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Chargers’ Offense to Get Richer : USFL Expected to Approve Deal for Anderson Today

Times Staff Writer

Thanks to Lionel (Little Train) James, the Chargers are doing just fine advancing the ball without Gary Anderson, but it’s possible the last obstacle to signing the Tampa Bay Bandits running back may be overcome today.

The United States Football League is expected to give its approval today to the long-anticipated signing of Anderson by the Chargers.

The addition of Anderson may seem almost redundant because of the pint-sized triple threat represented by James, who has accounted for 606 yards in the last two games. But Anderson has proved even more elusive to the Chargers than has James to opposing defenses this season.

Anderson--a slightly larger and said to be more potent package of running, receiving and kick returning skills than James--has agreed to a four-year, $2-million contract with San Diego, with a $350,000 buyout of his Tampa Bay deal.

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He might have been in a San Diego uniform last week if not for opposition from a couple of USFL owners. But after a meeting in New York between the league commissioner, Harry Usher, and the prospective owner of the Tampa Bay franchise, Lee Scarfone, the transaction is expected to be finalized today.

“It’s highly likely the buyout of Anderson’s contract will be approved and he will be released (to the Chargers),” said a source close to the negotiations.

Usher huddled Monday with Scarfone, his partner Tony Cunningham and acting general manager Ralph Campbell. After the meeting, the commissioner said, “We went over the entire Tampa Bay situation, including the status of Gary Anderson.

“We had a constructive, informative meeting and we are excited about the team’s propects. We are reviewing the Anderson case from a league-wide point of view.”

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A conference call among league owners is scheduled today, with the Anderson case to receive high priority. There has been some hesitation among owners to approve the sale of Anderson’s contract by Scarfone, who hasn’t closed his deal to purchase the Tampa franchise, but it now appears that opposition will be put aside.

Meanwhile, Charger fans can only wonder what Anderson can add to an offense that already features a budding superstar in James.

The league’s smallest player at 5 feet, 6 inches and 170 pounds, James may also be its most versatile. In the last two games, he has come up with two of the top three performances in Charger history in all-purpose yardage, which includes running, receiving and returning kicks. He had 316 yards Sunday, only four shy of Keith Lincoln’s club record established in 1964.

Chargers owner Alex Spanos joined the chorus of admiring voices.

“Gary Anderson will have to go some to beat Train,” the Charger owner said. “He truly had the game of games against Cincinnati on Sunday. Can you imagine what it would be like having both of them?”

Harder still to imagine is a Charger defense holding an opponent under 400 yards, something that hasn’t happened in three games. The Chargers permitted 448 yards in Sunday’s 44-41 win over Cincinnati, keeping them on a pace that would shatter the league record for most yardage allowed in a season.

Spanos is none too thrilled by that prospect. He isn’t ready to make any changes involving coaches, but he is eager to see changes in the team’s defensive approach.

Spanos said he would meet today with Chargers coaches to review a defense he views as too conservative and too easily read by rivals.

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“I know a lot of effort has gone into it, and it’s true we have some very inexperienced kids, but we’ve got to do something about our defense,” Spanos said. “I’ll start something going today when I meet with our coaches.

“I don’t know the answer, but something seems to vanish from our defense in the second half (49 points by rivals in the third quarter of the past two games). I think we need to be more aggressive; it seems like they’re reading us. We’re too consistent. We need to take more risks. We need to be more innovative.”

If Spanos sounded the meddlesome owner in the vein of George Steinbrenner, he made it clear he wasn’t contemplating any drastic personnel moves. Defensive coordinator Tom Bass can rest easy for the moment.

But it is clear that Spanos expects improvement--and soon.

Like this week against Cleveland.

Bass accepted the owner’s comments with good grace, which shows, if nothing else, that he is brighter than some of the skeptical, booing fans at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium would have you believe.

“I am not going to make any excuses,” Bass said, “but after looking at films of the Cincinnati game, I think it’s important to stress we came up with five turnovers and played good defense for three quarters.” Bass declined to directly address Spanos’ suggestions on strategy.

“It is true that for the second straight week we played lousy defense for one quarter,” Bass said. “It isn’t any one person who’s messing up and it isn’t poor conditioning.

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“As I told our players, we gave up six touchdowns, so dammit, we have to keep our mouths shut. But I really think we played better this week than last. The Bengals have one of the best offensive lines we will see, and one of the best receivers in Cris Collinsworth.”

Bass said he is comfortable with the personnel at his command, and if his job is on the line, he is not going to claim he doesn’t have NFL-caliber players.

“We have to get tougher when we go in and play defense in our end of the field,” Bass said. “And we have to stop getting penalties in key situations. We just are not good enough or experienced enough that we can give away touchdowns on penalties.”


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