Friday, September 17, 1999



        • Quarterback — The unspectacular but solid Jim Harbaugh makes the move from Baltimore. He won't break open any games with just four 300-yard passing days in his life, but he won't lose any, either, when you consider he's been to the playoffs six times and has 13 fourth-quarter comeback victories. He ran just twice in the exhibition season, but he's a threat with 511 career rushes for a 5.2 average. Still an effective intermediate passer.

        • Running backs — Natrone still Means ball control. Means' only 1,000-yard season was 1994, when he strapped the Chargers on his 245-pound back and took them to the Super Bowl. But in four seasons in San Diego he's averaged four yards per carry and he would have had 1,000 easily last year if he didn't break his foot and miss the last six games.

        • Receivers/tight ends — The wideouts aren't terribly fast, and Harbaugh only takes about fives shots down field a game. Much-traveled Jeff Graham's longest catch for the Eagles last year was 45 yards, and 240-pound Michael Ricks notched his long of 39 for the Chargers in his rookie season in '98. No. 3 receiver Bryan Still is the speed guy, but caught just 43 balls last season.

        The Chargers can hurt you in the passing game getting the ball to their tight ends. They have a budding All-Pro in third-year man Freddie Jones. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Jones led the Chargers last season with 57 catches, the most by a San Diego tight end since Hall-of-Famer Kellen Winslow caught 64 in 1986. Plus, All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau is more than a crowd-pleasing diversion as an extra tight end.

        • Offensive line — Left tackle John Jackson, the Woodward High School grad who has labored 12 seasons in the NFL, is a symbol of this unit. They don't have a dominating player, but they are solid and smart and are better because they played together all last season, when they finished 15th in the NFL rushing rankings.

        Defensive line — John Parrella, a 300-pounder, and Norman Hand, a 313-pounder, are huge reasons why the Chargers led the NFL in run defense last season. In back-to-back games last season, Hand, who is fighting a sprained back, had four sacks, two pass deflections and an interception. Al Fontenot and Raylee Johnson have 33 sacks in 12 combined seasons.

        • Linebackers — Seau has been moved from the middle to weak inside backer, but it doesn't mean much. He still fuels the Chargers' defense with intense, sideline-to- sideline play. He's so good pursuing, you're almost better off running at him. The other backers are no-frills role players. Gerald Dixon, who led the 1997 Bengals with eight sacks, is coming off arthroscopic knee surgery 10 days ago, but is expected to play.

        • Secondary — Pro Bowl strong safety Rodney Harrison teams with Seau, Parrella and Hand to form a formidale middle. Harrison has no fear playing in the box. Free safety Mike Dumas, in his sixth year out of Indiana, won't help you in pass coverage but is a steady run player.

        Left cornerback Charles Dimry has gone from playing the weekly victim on highlight films to becoming a solid NFL corner. Right corner Terrance Shaw is a good cover guy who can run, but can get beat by staying too close. Former Bengal Jimmy Spencer is a backup.

        • Special teams — Kicker John Carney was a free-agent rookie for the 1987 Bengals before becoming the second most accurate field goal kicker of all time, and San Diego's all-time leading scorer. Punter Darren Bennett is solid.


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