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USA Today: Burning questions as NFL training camps open


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Burning questions as NFL training camps open


Norv Turner and Wade Phillips have a combined career winning percentage of .461 and have one postseason victory between them. Yet this season they take over playoff teams that went a combined 23-9 in the 2006 regular season.

In Turner's two NFL stops (Washington and Oakland), his career head coaching record is 59-83-1, including a 1-1 playoff mark. Nobody doubts his football knowledge; as an offensive coordinator, he helped the Dallas Cowboys win back-to-back Super Bowls. He served as San Diego's offensive coordinator in 2001 and breathed life into the San Francisco 49ers' attack last season. But he returns to Southern California with high expectations. The Chargers went an NFL-best 14-2 last year and feature league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson.

"Norv has a grasp of things. He's in control," Tomlinson says. "The new coaches are filling in fine. Everybody just has to continue to move forward. We'll get comfortable with each other. Communication is the biggest thing. Some of them are using their old terminology. But it's going well."

Tomlinson says the team believes in Turner because "he has confidence and experience. … Experience is key. He's been around for 20 years; he's called big games. The experience and confidence that we see in him is what he's going to add to this team."

ESPN analyst Merril Hoge thinks Turner will be "a blessing" to quarterback Philip Rivers. "There could be no more perfect guy than Norv to develop a young player like Rivers and bring him up another level," Hoge says. "I think the Chargers will get more wins out of Rivers this year than they could have dreamed of last season.

"No matter what his head coaching experiences have been, Norv has always been a great quarterback teacher and a great offensive teacher. I mean, anybody who could manage Jeff George and get him to play somewhat reasonably is a genius."

Others aren't as optimistic.

"I'm very skeptical of Norv as a head coach, and I played for him for a year," says Schlereth, a member of Turner's 1994 Redskins. "I've heard him say that at his other NFL stops he didn't have this kind of personnel. I'd give him that in Oakland. But he had seven drafts in Washington to rectify that issue. So I don't want to hear how he didn't have personnel to win there. He had an owner who was willing to spend money, and he couldn't get it done there.

"Can he get it done in San Diego? Based on previous track records, I'd say, no, he can't. We'll see. To me, anything less than a couple of playoff wins and competing in the AFC Championship will be considered a failure."

Turner's Chargers will be tested early. They open with NFC champion Chicago and travel to the New England Patriots in Week 2.

Phillips, 60, has a 48-42 mark and is 0-3 in the postseason. His best season came in 1999, when he led the Buffalo Bills to an 11-5 mark. He inherits a Cowboys team that went 9-7 and was a botched field goal attempt from advancing to the divisional playoff round.

Coincidentally, Phillips served as San Diego's defensive coordinator last year (the Chargers also lost last year's offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, to the Miami Dolphins). Phillips is seeking the same kind of success with the Cowboys' 13th-ranked defense that he had with the Chargers (10th-ranked defense, league-best 61 sacks). And Cowboys fans hope Phillips can do for DeMarcus Ware what he did for the Chargers' Shawne Merriman.

While any coach of "America's Team" faces intense national scrutiny, many Dallas followers would be happy if Phillips could simply win a playoff game, which the franchise hasn't done since 1996.


The New York Giants envisioned great things for Manning, the No. 1 pick in the 2004 draft, when they traded the rights to Philip Rivers and multiple picks to the Chargers to acquire the quarterback.

Despite heightened expectations before last season, Manning passed for 518 fewer yards (3,244) than he did in 2005. The Giants finished 8-8.

"He's somewhat enigmatic in that we see moments of brilliance and moments of poise and physical toughness and skill that are just almost dazzling," Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride says. "There are countless examples of that and then the frustration that sometimes comes because you don't see necessarily the consistency that you'd like to see."

Manning has started 39 NFL games, so lack of experience is no longer an excuse. New quarterback coach Chris Palmer will try to help Manning turn things around.

"I think you always look to find the right magic button that's going to get him to play the way we think he can play," Gilbride says. "Whether it's an adjustment to the way you communicate, whether it's an adjustment to the drills that you use, whether it's an adjustment to your approach in the meeting room. Whatever it is, as long as it works, that's the only thing that matters."

Hoge doesn't see Manning as a bust, but he does think this is a key year for him. "He's been OK," Hoge says. "But he's got to be more consistent. The Giants don't have a guy who can stabilize things when they go wrong like Tiki Barber did.

"At the beginning of training camp, I think Tom Coughlin has to point at Eli and tell him, 'I need eight wins from you.' If he produces that, he takes the Giants to another level. But it could be hard, based on his accuracy issues. Yes, if you do some things mechanically, you can help your accuracy. But people who are really accurate are naturally accurate. To me, it's purely a gift."

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