Season in Review: Wide Receivers

Curtis Conway may not return (Getty Images)

Every year we anxiously await the emergence of a few unknowns to the ranks of the known. This year was no different and no other position is greater at finding those surprises than at wide receiver. Tough decisions await the offseason at this position and the future of Curtis Conway. Players need to get better, and there is no greater need in San Diego than at wide receiver to aid the growth of Drew Brees.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Curtis Conway was developing a solid rapport with Drew Brees and rewarded Brees but catching almost everything thrown his way. He finished the year as the Chargers' leader in receiving yards (852) and touchdown receptions (five), and his 57 catches were second on the team to running back LaDainian Tomlinson's 79. Those totals were mostly accumulated during the first ten games of the season.

On November 17th in San Francisco, it all changed for the worse. Conway injured his shoulder and played sparingly the rest of the season. He had 7 catches in that game, but only garnered three more the rest of the season.

The Chargers went 1-5 the rest of the way, much without the aid of a healthy Conway. Through his ten year career he has only been healthy for a full season three times. Not exactly what you want to hear when you speak of your No. 1 receiver.

So now it comes down to decision time. The Chargers sit two million over the projected cap for 2003. Conway is due a one million dollar roster bonus in March. You see what we are getting at here? The wise choice is to retain Conway and hope he is healthy. The problem is the injury is still a mystery today. It has been referred to as a stinger, a pinched nerve, or just sore. When probing further no definitive answers were ever given.

Does that mean he lacks heart?

I don't think that is it either. Conway just will not play through pain as much of the NFL does. Ask Junior Seau about that.

As you can see we are pushing off this decision as well. Green Bay last year let go of its top receivers, and they made the playoffs this year. They did it for cap purposes. Philadelphia did the same two years ago, and they made the playoffs the subsequent two years. You get the picture here I am sure. A No. 1 receiver needs to be healthy. Conway is not that. I love him when he is healthy but this team needs, Brees needs, a healthy core of receivers to grow with. Management has been said to be mulling letting him go. Seriously thinking about it, well, we are too.

Tim Dwight, the fireplug 5-7 receiver who now doubles on special teams (detailed in the special teams section to come), collected 50 receptions, 623 yards and two touchdowns in his first full season as the starter. Considering he only accumulated five receptions in the first four games those numbers are not half bad.

As the season progressed he seemed to have a little more fire in his step. He was getting open with consistency and sometimes Brees was leading him too far. A she stepped into the No. 1 role when Conway went down, his numbers declined again. In three games where Conway was a non factor he collected just six receptions. When Conway returned for the Buffalo game, the numbers of Dwight soared to five receptions in that one game. Conway again became a non-factor, but this time Dwight held himself to higher standards. In his last two games he had 10 receptions.

The fact is he is not suited to be a No.1 and may be more of a number three type guy. With concerns on the long term stability at the position (Conway's health) it makes matters regarding "the decision" even more paramount. Dwight was signed to a big contract, and it may have been a gaffe, but he is here and we need to utilize his speed and skill. Dwight also proved to be an excellent blocker, as he spearheaded the charge on downfield blocking for LaDainian Tomlinson.

Dwight will return next season as a starter again no doubt, but keep an eye out for someone who may overtake him. His value remains high on special teams, and perhaps with his development this year he will become even better in years to come and make us think the contract he got is warranted.

Eric Parker, a free agent from the University of Tennessee, stole the hearts of fans by working his way from the practice squad, to a staring role at the end of the season. In his two starts he had ten receptions and ended the season with 17 receptions for 268 yards and one touchdown with a team-best 15.8-yard per catch average. His best game came in a seven catch performance vs. Oakland in December.

Parker displayed the hustle and attitude needed to play the game. The writers here at Chargers Update think highly of him, so much so we featured him here: Eric Parker Story

The passion he has for playing extends to his quarterback who feels good throwing to him. In fact, the numbers on Parker are even more misleading as he was open a number of occasions, but Brees was slow in delivering him the ball resulting in incompletions.

During this offseason he will be asked to bulk up his 6-0, 172 pound frame, and he is good enough now to be the No. 2 receiver. We hold high aspirations for this young, cheap receiver and feel he deserves the shot to be an intricate part of this franchise for years to come. He holds the same build as Peerless Price and does everything the team asks him to do. Parker is a true team player that runs solid routes and gets open.

Reche Caldwell had an up and down rookie season for the Chargers. Caldwell entered the season as the No. 3 receiver and spent the first four weeks of the season catch-less. Despite playing in all 16 games he was held without a catch a total of seven times. Caldwell ended the season with 22 catches for 208 yards and three touchdowns. All of his touchdowns came in Chargers wins.

Caldwell was diagnosed as a poor route runner and did not disappoint. Not only was his route running poor, he seemed a bit lethargic at times. During the offseason he needs to find his heart for the game and dedicate the work ethic needed to succeed. Midway through the season he stated that he realized he would have to work at being a good receiver and he will need it.

Next season, he will be slotted as the No. 4 receiver and if he does not get his act together he could be a casualty stemming from the 2002 NFL Draft, which given his second round status would be a grave disappointment.

Dondre Gilliam had a seesaw season spent between the practice squad, released status, the practice squad again and the active roster. He was only active for one game, the finale in Seattle and did not contribute with a catch.

What he did impress at was his work ethic. Back in training camp he was the only receiver to regularly stay behind and work on his routes and catching with Seth Burford and Dave Dickenson. The hard work may have not netted any catches this year, but at some point he will contribute, if not with the Chargers then with some team. He will not be a superstar, but could be effective as a role player who excels on special teams.

Terry Charles, out of Portland State, was drafted in the fifth round of the 2002 NFL Draft and spent his entire rookie season on injured reserve. In mini-camp he suffered a knee injury. At 6-3, 207 pounds, he could be a possession receiver at the NFL level. He immediately adds much needed size to the Chargers and could open up avenues to Drew Brees. While he does not have breakaway speed, he can catch the "fade" pattern in the back of the end zone. That is where Brees would loft a ball to the back of the end zone just over the cornerback creating a jump ball scenario. The play was not used at all this year by the Chargers and would be a welcome addition.

The Chargers will try and upgrade this position in the coming months. They have a solid lower core of potential, but lack the true No. 1 who can take pressure off Tomlinson. With a good crop of free agent potentially available and a Draft thick with "Big" wideouts they could fill that need and the offense will be diversified because of it. The Conway situation bears watching. Our thoughts are he will be let go and another route will be taken at the position.

Up next: TIGHT ENDS

SDBoltReport.com Recommended Stories