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Offensive Line to Get a Big Test : Tonight, Chargers Focus on Stopping Eagles' Pass Rush

August 16, 1986|CHRIS COBBS | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The first shutout by the Chargers in six years had been milked for all its psychological advantage and was subsequently tossed aside this week by defensive coordinator Ron Lynn.

"Our guys have some new confidence," Lynn said. "They look at it like, 'Geez, maybe we are on the right track.' I like that attitude, but I've also tried to tone it down. We're not quite there yet. The scoreboard isn't the best indicator this time of year."

The 20-0 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in an exhibition season opener last Saturday belonged to the defensive line, but it's the offensive front that will be under scrutiny in tonight's exhibition game against the Philadelphia Eagles at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

Eagle Coach Buddy Ryan has transplanted the 46 defense from Chicago to Philadelphia, and Charger Coach Don Coryell is curious about how his revamped offensive line will react.

"It'll be a real test to see if our line is as good as we think it is," Coryell said. "If it's not, we will have some bruised quarterbacks. It should be an interesting night for the fans. I've been eager for the game all week."

Exhibitions rarely inspire such emotion in anyone but the players at the bottom of the depth chart. The Chargers have about 20 reserves who are scheduled to be released by Tuesday.

Of course, Ryan has incited considerable emotion in players wherever he has coached, and Philadelphia is no exception.

The Eagles are being force-fed the 46 concept, and the first team responded with four sacks, two interceptions and allowed just 35 net yards last week in a 17-9 victory over the Detroit Lions.

Ryan employed 14 defensive fronts and may try even more tonight. He said this week that a defensive system can be installed in about 30 minutes, but even if he was only jesting it was an indication that he expects his players to do more than stand around and kill grass.

The central figure in the Philadelphia defense is tackle Reggie White, whom Ryan has made a habit of addressing by name in a departure from his custom of calling players by number.

"He's the best lineman I've ever coached," Ryan said.

Coryell seems respectful.

Aware that White often lines up over center, he said that starting center Don Macek won't play more than a few series before yielding to Dennis McKnight. The Chargers customarily try to safeguard Macek's health in the exhibition season, and they will try to be extra careful with him tonight.

"Reggie is playing over center now, huh?" Philadelphia broadcaster and former Eagle coach Dick Vermeil said recently. "I wouldn't want to be any of those centers."

If there has been one area that has pleased Charger coaches more than the defensive front this summer it has been the offensive line. It appears that the Chargers have assembled a group of young linemen who could excel for years.

Along with Macek at center, Jim Lachey and Gary Kowalski have established themselves at tackle. Sam Claphan has moved to guard and improved dramatically in his run and pass blocking. McKnight has the versatility to play guard and center, and may have to if Macek is injured.

Coryell and line coach Dave Levy have been less than thrilled about the work of No. 1 draft choice James FitzPatrick, but the development of third-round pick Jeff Walker has compensated for that.

"Jeff has really come on," Coryell said. "He's very firm as a blocker. We're really proud of him."

The Eagle pass rushers probably won't have even a half to blitz quarterbacks Dan Fouts and Mark Herrmann. Coryell said he expects to take an extended look at Tom Flick, who is contesting Wayne Peace for a No. 3 quarterback job that may not exist.

"We really want to see what Tom can do under pressure, without the first team out there," Coryell said. "We'll sort of throw him to the dogs and see how he responds. We'll keep (a third quarterback) only if we find one who can help us win right now, not just finish out a game."

Meanwhile, Lynn will be sifting prospects at linebacker and in the secondary. He has been relatively satisfied with the work of outside backers Billy Ray Smith, Woody Lowe, Fred Robinson and Mike Douglass, but at the inside positions questions abound.

"We haven't found what we're looking for," he said. "It may be here in camp (there are 14 linebackers on the roster), but nobody has stepped up and laid claim to a job."

In the backfield, Lynn is still hoping that corners Danny Walters and Wayne Davis will play more consistently. Safeties Jeff Dale and John Hendy are injured and won't play tonight, leaving plenty of opportunity for Daryl McCoy, Mike Zordich and veteran Gill Byrd.

The Chargers waived cornerback David King Friday morning.

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