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Wednesday, June 29, 2005 | A year ago San Diego’s relationship with the Chargers was stormy at best. Dark clouds filled with the tears of Bolt backers blanketed the sky. A downpour of disappointments -last place finishes, free-agent blunders, disastrous draft picks and unstable stadium situation – doused dreams and threatened doomsday for football in the nation’s finest city.

Fans were beginning to feel like orphans, wondering if the sun would come out tomorrow or ever again. Like a typical June afternoon in San Diego, rays of hope broke through the clouds just in time to save the day.

The Chargers offense, sparked by the emergence of quarterback Drew Brees, shined brightly throughout a surprising 12-4 record and AFC West title. Accuracy and smart decision-making are the keys to Brees’ success. The first-time Pro Bowl selection completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,159 yards with 27 touchdown passes and only seven interceptions in 2004.

Teammates selected Brees as the Chargers Most Valuable Player and Most Inspirational Player. The Associated Press also named him the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. Philip Rivers is both promising and capable of pushing Brees for playing time. However, the second-year quarterback will be mostly watching what unfolds from the sideline.

Tight end Antonio Gates is a legit superstar. He hauled in two or more TD catches in four games last season and remains the primary red-zone target. Outside of its Pro Bowl tight end, San Diego’s receiving options are often overlooked.

Keenan McCardell provides veteran savvy, reliable hands and knack for getting open on critical downs. He should have a solid season after posting 31 receptions in seven games as a Charger. Eric Parker looks to build off a solid season where he set career-high marks in receptions, yards and touchdowns. A healthy Reche Caldwell should push Parker for the No. 2 slot. Rookie Vincent Jackson, a 6-foot-5, 241-pound, second-round selection, does look like a wide receiver, but his size and surprising quickness pose a very difficult matchup for opponents.

Schottenheimer prefers an offense built from the ground up. LaDainian Tomlinson is the cornerstone of arguably the best running attack in the division. Tomlinson reached the end zone at least once in 14 of 15 starts last year. L.T. can carry an offense on any given Sunday. Jesse Chatman shown the ability to post solid numbers when spelling L.T. The speed and jaw-dropping moves of rookie Darren Sproles will be on display during kick returns.

Successful attacks are built on the backs of the big fellas in the trenches. A young, promising interior core solidifies an offensive line that made great strides in ’04. San Diego allowed just 21 sacks last year, which ranked fourth behind Denver, Green Bay and Indianapolis. The Chargers ranked fifth in rushing yards and second in rushing touchdowns. There is no reason to believe 2005 will be any different.

Coordinator Wade Phillips has established a quality defensive scheme. Anchored by tackling machine Donnie Edwards, San Diego ranked 10th overall defense, sixth against the run and allowed less than 20 points per game. Veteran Randall Godfrey and Stephen Cooper join Edwards in the heart of the defense.

Fellow linebacker Steve Foley led the team with 10 sacks. He racked up a grand total of 10.5 sacks throughout six seasons before coming to San Diego. Getting pressure on quarterback is an area of concern. The Chargers are hoping top draft picks, linebacker Shawne Merriman and defensive end Luis Castillo, make an impact in this area. Second-year defensive end Dave Ball is also being counted on to strengthen the pass rush.

The secondary will benefit greatly and reduce the number of successful long passing plays if the front seven can collapse the pocket. Quentin Jammer is becoming more aggressive, which usually translates into turnovers.

Defense continues to be a strong point, especially when the offense keeps up their end of the deal. San Diego is looking for even more production from its young and talented offensive arsenal this season. Marty Schottenheimer’s burden for 2005 is to get back into the postseason and win a game or two.

Kevin Aron is a freelance writer in San Diego and outright sports junky. Kevin has worked in college sports information, sports agent offices and, most recently, as managing editor of for nearly five years.

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