Chargers Van Buren and Maddox hope to shine
The 2002 San Diego Chargers season, their first under head coach Marty Schottenheimer, showed great promise for the future. The team started 6-1 and finished the year 8-8, three games better than 2001. The Chargers finished the season just one game out of the playoffs after a late season collapse. Today marks the start of the season for the Bolts, the preseason that is.
Spearheading the Chargers’ resurgence was running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who was selected to his first career Pro Bowl after setting team records for rushing yards and total yards from scrimmage. The Chargers’ top selection in the 2001 NFL Draft finished the year as the NFL’s second-leading rusher.
Tomlinson will likely not see any action in today’s game versus Seattle. He will be kept out as a precaution. With some many injuries affecting the Chargers, the team is trying to keep everyone they have healthy.
The 2002 season also saw the emergence of second-year quarterback Drew Brees, who passed for over 3,000 yards and threw 17 touchdown passes in his first season as the starter.
Brees will see action in one to two series at most for the Seattle game. Everyone is hoping he gets that first touchdown pass to David Boston out of the way early. Such a play early on will set the tempo for the offense come the regular season.
The offensive line, which for much of the season featured rookie starters at center and right guard, and which persevered despite an assortment of injuries, finished the season ranked fifth in the league in fewest sacks allowed. The injuries weren’t limited to the offensive line as the entire offensive unit battled the injury bug for most of the year, and as a result the Bolts rolled out a different starting group on offense in 12 of the team’s 16 games.
The starting offensive line will not feature any rookies this year, at least, unless injuries again ravage the unit. It will feature a youthful look to it with Vaughn Parker being the only player over 30.
On defense, middle linebacker Donnie Edwards, a key free agent acquisition before the 2002 season, had Pro Bowl year as he led the squad in interceptions and tackles. Edwards took rookie linebacker Ben Leber, a third-round draft pick in 2002, under his wings to help him become the team’s seventh-leading tackler and rank third on the squad with five quarterback sacks.
The battle for the middle linebacker spot starts in earnest today. Zeke Moreno will square off with Carlos Polk and Matt Wilhelm. While Moreno has the most in game experience, filling in for Junior Seau last season, none have been full time starters in the league, with Wilhelm a rookie. Everyone has their favorites hear, but with a battle such as this, the team is well stocked for the future.
Chargers fans watched the maturation of cornerback Quentin Jammer, the top pick in the 2002 draft. Jammer came on strong late in the season, finishing the year ranked third on the squad with 10 passes defensed and sixth with 64 tackles. Jammer gained valuable experience playing alongside veteran Ryan McNeil, the team’s fourth leading tackler and team leader with 12 passes defensed.
McNeil has now moved to safety and a the team stockpiled young defensive backs in the draft. Fans anticipating their first look at these players hope to see progress. A unit that ranked 32nd in the league in pass defense, got a major overhaul and though youth brings inexperience, it also brings hope for the future.
WHO’S NEW IN BLUE IN 2003
April 22, 2003 was a bittersweet day for the San Diego Chargers. It was the day that Chargers President Dean Spanos named A.J. Smith to fill the role of Executive Vice President-General Manager, taking over a role that was previously held by Smith’s best friend, John Butler, who died on April 11 after a nine-month battle with lymphoma.
Smith did not waste any time in putting his own personal stamp on the 2003 roster. He turned heads all around the NFL by signing key veteran free agents, including wide receiver David Boston, fullback Lorenzo Neal, offensive lineman Solomon Page and safety Kwamie Lassiter.
On the weekend of the NFL Draft, Smith drew even more praise when he dealt the Chargers first-round pick to Philadelphia in exchange for the Eagles’ first-round selection and an additional pick in the draft’s second-round. Smith used the Chargers first pick to secure playmaking cornerback Sammy Davis from Texas A&M. He then selected another cornerback, Tuskegee’s Drayton Florence in round two, while using the Eagles second-round choice to bring safety Terrence Kiel, also from Texas A&M, to San
Diego. Smith concluded his first draft with the Chargers by selecting offensive tackle Courtney Van Buren from Arkansas Pine-Bluff, linebacker Matt Wilhelm from 2003 National Champion Ohio State, punter Mike Scifres from Western Illinois, safety Hanik Milligan from Houston and fullback Andrew Pinnock from South Carolina.
Each rookie will see plenty of playing time throughout the preseason. Davis and Florence are expected to compete for a starting role at cornerback, and Terrence Kiel will likely miss all the preseason games. When he was able to play, before three gunshot wounds, he was the front-runner for a safety spot. Now his rehab will likely put him in a reserve role this season.
The Chargers also brought in 26 undrafted free agents this offseason. While some have come and gone, a few will contribute long into the future for the Bolts. Players like Phil Bogle, Brian Sump, Nick Maddox, and LeMarcus McDonald will get a chance to show what they have in the preseason. How they play could determine their fate on cutdown day. At the very least they are vying for a spot on the practice squad.
Denis Savage can be reached at email@example.com