Tomlinson."

SCHEDULE

Sept. 7 at Kansas City
14 DENVER
21 BALTIMORE
28 at Oakland

Oct. 5 at Jacksonville
12 Open date
19 at Cleveland
27 MIAMI (Mon.)

Nov. 2 at Chicago
9 MINNESOTA
16 at Denver
23 CINCINNATI
30 KANSAS CITY

Dec. 7 at Detroit
14 GREEN BAY
21 at Pittsburgh
28 OAKLAND

SCHEDULE STRENGTH

NFL rank: 19
Opponents' 2002 winning percentage: .486
Games against playoff teams: 5

PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP with 2002 statistics

2002 RECORD 8-8
NFL RANK (rush/pass/total):
OFFENSE 8/22/16
DEFENSE 11/32/30

COACH: Marty Schottenheimer; second season with San Diego
(158-104-1 in NFL)

LADAINIAN TOMLINSON

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
RB 3 372 1,683 4.5

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
79 489 6.2 15

DREW BREES

POS. PVR ATT. COMP. %
QB 35 526 320 60.8

YARDS TDs INT. RATING
3,284 17 16 76.9

LORENZO NEAL[1]

POS. PVR ATT. YARDS AVG.
FB 280 9 31 3.4

REC. YARDS AVG. TDs
21 133 6.3 1

DAVID BOSTON[1]

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 57 32 512 1

STEPHEN ALEXANDER

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
TE 134 45 510 1

DAMION MCINTOSH

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LT 6'4" 325 lbs. 10 10

TONIU FONOTI

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
LG 6'4" 349 lbs. 15 14

JASON BALL

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
C 6'2" 301 lbs. 16 13

SOLOMON PAGE[1]

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RG 6'5" 325 lbs. 15 15

VAUGHN PARKER

POS. HEIGHT WEIGHT GMS. STARTS
RT 6'3" 300 lbs. 12 12

RECHE CALDWELL

POS. PVR REC. YARDS TDs
WR 165 22 208 3

DEFENSE

RE RAYLEE JOHNSON 40 tackles 6 1/2 sacks
RT JASON FISK 38 tackles 3 sacks
LT JAMAL WILLIAMS 24 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
LE MARCELLUS WILEY 36 tackles 6 sacks
OLB BEN LEBER 49 tackles 5 sacks
MLB DONNIE EDWARDS 129 tackles 5 int.
OLB ZEKE MORENO 32 tackles 1 int.
CB TAY CODY 4 tackles 0 int.
SS VERNON FOX 23 tackles 1 int.
FS KWAMIE LASSITER[1] 88 tackles 2 int.
CB QUENTIN JAMMER 64 tackles 0 int.

SPECIAL TEAMS PVR

K STEVE CHRISTIE 205 35/36 XPS 18/26 FGS 89 PTS.
PR TIM DWIGHT 228 19 RET. 12.2 AVG. 0 TDS
KR RECHE CALDWELL 165 9 RET. 24.4 AVG. 0 TDS
P DARREN BENNETT 87 PUNTS 40.7 AVG.

[1]New acquisition
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 89)

"Donnie Edwards is a good athlete, but is he a game-changer? I
don't think so."