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> The perception, right or wrong, is that coach Marty Schottenheimer got in the way in 2006. How could a team with a league-high nine Pro Bowl selections, including such high-impact performers as LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Shawne Merriman, fail to win a Super Bowl if not for the conservative thumbprint of Martyball? Following Schottenheimer's messy ouster, general manager A.J. Smith brought in the well-traveled Norv Turner, who has a 58-82-1 record as head coach in seven seasons with the Redskins and two with the Raiders, and most recently was the 49ers' offensive coordinator.
Turner faces a task much like the one Barry Switzer faced when Switzer took over for Jimmy Johnson in Dallas in 1994 and led the star-powered Cowboys to a Super Bowl title a season later. "We've always had the talent, but now we have the coach," says safety Marlon McCree. "We have confidence in Norv."
Give Turner credit for knowing his place. He admits his primary directive is, Don't screw this up. "Anyone can see they've had a good thing going here," Turner says. "It's a matter of maintaining that and seeing if we can enhance some things, particularly against teams with top defenses."
Those enhancements include some slight changes to quarterback Philip Rivers's mechanics and a plan to employ Tomlinson more in the passing game. Otherwise Turner, like Switzer with the Cowboys, will keep the meddling to a minimum.
WHERE THEY'RE HEADED
> The Chargers played their worst game of the season against New England in their 24-21 home playoff loss-- Schottenheimer's sixth-straight postseason defeat--but it is San�Diego's 16-13 Week�4 loss to the Ravens that Turner points to as an example of how he can make this team better. "If you look back at last year's Baltimore game, there were little things we could have done to change the outcome," Turner says. "And this year's schedule begins with two teams, Chicago and New England, both top�10 defenses, that are very similar to Baltimore in what you have to do to beat them."
Some improvement will come with the continued development of Rivers, the 2004 first-rounder who took over as the starter in '06 and starred early but slowed down the stretch. (His completion percentage dropped from October to November to December and culminated in a 43.8% mark in the playoff loss to the Patriots.) Turner retained quarterbacks coach John Ramsdell from the previous regime and has worked with Rivers on releasing the ball higher on some throws and on refining his drop. "He's got such great vision, a knack for getting the ball to guys, that much of what we've needed to do is get guys used to him and how he can get them the ball when they may not think he can," Turner says. Adds Tomlinson, "Philip is going to make that leap guys do in their second season."
After rushing 348�times and catching 56�passes a year ago, Tomlinson may now be catching the ball more and lugging it less. Michael Turner, the accomplished fourth-year backup who averaged 6.3�yards a carry last season, re-signed, but for just one year, and the Chargers plan on putting him to use before he bolts. That should help keep Tomlinson fresh late in games.
If one is nitpicking, there are questions about linebackers Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm, new starters who will attempt to pick up the slack left by the free-agent departure of the versatile Donnie Edwards. The Chargers also remain in search of a standout wide receiver. Vincent Jackson is a tantalizing talent but has been inconsistent, and Craig Davis, the first-round pick out of LSU, looked good in camp but will need time. Then again, how many balls are left for wideouts, with Gates and Tomlinson hauling in more than 125�catches between them?