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CHARGER NOTES / CURT HOLBREICH : Offense Sputters Against Cardinals

It was one of those days for Charger Coach Dan Henning that had to make him glad the regular season still is five weeks away.

The Chargers played the Phoenix Cardinals in a 60-play controlled scrimmage Saturday in front of 11,859 at Northern Arizona University’s Walkup Skydome and left with as many questions raised as answered.

The Cardinals outscored the Chargers, 17-10, but in these affairs, it is individual impressions that can matter more than points.

In this respect, the Chargers had a few subjects to ponder. Most of them centered on offense.

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Billy Joe Tolliver, in his first scrimmage of the season, looked more like the inexperienced second-year quarterback he is and less like the starting quarterback he will have to be to lead the Chargers.

Tolliver was seven of 16 for 94 yards and threw two interceptions. The normally affable Tolliver was terse and highly self-critical in his post-scrimmage comments.

He particularly was annoyed about the two interceptions. One was on a pass intended for H-back Tim Spencer near the sideline that was intercepted by free safety Lonnie Young. The other was a post route thrown to rookie wide receiver Nate Lewis that was intercepted by cornerback Marcus Turner.

“The first one I thought I had the guy wide open and the safety makes a great play,” Tolliver said. “The second one I might have held onto a little too long.

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“I made some progress this week, but it all boils down to the scrimmage, and a poor showing like that ruins the whole trip.”

Henning was also displeased with the showing of Tolliver, who was in for the Chargers’ first 24 plays.

“Billy has got to know you can’t hit the driver from the fairway all the time on your second shot on a par 5 when there are hazards around,” Henning said. “There will be times when it is not his fault, but I believe both those interceptions were his fault. Not so much because they were bad passes, they were bad judgment.

“One was thrown late, and one he tried to squeeze it there and instead he knocked it in the water. Penalty stroke.”

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As for the other three quarterbacks, each had 12 plays to show their best. And for the second time this year, it was John Friesz, the sixth-round pick from Idaho, who made the most productive impression.

Friesz, playing third, was five for eight for 56 yards and led the Chargers to their 10 points--a 10-yard run by rookie free agent Jerry Mays and a 37-yard field goal by John Carney. The performance was almost a duplicate of what Friesz did 10 days earlier in a scrimmage against the Rams, when his two touchdown passes were the Chargers’ only points.

“He was smoother against these guys,” Henning said. “He didn’t have that stage fright he had against the Rams. He was much smoother this time.”

As for the other two quarterbacks, Mark Vlasic was four for seven for 40 yards, and David Archer was three of six for 38 yards.

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The running game also had a key breakdown. With Archer at quarterback in the final series, the Chargers took four tries at first-and-goal from the Cardinal 3. Four handoffs to Marion Butts netted two yards. It was Butts’ only action of the scrimmage, but Henning would not even bite at an excuse.

“He came in cold right at the end, but I don’t think that had anything to do with it,” Henning said. “We ought to be able to send a guy in with a tuxedo from the three yard line four times and make a touchdown.”

As for the Charger defense, the scrimmage provided few clues. Strong safety Martin Bayless was the only expected starter to play even a down as the other 10 were either held out or are holding outs.

That gave the Cardinals a chance to raise the spirits of their own second-year quarterback, Timm Rosenbach.

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Rosenbach, who played in parts of two games as a rookie last season, completed eight of 10 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns.

His touchdowns came on a four-yard pass to running back Vai Sikahema and a 40-yard completion to rookie wide receiver Ricky Proehl.

The Charger defense mainly used the scrimmage as a test of some of its younger players. One who got the longest look was cornerback Donald Frank, a rookie free agent from Winston-Salem State. Frank was on the field for all 60 Cardinal plays and finished with a team-high seven tackles.

“They threw underneath him in zone but he needs to have some underneath help from the linebacker on his side,” Henning said. “His man coverage was pretty good.”

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Another rookie cornerback, Keith Collins, had two interceptions of Cardinal quarterback Tom Tupa on the final series.

“One was a little lucky; he got beat but the ball was laid out there and he kind of made up ground,” Henning said. “The other was a pretty good play.”

Charger Notes

There had been some debate earlier in the week about how the scrimmage would be played. The Chargers wanted full contact, except on the quarterback, and 60 plays. The Cardinals wanted no tackling at all and 48 plays. The Chargers won that argument. . . . Running back Thomas Sanders, in his most action of training camp, gained 54 yards on eight carries and caught two passes for 28 yards. . . . Running back Ronnie Harmon left the scrimmage with a dislocated finger. . . . Rookie wide receiver Walter Wilson led the Chargers with four receptions for 40 yards, but one of those he fumbled away while being tackled. . . . Charger General Manager Bobby Beathard said Saturday afternoon he still was waiting to hear from the agent for cornerback Sam Seale about whether Seale would approve a two-year contract proposal. Beathard said the agent, Frank Bauer of Stockton, said Friday he would recommend to Seale that he approve the deal.

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