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PRO FOOTBALL '87 : COACHES, PLAYERS, TEAMS AND TRENDS TO WATCH THIS SEASON : This Season, Fouts Is a Quarterback in Question

September 10, 1987|TOM FRIEND | Times Staff Writer

There comes a time in every great quarterback's life when it happens. He's on the fringe. He can still walk into any huddle and tell everyone to hush up and get away with it. He can still direct a two-minute drill that'll knock your socks off. But then he'll under-throw a ball or two or three. And then he'll throw an interception or two or three. And when you want him to be able to play every week, he can't. It's sad.

Charger quarterback Dan Fouts has reached his "time-to-answer-some-questions" season. Is he on the fringe or what?

Is he over the hill or what? Can he throw a 20-yard spiral or what? Can he bend over and touch his toes or what? Does he hate his owner or what?

He's 36 and there are two years left on his contract, including this one, but if he quit now, he'd shame no one. He has had 48 300-yard games, more than any other quarterback. He has had six 400-yard games, more than any quarterback. He could quit now and be in the Hall of Fame.

He could be known as The Beard, but he certainly isn't The Body. He says he tried getting out of a chair a couple of months ago but found himself hunched over like the guy from Notre Dame. He was a little concerned about it, so he went to a few doctors and learned that scar tissue had built up in his back. Because of all those sacks.

He was healthy enough to play racquetball ("Haven't seen anyone on the team who can beat me," he says), but the Chargers were wondering if he could throw a spiral. He thought he passed their physical examination, but they said he didn't. Then, according to a source outside the organization, owner Alex Spanos asked Fouts in a private meeting if he would take $1 million to play just one more season (instead of getting $750,000 a year for two more seasons) and then retire.

Fouts, according to that source, would not.

This eventually grew into an internal spat that was well-documented in the media. At this very moment, Fouts says he and Spanos haven't spoken since their private meeting during training camp, even though Spanos maintains that everything's rosy.

In the meantime, Fouts goes about his business. The other day in practice, a rookie receiver named Jamie Holland was lined up incorrectly, and Fouts shouted: "Get on the ball, Jamie! Get on the ball!" Holland got on the ball.

Then, warming up before a game in San Francisco, one of his receivers didn't reach for a sideline pass, and Fouts called him names because of it. Apparently, Fouts was trying to get his timing and needed to know how far he had overthrown the guy.

If last week's game means anything--and exhibition games usually don't--it's the same old Fouts. He completed 16 passes in 21 attempts for 241 yards and two touchdowns in a little more than a half against the Jets. One of the touchdowns you've seen a million times. He backpedaled three steps and threw for the sidelines while his receiver, Wes Chandler, was still looking into the belly of the opposing cornerback. Suddenly, Chandler turned, and the ball was immediately in his gut. The cornerback missed the tackle, and Chandler was in the end zone a moment later.

Was it a mirage or what?

Dan and His Arm

Nobody, not even his coaches or teammates, thinks he throws with the same velocity. If it sounds as if they're comparing him to a baseball pitcher, they sort of are. Fouts walks around after practice with his elbow immersed in ice, just as Dwight Gooden would. He throws only a certain number of passes in practice before he says, "That's enough."

"He feels there's only so many throws in his arm," says Roger Theder, the Charger quarterback coach. "He'd rather save it for the game."

Sometimes, the arm looks a little ragged in practice, but then again, it's just practice, right? The other day, Theder had his quarterbacks working on a balance drill, in which they would shuffle to the right, shuffle to the left and then throw into a netted target attached to the goal post. Younger quarterbacks hit the target easily, but Fouts missed so badly one day, he hit the side of the goal post. Everyone laughed, including Fouts. On his next attempt, he again missed the target but managed to hit the net.

"Hey, I'm making progress," he wisecracked.

Some were alarmed by Fouts' 22 interceptions last season, which just about ruined the Chargers' giveaway-takeaway ratio. Theder, who wasn't with the team last year, has analyzed the films and isn't sure if it was Fouts' arm or his selection of receivers that caused the turnovers.

Fouts, as a lot of quarterbacks will do, tries to zip the ball in between two, sometimes three, defenders to get the ball to his primary receiver. Theder noticed that Fouts was throwing to the same guys every week, tight end Kellen Winslow and Chandler. Defenses sort of caught on.

So Theder has asked Fouts to spread the passes around a little, and Fouts seems agreeable. Still, he isn't worried about his arm.

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