After a couple weeks of San Diego Charger training camp and two mediocre preseason performances some things are obvious, like the stellar play of the 1st team offensive line, while some things are not so obvious, like the chemistry between Drew Brees and David Boston...
We may have something special here. Damion McIntosh, Kelvin Garmon, Jason Ball, Solomon Page, and Vaughn (I've been underrated for years) Parker. That group makes up what looks to be a big, physical, balanced set of blockers Let's take a closer look at these behemoths sporting lightning bolts, shall we?
Left Tackle- Damion McIntosh 6'4 325lbs.(yeah right, more like 340).
As a former college defensive lineman he brings a mentality that can't be taught as the protector of Drew Brees' blindside. This past offseason Damion signed a one year deal to stay with the lightning bolts making this a contract year. A solid season could see him land a huge contract from the Chargers or some other team looking to solidify the left tackle spot for years to come. Toughness and durability are the only things holding him back from being one of the elite. In 2001 he missed two games(flu) while last season he missed six games(ankle). If he can stay healthy look for a big year, he's got plenty to motivate him($$).
Left Guard- Kelvin Garmon 6'2 350lbs(sometimes).
A Hudson Houck protege, Kelvin brings tremendous power and a fighter mentality to the field. Last year, in a rare in season NFL trade, the Chargers traded a 2003 draft pick to the Cowboys for the then injured Garmon. The move would prove to pay off as Kelvin would team with rookie guard Toniu Fonoti to form a punishing run blocking duo. Coaches have said that Kelvin has had the best camp of all the offensive lineman. If you watch him play what stands out is his strength, once he gets his hands on you....your done. Another intriguing note is that he has been in the league since 1999, but has only two seasons of game experience under his belt. There is still upside here.
Center- Jason Ball 6'2 301lbs
How can you not root for the ultimate underdog? A classic story of a man who scouts said might not be big, strong, or athletic enough to be a factor in the NFL.... He did not get drafted. Last year starting center Cory Raymer went down with an injury in week 3, instead of panicking the Chargers simply called on #60 and the bolts still notched a victory. The following week in a huge game, the Chargers were set to battle the then defending superbowl champion New England Patriots. The big question going into the game was how would the undrafted rookie center fare in his 1st start. He fared just fine as Ladanian Tomlinson rushed for 217 yards and the bolts won the battle of unbeatens. Jason would go on to numerous all rookie teams and was voted the teams lineman of the year. Now Cory Raymer is the one fighting for a roster spot. While Ball isn't the most athletic center in the league he is perfect for the type of line the team has built. Being more of a power player plays right into what the Chargers do on offense with a power running game. If you watch him play, you will be awed by his tenacity. Jason's philosophy is unleashing all his fury from the start of a whistle to the end of a whistle.
Right Guard- Solomon Page 6'4 325lbs
Another Houck protege, Page joins the Chargers after signing a one year deal this offseason. At 27, he not only brings youth, but strength, versatility, and experience as well. In his four years with the Dallas Cowboys, Solomon has logged 51 career starts. Starting at both the right guard and tackle positions brings much value to the Chargers. Page is currently in the lineup at right guard but in a pinch they could slide him over to tackle. Known more for his run blocking he is a welcomed addition to an already potent power running attack.
Right Tackle- Vaughn Parker 6'3 300lbs (I say 320 before a good meal)
Old reliable. At 32 Vaughn may be entering the twilight of his career. No probowls(yet), no national recognition, no top 10 rankings. Just blood, sweat and tears. The one constant on the offensive line has been Vaughn Parker. A superb pass blocker and team player Big Vaughn is the unsung leader of this squad. If you see a defender trying to give LT or a fellow soldier a little business after a play, #70 will be the first one there to get his back. Vaughn has been through the lowest of lows with the bolts and nobody wants or deserves a superbowl ring more than this old pro.
Thus far in preseason, this line appears to have the ability to dominate. Add in a quarterback with great pocket awareness and underrated mobility and you have a chance to lead the league in fewest sacks allowed. Add in a dynamic running back that can make a horrible offensive line look good and you have a chance to lead the league in rushing. (Don't forget that tank of a fullback). Add in the best offensive line coach in the game and you may have a top 3 line on your hands.
The starting unit is backed by some solid depth. Toniu Fonoti started at right guard as a rookie last year, establishing himself as a powerhouse run blocker. Injured during training camp this year Toniu is itching to get back. He will have a tough time trying to get back into the lineup, with the continuous progress of the starting five. Hopefully he can regain his health and use the anger from losing his job to his advantage. Nothing like having a pissed off 370lb samoan lined up at tight end on 3rd and short.
At tackle the impressive undrafted rookie free agent Phil Bogle has raised eyebrows with his play. Phil has seen time with the first team at RT and can also play guard. 3rd round pick Courtney Van Buren is a back up left tackle. Courtney is still learning and has had his struggles, but is destroying linebackers in the run game and learning from the best.
In the recent game against the Arizona Cardinals, the second and third team lines were a downright disgrace. Luckily for Charger fans, those combinations would never play together when it counts.
The line figures to get a good test this Saturday as the Houston Texans play good defense and run a complicated 3-4 scheme. Good match up.
Will Mortensen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org