Quentin Jammer is the future (Getty Images)
So the year is deemed a failure since the team did not make the playoffs. So what I say. The template for future success is being snapped into place. I will take one more year of failure if it means we can right the ship for many years to come. Sure the ship has sunk, but the new hull is being built and the design is looking to be solid.
Nine rookies have started games for the Chargers this year: linebacker Ben Leber (14 starts), right guard Toniu Fonoti (14), center Jason Ball (13), cornerback Quentin Jammer (four), safety Vernon Fox (three), receiver Reche Caldwell, receiver Eric Parker and tight end Justin Peele (two each), and tight end Josh Norman (one each).
That is just their starts, they each have made contributions in many more games this year and each has seen his role expand. They are the future of the Chargers. They are the reason we all are excited about this team. They are the cheaper alternatives that will be around for a long time and besides being cheap, they deserve to be here.
"I'm excited about all of them," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "We've had some good rookie groups before, but what I think has happened here is a combination of last year's crop and this year's crop gives us some pretty good young players."
"It was definitely a positive that we were so close to the playoffs," said Leber, who started every game except two in which the Chargers went with three cornerbacks at the beginning. "When we get in the same situation next year with all the young guys, we know what to expect.
"So much of this league for us rookies is not knowing what to expect. Now we know. We'll know what to do when we get in certain situations. It's not an excuse why we lost, but we do have some young guys. So, if anything, it looks promising."
"Going 8-8 this year, just missing the playoffs, in the future we'll only be going up," Ball said. "We have a young team. With the talent we've got at a lot of positions, we're going to get a lot better in the near future."
Everyone is getting better is the key here. Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson just finished their second seasons in the league. Ball knows a lot about getting better. He was thrown to the wolves this year after Cory Raymer went down and performed so well he could be taking the starting job from Raymer and could even be kept while Raymer is released.
"By leaps and bounds I got better, at least mentally, by just being in there and trying to prepare week in and week out," Ball said.
There is always a long road to go in the NFL. Nothing is easy and a 6-1 start gave the team some false hope perhaps, that this game would be a breeze. That is not the case. A few bad bounces and a team that starts 6-1 is out of the playoffs. That can be construed as a learning process and may be humbling to these youngsters. Next year they will try that much harder.
"I realize how hard it is now just making it to the playoffs," said Parker. "You've got to find a way to win. I think next year coming in we'll have a lot of confidence."