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Surprise: Coryell Looking to the Air : Charger Coach May Use His Running Backs as Receivers

Times Staff Writer

Don Coryell’s approach to offense is pretty well captured in the bumper sticker that reads: “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”

Coryell’s toys are players who can throw and catch a football, and even as he gets within a year or two of retirement, the Charger coach can’t stop thinking of creative ways to play with his toys.

Coryell is in rare form this weekend as the Chargers go through a mini-camp at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

With more tight ends and wide receivers than he can keep busy, Coryell is playing with the idea of using running backs Gary Anderson and Lionel James as pass catchers--at the same time.

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He’s also toying with the possibility of putting a 278-pound guard in the backfield in short-yardage and goal-line situations. If it worked for William Perry and the Chicago Bears, it has to have a place in Air Coryell, right?

No doubt there are other inventive schemes brewing inside the Chargers’ coach that will never see the playing field.

But there’s little question about San Diego’s eagerness to employ Anderson as a pass receiver, much like James was used last year.

James was the busiest receiver in the American Football Conference with 86 receptions.

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It’s unlikely that either he or Anderson will catch that many passes in 1986 because the Chargers expect tight end Kellen Winslow to approach his former level, which would be in the neighborhood of 90 receptions.

Add Charlie Joiner, who regularly makes 60 catches; Wes Chandler, a Pro Bowl performer last year, and Trumaine Johnson, who appears to be much improved over his first year with the team, and there’s not room for the Anderson-James duo to put up league-leading numbers.

Or is there?

Coryell and his assistants have a difficult time restraining their enthusiasm for Anderson, who may be the team’s fastest and most gifted all-round talent.

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“Gary has better speed and acceleration than Lionel,” Coryell said Saturday as he discussed his interest in lining up Anderson as a receiver. “He doesn’t have the quickness and balance, or the great body control that Train has.”

Coryell said it’s likely that opposing defenses will have to contend with Anderson and James as receivers in the same formation.

Assistant head coach Al Saunders said the intent is to get the ball to Anderson as many times as possible in a game without having to hand him the ball 30 times from scrimmage. At 182 pounds, Anderson probably wouldn’t survive a 16-game schedule if he had to be subjected to that much pounding as a runner.

“Gary is such a magnificent talent,” Saunders said. “What we have always tried to do within our offense is to put a player in a position to best utilize his skills.

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“Gary is a running back who’s learning other skills now, and he is exceptional as a runner and receiver. We’re giving him experience in lining up away from the ball and catching it upfield.”

Anderson still must demonstrate he can absorb all the intricacies of Air Coryell, as James did a year ago, but the Chargers seem reasonably certain he will do so.

“He may not pick it up as fast as Lionel, but we wouldn’t expect anyone to do that, because Train was such a fast learner,” Saunders said.

Another entertaining, but probably less significant, part of the offense involves the use of guard Chris Faulkner as a blocker/receiver in short-yardage situations.

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Coryell said he has no expectation of transforming Faulkner into a celebrity like Chicago’s Refrigerator Perry.

Faulkner was a tight end last year who has been converted to an offensive guard. At 6-foot 4-inch, 278 pounds, he is as fast as some backs in the 40-yard dash, with a recent time of 4.8 seconds.

“If you have a big guy with his quickness and speed, you could use him in short-yardage situations,” Coryell said. “Right now, we’re just hoping he’ll develop his skills as an offensive guard.”

Faulkner, a three-year veteran from Florida, is one of a group of young linemen who have caught the eye of Coryell and line coach Dave Levy. The group includes Gary Kowalski, Jim Leonard and Ken Dallafior, plus rookies James FitzPatrick and Jeff Walker.

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Walker decided to skip mini-camp because he hasn’t signed a contract.

Chargers Notes

The Chargers waived offensive tackle Greg Schwab and defensive back Mark French. Earlier, they released offensive lineman Bill Searcey, defensive end Ron Faurot and wide receiver Eddie Pate. . . . Linebacker Mike Guendling will be in a cast for up to six weeks with an ankle injury. Guendling, a second-round draft choice two years ago, missed his first season with a leg injury and was limited to some special-teams duty last year. . . . Coach Don Coryell said running backs Buford McGee and Curtis Adams have showed improvement in mini-camp, which ends today with a morning workout.


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