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Chargers : Linebacker Coach Has Tough Calls: So Far, Quantity Leads Quality

August 20, 1986|CHRIS COBBS | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Mike Haluchak, Charger linebackers coach, picked halfheartedly at a pasta dish, then put down his fork.

Five weeks of exposure to the La Jolla sun has enriched his tan, but hasn't done much for his digestion.

The Chargers have some vexing problems at linebacker--overpopulation, shortage of blue-chip talent and not much time to sift through the cast of prospects and suspects.

Haluchak's responsibility is to straighten out the confusion before the Sept. 7 season opener against Miami.

He doesn't have to worry about feeding the horde of linebackers. But he is kept occupied by evaluating, training and weaning them down to a workable number.

In conjunction with defensive coordinator Ron Lynn, Haluchak--or Hak as he is known--must make some decisions, and soon.

Only one sure starter, Billy Ray Smith, has emerged, which means there are 13 candidates for the remaining six roster openings. Until that list is whittled down to nine or so, trying to pick the remaining three starting linebackers is only guesswork.

The Chargers waived a rookie linebacker candidate, Tommy Taylor of UCLA, after Monday's practice, but that barely alleviated the oversupply confronting Haluchak.

"It's going to be hard to evaluate so many players in the time left, but it's very important for us to pick the right combination of players,' Haluchak said. "Each of the players has special characteristics, but only Billy Ray has convinced us he should be in the starting lineup.

"What we're looking for is the right chemistry, the right blend of players who can rush the passer, stop the run and drop off in coverages."

The Chargers have been importing linebackers faster than they've been releasing them. In the past week, there have been three arrivals--Ronnie Washington, Gary Plummer and Andy Hawkins. Fred Smalls and Taylor have departed.

Getting the newcomers acclimated to the Charger scheme will require extra meetings with Haluchak--and also detract from practice repetitions for other job-seekers.

The tentative plan is to use Washington, Plummer and Hawkins in this week's exhibition game against the Rams, but to do so, players at other positions would have to be waived or placed on the injured list.

Haluchak also is trying to find playing time for Shane Nelson and Thomas Benson, and give ample opportunity to Derrie Nelson and Mike Douglass, who have been injured.

Of the newcomers, Plummer probably will have the shortest adjustment period. He played for Haluchak and Lynn with the Oakland Invaders of the USFL.

"The calls and adjustments are coming back to him real fast," Haluchak said. "He made an adjustment in Monday's practice that we hadn't even gotten around to teaching the guys who were here all summer."

In Haluchak's view, the Chargers have not added the dominant, Pro Bowl-caliber player they've been seeking. Their new players are not significantly better than the ones who were already here, but the team has been helped because the pool of job-seekers is deeper.

The Chargers are still looking, according to Lynn and Coach Don Coryell. Their only reluctance to pick up a linebacker from the waiver list would be the necessity of dropping a player already in camp.

"The net is still cast," Lynn said. "If we can find a better player, we'll go after him. In the meantime, we have some decisions to make in the next few days."

The Charger coaches want to eliminate up to five linebackers by the middle of next week so they can concentrate on picking a starting unit and getting it ready for the regular season.

"I'm not in a panic state yet, but I didn't think it would take us this long," Lynn said. "Billy Ray is the only certain starter at this stage, but we've got four or five other guys who are close, and it would just take one of them stepping forward to make the whole picture fall into place."

Coryell won't decide which linebackers to activate for this week's game until Friday.

"We'll have to make a quick judgment--not a snap judgment--on some players," Coryell said. "We have no other choice. We didn't have all these people a few weeks ago. We have so many, especially at inside linebacker, we just can't work everyone as much as we'd like. No one has come to the top, but that's what we're waiting and hoping for."

Charger Notes

Wide receiver Wes Chandler, who suffered a heel injury when stepped on in Monday's practice, will be held out several days. "It's not as serious as the (heel) injury he had last year, but it was scary," Coryell said. "Wes wanted to keep practicing, but the trainer won't let him. Wes is like Charlie Joiner, you have to grab them by the shoulder pads to get them off the practice field. Maybe that's what makes them so good.". . . The Chargers were still trying to complete the acquisition of Andy Hawkins from Houston of the USFL. He has been in camp since Sunday, but can't practice until all the paper work is completed.

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