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Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Jaws, Gruden think Chargers ready for big run

By Bill Williamson

The "Monday Night Football" crew held a conference call earlier Wednesday. Some AFC West topics were broached. Let’s take a look at some highlights:

Q. Jon, I want to talk about one of your favorite divisions and Jaws too, the AFC West. San Diego was No. 1 on offense and defense last year. The Raiders went 6-0 in the division, and the chiefs won the division. How do you see this thing playing out this year?

RON JAWORSKI: We had a chance, Randy, to take a look at San Diego in our preseason opener, and they seem like they're loaded right now. They seem healthy. They seem confident. Vincent Jackson is back, certainly the go to receiver for Philip Rivers. On the offensive side, they seem very, very solid.

I think on the defensive side they've brought in great leadership in Bob Sanders and Takeo Spikes. It's all about right now for the San Diego Chargers. That was their match when they were there. That's going to be it for the season right now. When you look at what they've done, they've kept a lot of their players. They are focused on winning it this season.

I don't know what happens if they don't, but it's clear to me they want to start fast easier said than done, but they've brought in some veteran players for that leadership role, which really is something they haven't done in the past. They have loaded up to make their run this year.

JON GRUDEN: I really think San Diego is the best team. There's no question about that in my mind. The two things they have to do, No. 1: they have to start faster. They're a very slow-starting team. It appears like almost every season. And they turn the ball over way too many times early in the season. I don't know what the number is, but I think, if you check that, it's horrific in the first month of the season.

So if they can get out of the gate with a couple wins and take care of the football, I think they're going a long way in the AFC this year. They're that talented. Vincent Jackson is a happy camper now. I wish I had him on my fantasy football team, but my son drafted him. Gates, if he gets healthy, and if Ryan Mathews can take care of the ball and really become the type of back that A.J. Smith thought he could be, they're going to be a handful.

I love the addition of Bob Sanders and Weddle back there, two dynamic safeties. I think the rest of the division is going to look up at San Diego because of Philip Rivers. I think he's going to put it all together. I look for him to have his finest hour this year as a Charger.

Q. Were the Chiefs a fluke last year?

GRUDEN: I think Kansas City, not to discount what they did winning that many games is a great accomplishment. I think they did have a favorable schedule. They've got a tremendous running back in [Jamaal] Charles. They play a little different schedule this year, and I'm concerned about that to a degree. I don't think their offseason decisions and even the first-round draft choice is fighting with his teammates right now. I'm not as high on their offseason additions as maybe some others are.

JAWORSKI: Well, there's no question, you know, if you get consistent play out of the quarterback position, you're going to be standing there at the end. And I think, when you look at Matt Cassel, he certainly has solidified the quarterback position for them.

Jon mentioned Jamaal Charles. This guy is a game breaker. He's the guy that can control the tempo of the football game. They added Le'Ron McClain from Baltimore, a guy that can block, and he can carry the ball as well. So they do get a little complement to Jamaal Charles in that same backfield. But I always think, if you're going to play a team like San Diego, you've got to get pressure on the quarterback. That's going to be the key again. Can they get the pressure?

Oh, by the way, I love the guy they acquired in Kelly Gregg in that nose tackle position. He is a football player. He will help them on the inside. He will rush the quarterback. When we were down in Baltimore last week, he is a guy they were talking a lot about, one of their leading tackles in Ravens history. Now he's a Chief. He will certainly help them in the interior of the offensive line.

But when you play a team like the Chargers and you want to get beyond the Chargers, you've got to get to the quarterback. That will be the key. Can Romeo come up with a defensive scheme to get hits on Philip Rivers?

Q. This topic is for Ron and Jon. Tim Tebow has been a lightning rod for criticism lately. It seems especially from within the football broadcast industry by former players. Why do you think he's being so harshly criticized right now? Is the criticism warranted, and do you think he can ever develop into a starting NFL quarterback?

JAWORSKI: I'll jump on that one first, Dennis. I don't think the criticism is warranted. I believe there's a learning curve for every quarterback and particularly a guy, as I call them, these change up quarterbacks like Tim Tebow. But clearly, I thought some games last season Mike McCoy did an excellent job with the Broncos of putting him in situations where his talent was showcased.

He did make some deep sideline throws. He threw the ball very well down the middle of the field. So I did see some improvement in Tim Tebow, but mechanics are hard to improve upon. They're very difficult, but if you keep working and we all know the work ethic of Tim Tebow. He'll put as much time as it takes to get better, but it's going to take time.

I think the fact that he was the 25th pick in that draft put really undue pressure on him. I think, if he'd have went in the second or third round, he would have kind of gotten lost. But when he goes in the first round, all of a sudden, everyone expected him to come in and turn things around quickly. He had too much of a learning curve to be ready to jump in and play at an NFL level consistently. But I certainly think Tim Tebow continues to work hard, and he'll stay make an impact in this league.

GRUDEN: I think Tim was one of the most scrutinized draft picks that I ever saw drafted. There was a lot of people that criticized him during that process, everything from his throwing motion to the type of offense that he came out of. The only people that can really make these critical assumptions, I think, are the people that are watching the Broncos practice on a daily basis that have seen him perform.

And John Fox's coaching staff, their local media, those will be the experts on that. I agree with Ron from the standpoint that there are some really unique intangibles about this football player. The guy that drafted him, Josh McDaniels, is no longer there, and I have a feeling that Josh drafted Tebow with visions of how to use them. I don't know those visions are the same visions as the current regime. That's no disrespect to anyone.

But when you play quarterback or you coach in the NFL, you're going to be criticized whether it's justified or not, and unfortunately, Tim Tebow is a huge lightning rod just because of his past performance at the college level, and he is a very, very great kid. I think there's a lot of people that want him to do well, and there's a lot of people that are probably tired of hearing his name that want be critical too. This story is far from over. He's got a lot of football left to play, and he'll have to earn the right to start.