As he did last year, Natrone Means will miss the first six weeks
of San Diego's training camp in La Jolla. This summer, though,
the Chargers will not miss the irksome running back.
In March general manager Bobby Beathard preemptively cut Means,
the team's leading rusher the last two seasons, before Means
could wage another summer contract holdout, as he intimated he
might. Last year his sabbatical became a kind of virus,
infecting the club's spirit with a fractiousness that festered
most of the season. Teams that lose the Super Bowl, as San Diego
did to San Francisco in January 1995, are supposed to come back
hungrier. When Means returned--15 pounds overweight and $7.3
million richer--he looked as if he had already sated all his
"I think chemistry plays a role in it," said Beathard upon
releasing Means, who signed with Jacksonville in March. "That's
as much as I want to say."
That's as much as he needs to say. Putting an end to the
three-year era of Means was a means to an end. In so doing,
Beathard and coach Bobby Ross sounded a reminder to their
players that teams, not individuals, win Super Bowls. Also
jettisoned in the off-season were third-down specialist Ronnie
Harmon, wideout Mark Seay and 16-year tackle Stan Brock. "Last
year we felt we had the right people, but it wasn't going
right," says Beathard of his club, which went 9-7 in '95. "Now
we have a group of young guys who are eager to prove themselves.
Men on a mission."
Men on a mission in a town that was founded as one. Youth and
diligence are qualities that have served missionaries well.
Pencil five second-year players--tailbacks Aaron Hayden and
Terrell Fletcher, tackle Tony Berti and receivers Jimmy Oliver
and 'OMar Ellison--into major roles this season. You might say
Beathard has an affection for sophomores. In 1960, following a
season on the Redskins' roster, the second-year defensive back
tried to catch on with the American Football League's Los
Angeles Chargers. L.A. cut him after six exhibition games, and
since then Beathard has defiantly mined for similarly uncut
Last year's roster gems included wide receiver Tony Martin, who
had played QB at Division II Mesa (Colo.) College, and
30-year-old rookie punter Darren Bennett, a Perth native who had
played Australian Rules football for a dozen years or so. Martin
snared a club-record 90 passes, breaking the mark set in 1980
by Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow. Bennett was named to the Pro
"I don't give a damn what people think," says Beathard of those
who criticize his scouting. "I don't get mad. And this year we
have another good group."
Joining Martin and Bennett this season will be linebacker
Patrick Sapp, a '96 second-round pick who played QB for three
years at Clemson, and tight end Werner Hippler, a 6'5" German
kick boxing champ who did a stint in the World League last year.
In addition, Beathard's son Casey, a San Diego scout, discovered
Jo Jo Jones, a tiny (5'6") tailback from equally tiny Lambuth
University in Tennessee. Despite his size, Jones broke Walter
Payton's NAIA record for career touchdowns (69).
Says Bennett of Beathard, 59, who begins most days by going
surfing, "If Bobby thought in terms of stereotypes, where would
I be today?"
In March, Bennett returned home with five Chargers teammates to
conduct a two-week football clinic in his country. Beathard had
been invited along to catch the waves at the other side of the
Pacific, but he regretfully declined, remaining in San Diego to
dive into the league's free-agent pool and shore up his club's
defense. The gaps left by the departures of defensive end Leslie
O'Neal and free safety Bo Orlando have been filled by former
Dolphin Marco Coleman and ex-Falcon Kevin Ross, respectively.
Beathard also lured linebacker Kurt Gouveia, the signal-caller
of the Eagles' defense, away from Philadelphia.
"The camaraderie on this team is good right now," says
quarterback Stan Humphries, mindful that for a second straight
year the Chargers will play the conference's toughest schedule.
"Guys get along. In this division, and with our schedule, that
can be the difference between going to the Super Bowl or missing
the playoffs altogether."
The difference, in other words, between being a team on a
mission or just a team on Mission Bay.
COLOR PHOTO: BRAD MANGIN Toeing the Line San Diego placekicker John Carney got things off on the right foot with his opening kickoff in the Chargers-Raiders game--and did it with a twist. [T of C]
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Martin and the Chargers will be stretched by the AFC's toughest schedule. [Tony Martin]
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in parentheses)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 109.2 (15) 216.6 (18) 325.8 (16)
DEFENSE 105.7 (14) 211.4 (12) 317.1 (10)
The Bad-Hands People
Because most punt and kickoff returns see the ball fielded deep
in a team's own territory, sure-handed returners are of
paramount importance. But don't look for them in San Diego: Last
season the Chargers fumbled more returns than any other team in
Most Fumbles on Punt and Kickoff Returns in 1995
PRs KRs Total
Chargers 8 5 13
Jets 3 7 10
Packers 9 1 10
Jaguars 3 4 7
Rams 4 3 7
PLAYER TO WATCH
Having lost three of their four top receivers from last season,
the Chargers hope third-year player Andre Coleman can help fill
the void at wideout. The 5'9", 165-pound special teams demon
turned in the best performance of any receiver at minicamp in
April. Coleman led the AFC with an 11.6-yard punt return average
in '95 and has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in each of
his two seasons. Now San Diego's fastest player wants to score
on a play from scrimmage. "My goal right now is to work my butt
off and prove that I deserve to be out there," says Coleman, who
has four career receptions. "I know that when I get the
opportunity, I'll make the plays."
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Head coach: Bobby Ross
QB Stan Humphries 478 att. 282 comp. 59.0% 3,381 yds.
17TDs 14 int. 80.4 rtg.
RB Aaron Hayden 128 att. 470 yds. 3 TDs
FB Leonard Russell[***] 66 att. 203 yds. 0 TDs
TE Alfred Pupunu 35 rec. 315 yds. 0 TDs
WR Tony Martin 90 rec. 1,224 yds. 6 TDs
WR Jimmy Oliver* 23 rec. 47 yds. 5 TDs
WR 'OMar Ellison 1 rec. 6 yds. 0 TDs
LT Tony Berti 6'5" 287 lbs.
LG Eric Moten 6'2" 306 lbs.
C Courtney Hall 6'2" 281 lbs.
RG Isaac Davis 6'3" 320 lbs.
RT Vaughn Parker 6'3" 296 lbs.
PK John Carney 32/33 XPs 21/26 FGs
LE Chris Mims 2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
LT Shawn Lee 8 sacks 1 fum. rec.
RT Reuben Davis 3 1/2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
RE Marco Coleman[***] 6 1/2 sacks 0 fum. rec.
OLB Patrick Sapp (R)[***] 5 1/2 sacks 2 int.
MLB Kurt Gouveia[***] 0 sacks 1 int.
OLB Junior Seau 2 sacks 2 int.
CB Dwayne Harper 4 int. 0 sacks
SS Shaun Gayle 2 int. 0 sacks
FS Kevin Ross[***] 3 int. 0 sacks
CB Darrien Gordon[**]¬† 4 int. 0 sacks
P Darren Bennett 72 punts 44.7 avg.
PR Jimmy Oliver 0 ret. N.A.
KR Andre Coleman 62 ret. 22.8 avg.
* 1994 college statistics [**] 1994 statistics
[***] New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)