’08 Preview: Injuries Chargers’ biggest concern

The continuity the San Diego Chargers said they’d have last season is really there this year, as the players know what the coaches want, the coaches know what they have in the players and both are ready to take the next step in Norv Turner’s second season as head coach.

“Our guys know what we’re doing,” Turner says. “There’s a comfort level.”

There should be.

The AFC runners-up return 20 starters, and the other two starters for ’08 were on the roster and played plenty last season. With a seemingly favorable schedule, it appears the only thing that could hold the Chargers back is injuries.

2008 TEAM PREVIEWS

AFC EAST: BUF | MIA | NE | NYJ

AFC NORTH: BAL | CIN | CLE | PIT

AFC SOUTH: HOU | IND | JAC | TEN

AFC WEST: DEN | KC | OAK | SD

NFC EAST: DAL | NYG | PHI | WAS

NFC NORTH: CHI | DET | GB | MIN

NFC SOUTH: ATL | CAR | NO | TB

NFC WEST: ARI | SEA | SF | STL

And there are plenty of those to worry about even before the season begins.

Center Nick Hardwick (foot), tight end Antonio Gates (toe) and fullback Andrew Pinnock (knee) had offseason surgeries and may not be ready come September. If the injury news is good, this is a prime Super Bowl contender.

Offense

The Chargers are not much different with Turner calling the plays than they were under his predecessor, Cam Cameron. They are LaDainian Tomlinson-and-Gates centered and will remain so, provided Gates is healthy.

Turner will likely open up the offense more this season to take advantage of the emergence of his young receivers, who will be better prepared to keep defenses from loading up to stop Tomlinson.

Defense

Coordinator Ted Cottrell runs his 3-4 defense based on tendencies rather than just bringing everything after the quarterback like former San Diego coordinator Wade Phillips.

The players understand that better now and seem to have bought in to the benefits of picking and choosing when to blitz. The secondary is as good as it has been in several years, but continued success against the run depends largely on the health of nose tackle Jamal Williams.

Breakout candidate

Safety Eric Weddle: Weddle played nickel, free safety and strong safety at times in 2007 and now becomes the starter at free. The Chargers gave up a lot to get him, and no one knows yet just how good he might be. They’ll find out now. The way he plays almost defies physics.

Weddle is not big or terribly fast. He is simply always where the ball is, loves to hit and knows the game.

Bottom line

The Chargers are in the middle of what everyone in the organization acknowledges is a limited window of opportunity with the current roster. The third-winningest team in the NFL over the past four seasons, the time is now for Tomlinson, Merriman, Rivers, et al.

The Chargers play in a bad division and seem to have a favorable schedule – their first five games are against teams that had losing records in ’07. The playoffs are a certainty.

Now that the kinks on offense and defense between players and coaches have had a year to work themselves out, the Chargers are too stocked with the talent not to be among the top contenders for the Super Bowl.

SN prediction: 14-2, first in AFC West.

Kevin Acee covers the Chargers for the San Diego Union-Tribune and Sporting News.


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Updated Thursday, Jul 17, 2008