Sports anchor Jim Laslavic came out firing this week in "Sportswrap," sharing his high expectations for the 2011 Chargers season. NBCSanDiego Chargers writer Michael Gehlken asked him to explain in this edition of Laz Says.
Gehlken: You said on Sunday's "Sportswrap" that Chargers fans should book their trip to Indianapolis for the Super Bowl. Strong words.
Laslavic: I feel that way, and I think Las Vegas agrees with me — almost. The Chargers are the second favorite in the AFC behind the Patriots. The odds are 11:1 for the Chargers, 8:1 for the Patriots. Everybody is loving Philadelphia now in the NFC, but that's the NFC. Who cares about the NFC until February? The reason I feel strongly about this team is A.J. Smith knows how to build an offensive line, and you look at the people he has up front protecting Philip (Rivers) and opening holes for Ryan Mathews and for (Mike) Tolbert, you've got to love that they're deep. It's not just the starting five. They're seven, eight deep, which is huge.
Antonio Gates, obviously, is a great weapon. Even if his foot isn't 100 percent, he has proven if he can play with an injured foot, he will. The receiving core is strong. Even without Malcom Floyd — I like Malcom; I hope he comes back. But the only question for me is the development of Ryan Mathews in the offseason. He has to step up. He is going to be one of the keys to the team's offensive success this season.
Defensively, you can point to the front seven and say, 'Shaun Phillips is really the only dominating guy you have,' but it's a solid front seven. They were ranked No. 1 defensively last season. They didn't get worse, did they? They didn't get worse on defense. And special teams is going to be better because they're approaching it with a new attitude with a new special teams coach. Ergo, I'll see you in Indianapolis.
Losing two inside linebackers out of your 3-4 scheme, Kevin Burnett and Stephen Cooper, and also offensively losing Darren Sproles, a big part of the third-down, passing packages that keep Philip Rivers upright — any of that turnover concern you?
You make a good point about Sproles helping keep Philip upright because one thing that Darren could do is recognize what the blitz was and read who he had to pick up. He wasn't always a devastating blocker, but you don't have to be. You just have to be in the right place and get a helmet on somebody, and he did that. In that regard, I think he might be missed. But I think he lost a quarter step, and for smaller running backs, if you lose a quarter step, not even a half a step, but a quarter step — especially his effort on special teams last year; it just didn't seem to me to be what we were getting from Darren up to that point.
Middle linebacker, I can't say that Takeo Spikes and adding a guy like Travis LaBoy, who is a veteran linebacker to that staff, isn't as solid of a combo as Stephen Cooper and Kevin Burnett.
What do you see as the potential of this defense with Eric Weddle and Bob Sanders quarterbacking, so to speak, that secondary?
OK, I'm doubting Sanders because you have to convince me he can stay healthy, and that hasn't been the case for the last couple, three years. But if Bob Sanders can stay healthy — he has driven the Chargers crazy, and he has driven every team crazy when he's healthy. He's a very good tackler, and that's contagious. When you have one guy back there who's really a good sticker, everybody follows because it raises the standard. Everyone wants to live up to that standard.
I'm not worried at all about Weddle. I think Weddle gets himself to the right place to make the plays, and that's more than half the battle.
And catching is the other part.
[laughs] Yeah, Norv (Turner) wants him to catch more of those interceptions. Norv suggested that he dropped six last season. I didn't add it up, but that's linebacker-esque. You'd expect more from a defensive back.