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Charger Leadership a Brees

Quarterback will be the key for San Diego to make a playoff push

August 30, 2003|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Listed in the San Diego Chargers' media guidebook at 6-feet and 221 pounds, Drew Brees doesn't exactly fit the mold of the prototype NFL quarterback. He's not as tall as Drew Bledsoe nor as mobile as Michael Vick. He doesn't have the arm-strength of John Elway or Brett Favre.

Brees, though, grows on you with his success. The more you watch him play, the less you notice things that supposedly were knocks against him.

"Drew's our quarterback and we all look to him," said San Diego Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who has known Brees since both were high school standouts in Texas. "We haven't talked about [Brees becoming the team leader] personally but I understand Drew and I know what drives him. Drew wants to be the best. He wants everyone to know that he's one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL."

Defying long odds is nothing new to Brees. He wasn't recruited by a major Texas college, yet had a celebrated career at Purdue, setting numerous offensive records in three seasons. He led the Boilermakers to the 2001 Rose Bowl.

But to be considered among the NFL's top quarterbacks, Brees realizes that the Chargers need to reach the playoffs.

"It's really no different than high school," said Brees, who passed for 3,284 yards and 17 touchdowns with 16 interceptions last season. "When you're the quarterback, everybody depends on you. Pressure comes with the position.

"I just know what I have to work on. Everybody is going to be a critic. Every year, I try to improve my completion percentage and interception-to-touchdown ratio. But I also know that finishing games in the fourth quarter and overtime is what wins games."

Winning games was what the Chargers didn't do well in the second half of last season. After starting 6-1, San Diego finished 8-8, with Brees failing to throw a touchdown pass in five of the last eight games.

The addition of wide receiver David Boston and fullback Lorenzo Neal, to go along with Tomlinson, gives Brees an offense with the potential to be dangerous.

Coach Marty Schottenheimer, never a pass-happy coach, even plans to open up the Charger offense to make better use of Brees.

"[Brees] has a tremendous understanding of everything that we're doing," said Schottenheimer, who again has veteran Doug Flutie as Brees' backup. "Drew's greatest assets are his intellect, understanding and instinct.

"We have playmakers now. I think having the presence of a guy like Dave [Boston] is going to help us from the standpoint in dictating where we go with the ball."

And once Brees throws, the ball is almost always catchable.

"He can throw any type of pass you need," wide receiver Reche Caldwell said. "He can throw short balls and medium balls. And, he puts his deep balls right there ... right where they need to be caught."

Brees has impressed his teammates with his leadership this exhibition season, which ended for the Chargers with Friday night's 24-3 victory over San Francisco.

"He's a perfectionist and that's a good thing," said safety Kwamie Lassiter, who signed with the Chargers after nine seasons with Arizona. "He wants to be the best. Last year when I was [playing for the Cardinals], we faced [Brees] and ... threw a lot of looks at him. We tried to get as many hands as we could in his face and made him make decisions that he didn't want to make.

"But playing against him in camp now, it's a totally different thing. He is able to pick up things well. He's making the right decisions and the correct checks. I've seen a lot of growth from him since I faced him last season."

Added Flutie, "Drew's grasp of the offense and his leadership has improved. He's doing a great job of working with the other players and he's at the point where he's a coach on the field."

Will that add up to San Diego's first playoff appearance since 1995? Only time will tell, but based on Brees' track record, it could happen sooner than later.

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