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Time for a Charger Huddle?

Times Staff Writer

Slumping teams tend to receive advice from every direction. Coaches, girlfriends, the media, fans--everybody short of Dr. Ruth seems to have unsolicited advice.

The Chargers, who certainly qualify as a slumping team after Sunday’s punchless 17-13 loss to the Raiders, are trying to figure out what’s behind their 1-3 start.

On the assumption that nobody knows what ails the Chargers better than the players themselves, Kellen Winslow and Wes Chandler said Monday that they will push for a team meeting this week.

“If we are going to be legitimate contenders for the playoffs, something has to be done, and everybody on the team has to understand that fully,” Winslow said in proposing a players-only meeting that would be followed by a meeting with coaches in attendance.

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Chandler, the team’s player representative, warmed up to the idea while answering questions about Winslow’s suggestion.

“I didn’t have pleasant thoughts Sunday night about where this team may be headed,” Chandler said. “I don’t want us to have to live on preseason memories to have something to smile about.”

Owner Alex Spanos said he had no objection to a team meeting and thought it might be a positive step.

“I’m disappointed in our offense, just like the players are, but there are still 12 games left, and I’m still optimistic,” Spanos said. “We’ll get things worked out.”

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With a forthcoming Monday night game against Seattle at the Kingdome, the Chargers believe they are in a must-win position. Otherwise, they could watch the flame go out of their season before mid-October.

The long-awaited arrival of the Charger defense, which sacked Raider quarterback Marc Wilson eight times and permitted only two touchdowns, has been more than offset by the crackup of Air Coryell. The San Diego offense has scored only two field goals in the second half of the last three games, a showing that has stung and mystified veteran players.

“We can’t let this be our downfall for the rest of the year,” Lionel James said.

It was somehow fitting that he was resting flat on his back in the locker room as he spoke. A day earlier, he had been leveled by Raider defensive back Vann McElroy, who delivered what James said was the hardest hit he has ever received.

James was the only healthy running back available to the Chargers Sunday. Gary Anderson was limited by a hip pointer, Buford McGee was slowed by a knee injury and Tim Spencer didn’t play because of a bad knee.

Those personnel shortcomings detracted from the offense but should not be used as an excuse, according to Coach Don Coryell.

“Dan (Fouts) was a touch off at times, but our receivers just didn’t make the big catches,” Coryell said. “Two of the three interceptions were the fault of receivers who just let the ball go through their hands. Our receivers have got to take the ball away from people. You can’t drop anything you can touch, or you don’t win ballgames.”

Coryell, like every player questioned, was at pains to exonerate Fouts for his third straight substandard performance.

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“Dan gave one of the most courageous efforts I’ve ever seen,” Coryell said. “His nose was splattered all over his face. I didn’t realize how bad it was, or how painful it must have been, until I went up and talked with him while the doctor was putting his nose back in place.”

Fouts, whose nose was smashed by Raider defensive lineman Bill Pickel, will get an extra day to recover this week. Fouts, plus Anderson, Spencer and McGee, should be well by Monday night. In the meantime, the Chargers will conduct only a light, back-to-basics workout Wednesday before resuming their normal practice routine Thursday.

The importance of Monday night’s game can’t be overstated, according to Winslow.

“If anybody had said to me before the season that we’d be 1-3, I’d have bet my house against it, and I don’t bet on anything,” Winslow said. “I refuse to believe we’re also-rans. There is plenty of time to regroup and get on the same page (wavelength).

“But I think we all need to sit down and discuss what’s going on. We could very will be the cream of the AFC West. Everybody has their view of why we’re 1-3, not 4-0. I know the talent and leadership are here. The nucleus of this team has to take charge.”

Winslow said it is his intention to call on Fouts, Chandler, Billy Ray Smith, Dee Hardison and Gill Byrd to discuss the idea of a team meeting.

He recalled a 1981 meeting after a Monday night loss at Seattle and before a game at Oakland, when the Chargers were in danger of being eliminated from the playoffs.

That meeting was convened by offensive linemen Doug Wilkerson and Billy Shields, Winslow said. In it, players aired their frustrations and came to an understanding of what individuals needed to do. The Chargers went on to beat the Raiders, 55-21, and advance to the playoffs.

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The chemistry of the 1986 Chargers is significantly different from the 1981 team, according to Winslow.

“There are a lot of people here now who really don’t know each other too well,” he said. “We have young players who were facing the Raiders for the first time, and who will be playing in the Kingdome for the first time. Sometimes in pro sports, it’s more mental than physical. We need to brainstorm right now.”

Winslow said each player must look at his own shortcomings rather than point the finger at others. “We certainly can’t sit back and say Dan had a bad day,” Winslow said. “That’s a cop-out. I know I had a lousy day against the Raiders.”

Although Winslow said he didn’t think the coaching staff could be faulted for the poor start, Chandler seems to believe that the players would benefit from subtle changes by coaches and management.

“It’s going to take management as well as players to make this a happy season,” Chandler said. “The coaches have to--we all have to--come closer. Sometimes, if a player is not performing to the best of his ability, a coach has to be able to understand that. . . . Sometimes it takes encouragement, not only from teammates but from the individuals you work under.”

Chandler said he would favor a soul-searching meeting without the coaches, then a meeting with the coaches present.

“This is a business, and there are some things on the agenda to be taken care of,” he said. “The attention span of young players is hard to control at times. They tend to forget and make mistakes. But if you get down on a guy, you may never reach him or bring him out of his shell.”

Veteran receiver Charlie Joiner said the slump is simply part of the cycle in pro sports. “It just proves that athletes are human beings, subject to letdowns like other people,” he said.

Spencer said he thinks it’s too early to discount the Chargers’ playoff hopes. “We’ve only lost three games,” he said. “We’ll be all right. But the Seattle game is definitely going to be a challenge for us, and we need to win it if we want to do anything this year.”

Charger Notes The Chargers, in an effort to upgrade their secondary, obtained New England rookie safety Vencie Glenn for an undisclosed 1987 draft choice. Coryell said Glenn will be tried at cornerback as well as safety. The Chargers also plan to take an extended look at another new defensive back, Ken Taylor, a free agent who signed two weeks ago. . . . Rookie defensive end Leslie O’Neal, who made three sacks against the Raiders, said he played at about 265 pounds, nearly 10 pounds over his normal weight. Although he felt stronger, he got tired as the game wore on, so he plans to weigh in at 255 next Monday. It’s mostly a matter of cutting down on his pizza consumption, O’Neal said.


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