Chargers Employ Receivers . . . by Many Other Names

Denny Stolz was at the microphone at a weekly media confab at the stadium Tuesday, extolling the virtues of speedy wide receivers and the wonderfully nasty things they do to defenses.

What swift receivers do, he was explaining, is take 11 defensive players and scatter them all over the field. This spreads the defense about as thinly as a pair of petite panty hose on William Perry, which is to say gaping holes are created.

I knew this. San Diego State's coach only underscored my mission at the stadium.

I was there to see Al Saunders, the Chargers' coach. He had quite a problem, and I wanted to make sure he was aware of it.

My concern had to do with Wes Chandler, the Chargers' Lonesome End. Chandler doesn't really live in solitude. Far from it. His problem is congestion. He draws crowds everywhere on the football field.

Why, then, was I suggesting he is a modern day Lonesome End?


The way I had it figured out, Wes Chandler was lonesome in the sense that he is the only guy the Chargers have who can do what he does. He is a wide receiver, of course, rather than an end, but let's not get bogged down in football's changing terminology.

Wait a minute, you say, Chandler can't be the Chargers' only wide receiver? Don't they have some other guys?

Sure, they have Timmie Ware and Jamie Holland. These are young men with potential, but to date they have caught a total of one pass in the National Football League for a total of 11 yards. That's not exactly a track record that would strike fear in the hearts of defensive backs.

Therein lies the crux of Saunders' problem.

In that season-opening 20-13 loss to Kansas City, the Chargers' leading pass catchers were running backs Lionel James and Gary Anderson. Three other Chargers also caught passes, all of them tight ends.

The wide receivers?

They did not catch a pass, though quarterback Dan Fouts aimed seven in Wes Chandler's direction. However, the Chief defensive backs, usually in tandem, followed him everywhere but into the shower.

Where was his help?

Where have all the wide receivers gone?

Where are you, Lance Alworth?

Where are you, Gary Garrison?

Where are you, John Jefferson?

I'm even wondering what happened to Bobby Duckworth, Jesse Bendross, John Floyd and Bo Roberson.

Where are you, Charlie Joiner? Could it be that the rookie assistant coach will have to put on the pads and be a veteran wide receiver once again?

All these questions nagged at me as I approached Saunders on the way back to his office. I wanted to gently advise him about his missing wide receivers without sounding either like an anxious parent or another one of those second-guessing third voices in a broadcast booth.

"About your wide receivers, Coach," I said.

"They played well," he said, smiling.

"They did ," I said, gasping.

"I know you tried to throw to Wes Chandler," I said, regaining my composure, "but he didn't catch any."

"Lionel James played wide receiver the whole game," Saunders said. "Gary Anderson played a lot of the game at wide receiver."

Now I had him. I tried not to gloat.

"Those guys," I said, "are running backs."

"Labels," Saunders said. "People put labels on players."

"They aren't running backs?" I said, inadvertently proving Saunders statement to be on the mark. There I was, seeking to establish the proper label.

"Those two people allow us to do a lot of things," he said. "What difference does it make if we call a guy a wide receiver and use him at running back or call him a running back and use him at wide receiver? Lionel and Gary give defenders a lot to think about."

"Labels," I mused.

"It all comes from the stereotype of what people expect in an offense," Saunders said. "Two wide receivers, a tight end and two running backs. It doesn't work that way, but they have to have a label to put next to a guy's name in the program."

I was beginning to feel enlightened.

"And it doesn't hurt that the other team doesn't know whether a guy is a wide receiver or running back, does it?" I said.

"We do the same thing with them that we do with everyone else," Saunders said. "We just try to put them in positions where they are able to accomplish the most with the gifts they have. I think Gary and Lionel accounted for about 75% of our total offense against Kansas City."

Al Saunders smiled again. He does that a lot, even after losses.

However, in this case, I think he was bemused by my concern, as if saying I should have known better than to try to fit so complex an offense into such a convenient cubbyhole.

Later, I looked at the statistics and he was not far off on James and Anderson. Between them, they accounted for 66% of the Chargers' total offense against Kansas City.

Once again, though, my gaze fell on pass receiving statistics. I knew Wes Chandler's name wouldn't be there.

And then the light went on.

Foolish me, I thought. I should be looking under running backs.

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