> Theperception, right or wrong, is that coach Marty Schottenheimer got in the wayin 2006. How could a team with a league-high nine Pro Bowl selections,including such high-impact performers as LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates andShawne Merriman, fail to win a Super Bowl if not for the conservativethumbprint of Martyball? Following Schottenheimer's messy ouster, generalmanager A.J. Smith brought in the well-traveled Norv Turner, who has a 58-82-1record as head coach in seven seasons with the Redskins and two with theRaiders, and most recently was the 49ers' offensive coordinator.
Turner faces atask much like the one Barry Switzer faced when Switzer took over for JimmyJohnson in Dallas in 1994 and led the star-powered Cowboys to a Super Bowltitle a season later. "We've always had the talent, but now we have thecoach," says safety Marlon McCree. "We have confidence inNorv."
Give Turner creditfor knowing his place. He admits his primary directive is, Don't screw this up."Anyone can see they've had a good thing going here," Turner says."It's a matter of maintaining that and seeing if we can enhance somethings, particularly against teams with top defenses."
Those enhancementsinclude some slight changes to quarterback Philip Rivers's mechanics and a planto employ Tomlinson more in the passing game. Otherwise Turner, like Switzerwith the Cowboys, will keep the meddling to a minimum.
> The Chargersplayed their worst game of the season against New England in their 24-21 homeplayoff loss--Schottenheimer's sixth-straight postseason defeat--but it isSan¬†Diego's 16-13 Week¬†4 loss to the Ravens that Turner points to asan example of how he can make this team better. "If you look back at lastyear's Baltimore game, there were little things we could have done to changethe outcome," Turner says. "And this year's schedule begins with twoteams, Chicago and New England, both top¬†10 defenses, that are verysimilar to Baltimore in what you have to do to beat them."
Some improvementwill come with the continued development of Rivers, the 2004 first-rounder whotook over as the starter in '06 and starred early but slowed down the stretch.(His completion percentage dropped from October to November to December andculminated in a 43.8% mark in the playoff loss to the Patriots.) Turnerretained quarterbacks coach John Ramsdell from the previous regime and hasworked with Rivers on releasing the ball higher on some throws and on refininghis drop. "He's got such great vision, a knack for getting the ball toguys, that much of what we've needed to do is get guys used to him and how hecan get them the ball when they may not think he can," Turner says. AddsTomlinson, "Philip is going to make that leap guys do in their secondseason."
After rushing348¬†times and catching 56¬†passes a year ago, Tomlinson may now becatching the ball more and lugging it less. Michael Turner, the accomplishedfourth-year backup who averaged 6.3¬†yards a carry last season, re-signed,but for just one year, and the Chargers plan on putting him to use before hebolts. That should help keep Tomlinson fresh late in games.
If one isnitpicking, there are questions about linebackers Stephen Cooper and MattWilhelm, new starters who will attempt to pick up the slack left by thefree-agent departure of the versatile Donnie Edwards. The Chargers also remainin search of a standout wide receiver. Vincent Jackson is a tantalizing talentbut has been inconsistent, and Craig Davis, the first-round pick out of LSU,looked good in camp but will need time. Then again, how many balls are left forwideouts, with Gates and Tomlinson hauling in more than 125¬†catchesbetween them?
Still, San Diegohas 20 opening day starters back, and Tomlinson believes maturity, rather thannew schemes, will push the Chargers past Indy and New¬†England in the AFC."We played well last season, but we made mistakes against good teams,"says the three-time All-Pro, who set NFL records for total touchdowns (31),rushing touchdowns (28) and points (186) in his remarkable 2006 season."We've got to play smarter, and I think that is about experience. We didn'tknow how to handle some situations, and that led to those mistakes."
The assumption, ofcourse, is that the Chargers now know how to handle themselves. And as long asTurner doesn't get in the way, they won't be stopped short of the Super Bowl."Norv understands we've been successful before him," Tomlinson says."He knows he just needs to put on the finishing touches."
COACH NORV TURNER(58-82-1 in NFL), first season with Chargers
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 5"
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 4"
HT 6' 7"
SACKS 11 1‚ÅÑ2
SACKS 1 1‚ÅÑ2
SACKS 2 1‚ÅÑ2
> 2006 RECORD14-2 NFL RANK (Rush/Pass/Total): OFFENSE 2/16/4 DEFENSE 7/13/10
16 at New England
23 at Green Bay
30 KANSAS CITY
7 at Denver
4 at Minnesota
18 at Jacksonville
2 at Kansas City
9 at Tennessee
24 DENVER (M)
30 at Oakland
NFL rank T14
Opponents' 2006 winning percentage .504
Games against playoff teams 6
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THE KING 500
79 In March, Dielman visited the Seahawks and wasoffered a seven-year, $48¬†million contract. He thought he'd sign the nextmorning, but when he awoke he told his agent he wanted to stay a Charger."When I walked out of the tunnel in Seattle's stadium, it just didn't feelright," says Dielman, who accepted six years, $39¬†million from SanDiego. "It was important for me to stay here, blocking with these guys andfor LT. This is home."
AN OPPOSINGTEAM'S SCOUT SIZESUP THE CHARGERS
> Philip Rivers progressed well under Cam Cameron,the offensive coordinator last year, and it'll be important for Norv Turner notto add much to his plate. The one thing Rivers needs is to get better chemistrywith his wideouts. The player who really should emerge there is VincentJackson, a huge guy with excellent hands. . . . One of my favorite players inthe league is Kris Dielman. Self-made guy, terrific worker, very good runblocker. Glad the Chargers paid him. . . . Luis Castillo might be as valuableto this team as Shawne Merriman because of his versatility on the defensiveline--very physical, a 4.85 40 guy playing at 290 pounds--and how well he playsfor four quarters. A lot of us were skeptical of him coming out of Northwesternbecause of his positive steroid test, but he's made a believer out of me.
Rivers has tweaked his technique to avoid another fade down thestretch.
G. NEWMAN LOWRANCE/WIREIMAGE.COM