Saunders Sees Hope for Future

Times Staff Writer

The Chargers had a new coach and a new quarterback Sunday, and it showed.

Al Saunders, the new coach, had a game plan that seemed designed for Red Grange. The ratio of runs to passes was nearly 4 to 1.

The numbers on Tom Flick, the new quarterback, were even more disheartening to the team's followers, who have come to be connoisseurs of the pass. He completed four passes to his receivers and four to Kansas City defensive backs.

These developments brought a serenade of boos from the fans, who watched the Chargers blow a 16-0 lead and lose, 24-23, for their eighth consecutive defeat.

The day after brought some moderately encouraging news.

Saunders said the run is not necessarily the wave of the future. And, though Flick is still listed as the starter, Dan Fouts is feeling better and has not been ruled out of this week's game at Denver.

Neither has the No. 2 quarterback, Mark Herrmann, who, like Fouts, is recovering from a concussion.

The Broncos are 16-point favorites.

Saunders was decidedly upbeat in the wake of his first defeat since assuming control from Don Coryell, who resigned last week.

He said the physical and emotional effort by his players was "unbelievable . . . magnificent . . . a step in the right direction."

The Chargers established a style he wants to continue--physical and aggressive.

The running game also will be part of Saunders' style, but not to the extent used Sunday.

In the short term, the San Diego rushing attack will be affected by injuries to Tim Spencer and Buford McGee. Spencer may be out this week with foot and ankle injuries. McGee will go on injured reserve after arthroscopic surgery on both knees. The Chargers may activate Curtis Adams to team with Gary Anderson, their only healthy runner.

In the long run, the Chargers will remain a passing team, according to their new coach.

"Every team I've been associated with has thrown the ball and thrown it well," Saunders said.

The identity of this week's primary quarterback may remain unknown until Friday or Saturday.

Flick will yield to Fouts or Herrmann if either shows an absence of symptoms related to their concussions.

Fouts, who suffered his second concussion of the season in a game at Kansas City on Oct. 19, is feeling better but was still a bit fuzzy Monday, Saunders said.

Trainer Mark Howard reported that Fouts is making progress but is still only 50-50 to play this week.

"Dan exercised today without a headache," Howard said. "He has to stay on this course with no symptoms as we increase his activity. He is thinking clearly and his sense of humor is coming back."

Fouts feels better than Herrmann, but Herrmann, who, unlike Fouts, has suffered just one concussion, could be clear of symptoms sooner than Fouts, according to the trainer.

"I wouldn't count on either of them being able to play, but I wouldn't count either of them out yet, either," Howard said.

Fouts has been warned that he must be completely well before playing again. If he suffers a third head injury, he will be out for the rest of the season, Howard said.

Herrmann hasn't made much progress in the last few days. He rode an exercise bike Monday and got a headache, which was a setback, the trainer said.

Herrmann, injured a week ago at Philadelphia, will try the bike again Wednesday. If he feels better, he will then be allowed to run. It may not be known until Friday if he will be available for anything other than emergency duty this weekend.

Because of the uncertainty regarding Fouts and Herrmann, Flick remains the starter.

And he will get most of the work in practice this week.

"Tom had only a week to prepare for his first start in the NFL," Saunders said. "In effect, he had eight weeks of dormancy since training camp. We hope he will be a week sharper and a week better this week."

Flick, who completed 4 of 17 passes for 42 yards and 4 interceptions, said he might have studied too much and put too much pressure on himself last week.

Saunders seemed to agree.

"It's harder for some guys to be the starter," Saunders said. "It's like some pitchers are better as relievers. It's easier to come out of the bullpen. . . . We tried to take some of the pressure off Tom by running the ball."

The coach also compared Flick to a golfer facing a 10-foot putt with a $100,000 payoff at stake.

"He's made that same putt thousands of times, but all of a sudden his palms get sweaty, the grip gets tight and the club speeds up," Saunders said.

"Each guy has an internal mechanism for preparing himself. You have to find a way to dissociate yourself from external pressures. That comes from experience and repetition. It's easier after 14 years than after one week on the job."

Flick's nervousness against Kansas City was somewhat offset by his teammates' all-out effort.

"We stressed that we had to play 60 minutes at a high level of emotion and intensity," Saunders said. "That was what we needed to turn a seven-game losing streak into a positive experience. It was but a step, but it was a stride in the right direction.

"We were very encouraged that we have the players who put forth the effort for 60 minutes. We might not have the talent to win the Super Bowl yet, but we couldn't have made a better effort. And I don't know if we could have played any better on defense than we did in the first half."

Saunders said his game plan was designed to beat Kansas City, not to set a standard for the future. He called it an atypical game, one dictated by the available personnel.

In other words, the Chargers will throw a lot more at Denver if they have either Fouts or Herrmann.

If the Chargers are forced to attempt another conservative, ball-control game, they will have to reduce turnovers and penalties.

"Those are the criminal elements of offensive football," Saunders said. "We had players who were overly aggressive (against the Chiefs). We need poise, which is a by-product of experience. We aren't a very mature football team."

They aren't very healthy, either. The backfield isn't the only depleted area. Linebackers Woody Lowe (strained groin) and Andy Hawkins (hamstring) are questionable for this week.

"We're rather decimated," Saunders said. "We have to patch the holes in the side of the boat. . . . It's been a rocky road up the stream."

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