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07-26-2006, 06:52 PM
CHARGERS: Chargers hope to take a page from Pittsburgh's book

By: JAY PARIS - Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO ---- Ladies and gentlemen, here's your 2006 San Diego Steelers. Or is it the Pittsburgh Chargers?

Either way, you get the drift that the Chargers would like to emulate the world champion Steelers in more than one way.

No. 1, of course, is the Chargers' vision of racing through the playoffs and hoisting their first Super Bowl trophy come February.

And No. 2? Doing it with an inexperienced quarterback in Philip Rivers.

The Steelers squashed the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL ---- as well as the rest of their AFC competition ---- with youngster Ben Roethlisberger at the helm. While Roethlisberger crashed his motorcycle during the recent offseason, he provided steady steering for the Steelers en route to their fifth world title.

At 23, Roethlisberger was the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl.

Enter the Chargers' 24-year-old Rivers. He takes over for Drew Brees, a Pro Bowler who led the Bolts to 20 victories during the past two seasons.

Like the Steelers with Roethlisberger, the Chargers will ease Rivers' role by surrounding their green quarterback with a solid running game, a reliable tight end, a nasty run defense and good special teams play.

The Chargers' blueprint is to not ask Rivers to do too much, too soon. If Rivers has to do some heavy lifting, though, Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer wouldn't blink.

"I'm not worried about Philip,'' Schottenheimer said. "I'm really not.''

The feeling is that if the Steelers can surround their kid quarterback ---- who was taken seven picks after Rivers in the 2004 draft ---- with a stellar cast to reach the Super Bowl, so can the Chargers.

In order to duplicate the Steelers, however, the Chargers need more than a surprising showing from an untested quarterback, a six-pack of Iron City beer and a Terrible Towel.

Many parts of this puzzle constructed by general manager A.J. Smith must fit. And while there's few square pegs being crammed into round holes, how this squad will do is a mystery.

Remember this time last summer? The Chargers were giddy about their prospects with 22 returning starters after winning their first AFC West title since 1994.

But instead of building on their 12-4 foundation from 2005, the Chargers were punished by a tough schedule and sour play at home, limping to the tape at 9-7.

So what will transpire?

Can Rivers do something not done in San Diego since Stan Humphries in 1994 and win a playoff game?

Can Smith and Schottenheimer, who mesh like Shamu and tap water, co-exist?

Can Pro Bowler LaDainian Tomlinson get his yards with defenses stacked to stop the run by ignoring Rivers' threat to pass?

Will Roman Oben have two healthy feet to stand on?

Will Quentin Jammer be an impact player?

While trying to stay cool during this heat wave, five men in the Chargers organization find themselves on the hot seat:

> Smith: In a move that will define his Chargers career, Smith allowed Brees and his mending right shoulder to skedaddle to New Orleans, replacing him with Rivers.

By all accounts, Rivers appears up for the job. But the same has also been said about countless other quarterbacks who went bust. While Smith is confident in Rivers, if his massive roll of the dice in going with an unproven quarterback on a team which appears close to being playoff worthy doesn't work, Smith will be held accountable.

> Schottenheimer: New quarterback? Big deal. Questions along the offensive line? Tough. A secondary with more leaks than the Barry Bonds grand jury? Live with it.

Despite the team's shortcomings, Schottenheimer's bosses ---- Smith and team president Dean Spanos ---- have stressed this is a playoff team. If Schottenheimer's coaching doesn't find the postseason, he might find himself out of a job.

> Rivers: He's been a winner at every level, showing equal parts skill, poise and panache. But the NFL is a different beast, and the burden is on Rivers to reach game speed quickly.

Rivers' honeymoon with impatient fans will be short-lived if he struggles early. He isn't in the Atlantic Coast Conference anymore ---- a point the Raiders fans will drive home in the Sept. 11 opener.

> Oben: He's walking around the Chargers facility as if not to crack eggs underneath him. His boot and cast are off his mending left foot, but everything won't be right until he is protecting Rivers' blind side.

If Oben can't rebound from two foot surgeries and answer the bell for his 11th season, Rivers' noggin might be rung with regularity. Leander Jordan and Marcus McNeill are the options if Oben is out ---- both come with tremendous drawbacks.

> Jammer: The Chargers will tell anyone who'll listen that Jammer had a breakthrough season last year. Being a cornerback on the 28th ranked pass defense with one interception in 567 passes aimed at it is a breakthrough?

Jammer, who has two picks in 36 contests, must raise his game and take advantage of one of the NFL's top pass-rushing units.



Is it bad that deep down I want him to fail miserable so that people might really start to understand that Ben is the best Qb from the 2004 draft and Ben should have been the #4 pick?
I know know know if Ben hadn't fallen we wouldn't have him...but still...