SAN DIEGO — For passing fancy, the Chargers are without peer.
The Chargers have led the National Football League in passing yardage 10 times--more than any other team. They have become to the forward pass what the New York Yankees were to the home run--the standard of excellence.
Only once since Don Coryell became coach in 1978 have they failed to lead the NFL. Their streak of six consecutive seasons with most passing yards is a record.
The one year they missed, 1984, two things happened: Dan Fouts missed three games, and, more important, Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins came into his own.
Marino passed for 5,018 net yards to erase Fouts' NFL high of 4,739 yards set in 1981.
Interestingly, the Chargers' tandem of Fouts and Mark Herrmann attained the second-best total ever in 1985 when they combined for 4,870 yards.
Even in the "off" year of 1984, the Chargers completed more passes than any team in history, with 401 completions. They came within 15 completions of cracking that record last year.
And now, a prediction. The past passing is prologue. The Chargers may be more prolific than ever this year.
There is one very good reason to believe the San Diego passing attack will rise to a new level in 1986.
The Chargers expect him to be the second coming of Lionel James this year. Among other feats, James broke Lenny Moore's 25-year-old NFL record for reception yardage by a running back, making 86 catches for 1,027 yards.
Al Saunders, the Chargers' assistant head coach and receivers coach, has a prediction on Anderson.
"He will be the single most exciting player in pro football this year," Saunders said. "The way we plan to use him, he is going to be electrifying. We won't just stick him in the backfield, or out wide by himself as a receiver. We're going to keep moving him around and get the ball to him where he is at his best, one-on-one, in the open field."
Anderson, in his second season with the Chargers, figures to have an impact beyond any other single player in the offense, with the exception of Fouts, of course.
If he is remotely as good as the Chargers expect, Anderson will only magnify the abilities of an all-star receiving cast that includes Charlie Joiner, Wes Chandler, Kellen Winslow, Eric Sievers, Pete Holohan and James.
The Chargers have four players with the demonstrated ability to catch 80 or more passes, if you include Anderson, James, Chandler and Winslow. Of course, with Fouts being limited to just one ball, and with his inclination to spread it around among his deep cast, it's unlikely that more than two players will catch 80 balls.
Anderson was a bit slow learning the offense after coming to the Chargers last year from the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League. He has made up for that deficiency this summer, surprising the coaching staff with his new knowledge and aptitude for the passing game.
"He is tougher, faster and a better receiver than we had even hoped," Coryell said.
As if Anderson & Co. didn't afford the Chargers an unmatched multiplicity of weapons, the offensive line may be the equal of any in the Coryell era. In real terms, that means Charger quarterbacks shouldn't be sacked more than about 15 times, in the reckoning of center Don Macek.
Macek is a link to the past who played alongside Ed White, Russ Washington and Doug Wilkerson in one era and now survives into a new generation that includes Jim Lachey, Gary Kowalski and Jeff Walker.
There isn't much missing from this offense. Controlling the ball and keeping the defense off the field will be addressed, if not completely solved, by fullback Tim Spencer.
Coryell has called him the best all-around back he has coached. Spencer's problem is the inability to clone himself, about the only way he'll get relief from running off tackle and picking up blitzing linebackers.
If the outlook on offense is for more of the same, the somewhat encouraging prospect is for less on defense. Less yardage allowed, less scoring, less embarrassment. The question is: How much less?
The new defensive coordinator, Ron Lynn, is guardedly optimistic about the prospects.
His system, designed to harass the opposing passer, probably will generate more pressure than any Charger defense since the heyday of Fred Dean and Louie Kelcher.
The thing had better work as advertised, because Lynn has only one Pro Bowl candidate, linebacker Billy Ray Smith, between the line of scrimmage and the goal line.
The Chargers are hoping for 60 sacks from a line that includes a pair of young ends, Lee Williams and Leslie O'Neal, who have the speed and talent to one day rank among the NFL's elite, according to line coach Gunther Cunningham.
The interior is no softy, either, with steady Chuck Ehin, plump but ornery Earl Wilson and the delightfully outspoken rookie, Terry Unrein.