As we'll continue to do through the season, today we sit down with John from our Chargers blog, Bolts from the Blue. The Chargers are hoping that a healthy squad will be enough to push them deep in the playoffs this year. And given the other three teams in the AFC West, I can't see the Chargers not winning this division. Of course, a long playoff run could (and in my opinion will) be short circuited by head coach Norv Turner. On to the Q&A...
Fooch: Folks would probably contend that while the 49ers 3-0 start in preseason is a good thing, there are a lot of reasons to be concerned (1st string passing game, pass rush, Nate Clements, etc...). After 3 games, do the Chargers look ready for the regular season?
Bolts: After the first two games against Seattle and Arizona, I would say the offensive line was not ready. However, they were mostly impressive and looked more like a cohesive unit against Atlanta last weekend. The only things that Chargers need to improve going into the season are the running game (which will come with more LT and a decision on a starting RG) and the pass rush (which is a mystery considering Ron Rivera has avoided calling any blitzes in the preseason).
Fooch: How are Chargers fans adjusting to life with Norv Turner? They've been in the playoffs, but it certainly hasn't been easy.
Bolts: Quite well, thank you. When it comes to a situation like the one that Chargers have with Norv Turner, all you can hope to see is growth and improvement. We've seen that from Norv. With each passing season he gets a little bit better at clock management, motivating the troops, and balancing being a head coach and an offensive coordinator.
It's funny has Norv isn't allowed excuses that would afforded coaches on more popular teams. If DeMarcus Ware was out an entire season and Dallas' defense fell apart, but they still managed to get in the playoffs, Wade Phillips would be praised. Yet Norv is criticized because he wasn't able to make a team perform to everyone's expectations when arguably his two best players (Merriman and LT) were either out or playing with serious injuries all year.
There is a lot to be said for somebody who can adapt and get better as the season goes along. That's what Marty Schottenheimer's weakness was. It was almost as if he started with a plan in Week 1 and the only way he could succeed was is if everything went according to plan. Now, with Turner, Chargers fans feel we have somebody that can take all of the bad breaks and eventually get things going in the right direction again. That's how you build confidence from your players. That's what an undefeated record in December and a couple of playoff wins will do for you.
We continue the discussion after the jump...
Fooch: ESPN the Magazine picked your Chargers to win the Super Bowl. I have to ask: WTF? Is it just a matter of them getting healthy? This might go back to the Norv Turner question, but I just can't picture a Norv Turner-led team winning it all. Please help me understand this.
Bolts: See the above answer. There's no doubt that the Chargers have the most talented roster in the NFL. Most of these same magazines have been picking the Chargers to win it all for 2 or 3 years now. It's just a matter of getting a little bit lucky at the end of the year in terms of health and matchups.
Look at the teams that stopped Norv Turner's Chargers the last two years:
In 2008, after beating the Colts, the Chargers faced the #1 defense in the league (Pittsburgh). They also did it without their starting RB (Sproles' 1st start) and had to play in the snow (making Sproles, and the pass-rush, less effective). Pittsburgh eventually went on to win the championship.
In 2007, after beating the Titans and Colts, the Chargers faced the undefeated New England Patriots that were 1st in offense and 4th in defense. Again, it was a road playoff game against a very worthy opponent. Philip Rivers played the entire game with a torn ACL in one knee and a sprained MCL in the other. Antonio Gates' toe was so badly injured that he couldn't even walk (or practice) for the week preceding the game. LaDainian Tomlinson famously spent the majority of the game on the sidelines with injuries. Facing a team that would've been considered "the greatest team ever" if they hadn't lost to the Giants, and doing it without the 3 best players on the team (Merriman was also playing injured, hurting his knee against the Titans), the Chargers still came close to squeaking out a victory.
Tough circumstances. I know that Norv's poor choices of Head Coaching jobs (Oakland, Washington) have created this image that he's a buffoon that can't coach in the NFL, but that's simply not the case.
Fooch: Will we see even more of the mighty-mite Darren Sproles in an attempt to keep Ladanian Tomlinson in one piece? Speaking of running backs, Gartrell Johnson is a guy a few of us at Niners Nation liked quite a bit. Is he making an impact in camp or is it too soon for him to be an impact player in San Diego?
Bolts: To start the season, it looks like it's too soon for Gartrell to be an impact player for the Chargers. However, he'll probably get a handful of chances during the season and what he does with those chances will determine how much a part of the gameplan he is by the end of the season. His disappointing performance in the preseason thusfar has been a missed opportunity to be a part of the offense out of the gate.
The Chargers, and Norv, are saying that LT will get the same workload he always has (300+ carries). Sproles is such a valuable weapon as a punt and kick returner that they're concerned about wearing him out. In 2008, he touched the ball 90 times on offense (61 rushes, 29 catches). In 2009, I would expect that number to be above 100 but probably less than 125.
Fooch: You mentioned your own stadium issues. Can you fill us in on that?
Bolts: Oh boy. Everything is kindof unclear at this moment. The Chargers desperately need a new stadium, but the city of San Diego cannot assist in the process due to their own money issues. The team has offered to fund the entire project themselves, but to do so they need free (or really cheap) land in an area where they can build a community (residences, commercial businesses, offices) around the stadium that would create another revenue stream for them.
A lot of places around San Diego County have been looked at, but so far all of them have been shot down for one reason or another. A developer in Los Angeles is in the process of building a large stadium and is trying to lure the team up there. Unless something happens that nobody sees coming, that could be the realest possibility for the team. However, the Chargers have made it very clear that they will try every avenue to try and stay in San Diego before going that route.
Fooch: At this point, what positional battles remain to be determined in this final preseason game?
Bolts: Starting Right Guard is really the only one, a battle between ex-Pro Bowler Kynan Forney and rookie Louis Vasquez. Every other position, and it's backups, are mostly settled. Trying to find a CB on the roster that the team can count on to be it's 4th CB will be an important task for this game.
Fooch: Is there one young player (on the roster bubble) we should keep an eye on in this final preseason game?
Bolts: Charly Martin is somebody to keep and eye out for. He is an undrafted free agent that the BFTB readers have fallen in love with. He appears to be the second coming of Wes Welker, but probably won't make the team.
Antwan Applewhite is somebody that I like to watch because he moves around so much, sometimes he's rushing the passer as a OLB and sometimes he'll slide inside an play zone coverage, but he may be on the bubble.
Also, keep your eyes peeled for Craig "Buster" Davis. A former 1st round pick who has struggled with injuries, he's stayed healthy and is having a very good preseason. I don't think there's a risk of him getting cut, but he'll have to continue to perform in these preseason matchups to move up the depth chart.