From: SDUT Shawne Merriman said through the spring and summer that it was not going to be a problem. He says it still won't be one long-term. But he now knows missing offseason workouts did hurt him. "I've been out of football for seven months," Merriman said yesterday. "People can see I was working out. But being in football shape and being in running shape is totally different." The Chargers' top draft pick has been sidelined for a week, and it is not known when he will return. Merriman acknowledged yesterday that his injured hamstring is the result of his being away from football for so long and his working hard to drop nine pounds in the two weeks before he signed. He said he was up to 278 at one point, because he didn't know whether the Chargers were planning on him playing end or linebacker. He still views the time out as a minor impediment. He is observing practice, watching film, learning plays. While his tender hamstring keeps him from being able to make quick moves, he is running on the side and said there is no doubt he will play in Sunday's exhibition game against St. Louis. "The (hamstring), you can't push it," he said. "You can't rush that back, because that could turn into a major setback." Still there Luis Castillo, the Chargers' second first-round pick, knows what is in front of him. "The spot is there," Castillo said. "But I have to get back." Castillo, who had clearly begun to learn his position and certainly was on track to start at left defensive end, is sitting on the sideline again with a sprained right ankle. Castillo missed practice time last week but played extensively in Thursday's exhibition opener at Green Bay. After the game, he said, the pain in his ankle returned to the level it had been at when he sat out practice earlier in the week. "I felt so good," he said, referring to the first week of camp. "Then this happens. It sets you back mentally and physically. Not being able to work on the things I need to work on is hurting my ability to help the team." Provided he returns sooner rather than later and remains healthy, Castillo could still beat out Dave Ball, Adrian Dingle and Robert Pollard. The Chargers are clearly paving the way for that to happen. Jacques Cesaire,the starter at left end in 2004, is not finished working there. But he has moved into the backup spot behind Jamal Williams at tackle. And Castillo stopped working at tackle even before his injury, so he could focus solely on end. It's all good Marty Schottenheimer expressed satisfaction with his team's health, as linebacker Donnie Edwards (ankle), receiver Willie Quinnie (Achilles' tendon) and offensive tackle Courtney VanBuren (knee) returned to practice. The coach even dismissed as not terribly important the sideline status of the team's first-round draft picks, though he did acknowledge a smidge of disappointment in their absence. "When we drafted them we didn't think they were going to come in and go to the Pro Bowl the first year," he said. "They had a hill to climb, and unfortunately they haven't got as far up the hill as any of us would like. But that's the way it goes." VanBuren's return was notable in that he had not worked since July 29, an inauspicious start for a player whose injury-marred first two seasons have curbed his promise and likely made this a make-or-break span. "It feels good," VanBuren said after practice. "I wasn't as crisp as I thought I should be, but that will come with taking more reps." Schottenheimer said Edwards was "probably 85 percent." Quinnie, who made two excellent catches during practice, said he was sore afterward but attributed it to his having not practiced in two weeks. Nuts 'n' bolts Defensive tackle Ryon Bingham missed practice as his wife gave birth to a girl . . . The Chargers practice twice today, at 8:30 and 3:50. The team's second and final night practice, preceded by a 6:30 autograph session, is Wednesday.