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Sunday, October 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Chris Cluff
For the past two seasons, LaDainian Tomlinson has been the San Diego Chargers' offense.
In 2002 and 2003, Tomlinson got the ball on runs or passes an average of 27 times a game and gained an average of 142 yards. He was healthy, and the Chargers didn't have to worry.
Now he's not, but the Chargers still aren't worried because behind Superman is Chatman.
Tomlinson has been hobbled by a strained groin for the past month, but Jesse Chatman, a former star at Seattle's Franklin High School, has picked up the slack.
While Tomlinson has been limited to 167 yards on 59 carries (2.8 yards per attempt) the past three games, Chatman has run for 184 yards on 22 attempts (8.4 average). And the former undrafted free agent out of Eastern Washington University has done it on a sprained toe.
"I'm pretty sure all of us worry about what happens if L.T. goes down," Chatman told San Diego reporters. "Right now, with the little opportunities I'm getting, hopefully I'm calming those worries down if he does go down, that I want them to know that I'm able enough to step in and take care of the job."
In a 34-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 5, Chatman rushed for 103 yards on 11 carries, including a 41-yard touchdown.
In a 17-6 win at Carolina last week, Tomlinson told coaches to use Chatman late in the game. The 5-foot-8, 247-pound back then carried eight times for 69 yards, including a 52-yarder that set up his 5-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
"That's why Jesse is here. Jesse has shown an ability to make plays," coach Marty Schottenheimer told the Union Tribune. "We are very fortunate that we've got a guy nobody steps into both of L.T.'s shoes, certainly, but at least into one of them."
The Denver Broncos have long been known for a blocking system that turns average running backs into 1,000-yard rushers.
And for just as long, the Broncos' linemen have been accused of cheap shots.
George Foster's cut block that broke the ankle of Cincinnati defensive tackle Tony Williams on Monday renewed the charge that the Broncos' blocking tactics are unethical. Williams was the second defender this year whose season was ended by a Denver blocker. In Week 2, Jacksonville defensive end Paul Spicer suffered a broken leg on a low block by left tackle Matt Lepsis.
Cut blocks hits below the waist are legal as long as they are done on the front side of the defender. Foster's block on Williams was deemed legal by the NFL, but many thought it was a cheap shot because Foster went low just as Williams was turning around.
"Although people may say it's not illegal, it doesn't necessarily have to be a part of the game," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis told Cincinnati reporters. "There was no reason to block a man low like that when he has his back basically turned to you. There is no reason to chop the guy like that."
Steelers coach Bill Cowher told Pittsburgh media there are unwritten rules of engagement.
"A lot of it comes down to, in my mind, respect for the game and respect for the players," Cowher said. "Do unto others as you want others to do unto you. It's a physical game that we play. It's a very competitive game that we play, but within that there are certain lines that you don't go over."
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said cut blocks are common in the NFL, and he went so far as to show local reporters video of other teams including the Bengals and Steelers employing the strategy.
But people have a bone to pick with the Broncos because of all of the broken bones over the years. In a recent Sports Illustrated survey of 354 current and former NFL players, longtime Denver linemen Dan Neil and Tom Nalen were voted among the league's 10 dirtiest players.
At the league meetings in Detroit last week, Rich McKay, general manager of the Atlanta Falcons and co-chairman of the NFL's competition committee, told reporters he expects the rule to be reviewed again in the offseason.
Meanwhile, the Broncos will see their scheme at work from the other side today when they play McKay's Falcons. Atlanta's offensive line is coached by Alex Gibbs, who spent the previous nine years helping mold Denver's blocking scheme.
Running behind Waters
The Kansas City Chiefs have many decorated linemen (and not by SI polls), but none has been honored like guard Brian Waters was last week.
After the Chiefs rushed for 271 yards and an NFL-record eight touchdowns in a 56-10 victory over the Falcons, Waters became the first lineman to be named AFC offensive player of the week. Since the conference awards were initiated in 1984, the only linemen to be honored were NFC tackles Erik Williams (Dallas, 1992), Jim Lachey (Washington, 1990) and Brad Benson (New York Giants, 1986).
Waters, a former undrafted free agent in his sixth season, plays left guard on a line that includes left tackle Willie Roaf and right guard Will Shields, both nine-time Pro Bowl players.
Waters' award was unfortunate in a way because it meant he had to pay a fine to the O-line's kangaroo court for receiving excess media attention.
"The offensive line, we've been bred not to like too much attention, so this right here is kind of a lot right now," Waters told Kansas City reporters. "But it's OK. It'll probably take another 20 years for it to happen again."
Chris Cluff: 206-464-8787 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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