<strong>July 30, 2005</strong>
Source: <a href="http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/07/30/sports/professional/chargers/23_09_327_29_05.txt">The North County Times</a>
SAN DIEGO ---- Football yearbooks clogging the magazine stands say this about the Chargers: They should build on last season's impressive achievements and deliver another solid playoff campaign.
Those same publications said this about the Chargers before last year: They'll take their usual spot among NFL's dregs, and who can really blame Eli Manning for not wanting to join them?
So do the predictions for the AFC West defending champion Chargers mean anything?
Not to coach Marty Schottenheimer.
"We didn't listen to them last year and we ended up with a reasonably successful season,'' he said. "And we're not listening to them again this season. Every season is a mountain to climb.''
The Chargers took that first step Friday, with the full squad participating in training camp at Chargers Park.
Well, most of it anyway.
Missing were Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates and linebacker Shawne Merriman, the 12th selection of the draft.
Gates seeks a contract that compensates him more appropriately after a record-setting year. Merriman wants a deal so he can set sail on his NFL career.
Rookie wide receiver Vincent Jackson, a second-round pick, went through his initial workout after skipping the rookie sessions earlier this week. On Thursday, Jackson signed a five-year deal that includes nearly a $1.4 million signing bonus.
So save two absent players, everything is bright in blistering Murphy Canyon. The team has its strut, a carry-over from last year's 12-4 record, and returns starters at every position ---- once Gates arrives.
Now lofty goals spouted in July are taken seriously.
"The Super Bowl,'' said running back LaDainian Tomlinson, of this year's aspirations. "And winning it.''
If so, these five burning questions must be answered:
# Can Drew Brees duplicate his stunning season, in which he was the NFL comeback player of the year? Brees needs to prove his wondrous season (27 TD passes, seven interceptions) after two mediocre ones wasn't a fluke. He'll be pushed by Philip Rivers, but really Brees is competing against himself, and in particular, his 2004 version.
# Where will the pass rush come from? The Chargers had but 29 sacks last year and more than a third came from outside linebacker Steve Foley. If the Chargers seek defensive balance, they must pester quarterbacks. Merriman was to deliver a dose of pass-rushing, but he's in no rush to get to camp. Defensive lineman Luis Castillo, another first-rounder, will be asked to contribute quickly. A healthy Dave Ball and a more experienced Shaun Phillips might help. Somebody needs to step up here.
# Who's the go-to wide receiver? Eric Parker showed last year (career highs in three categories) he might be ready to assume that role ---- as long as his slight body allows it. Keenan McCardell has done so in the past, but the present shows him at 35 years old. Reche Caldwell was headed for a breakout year last season before his knee broke up.
# Which cornerback starts opposite Quentin Jammer? Sammy Davis lost his spot to Drayton Florence last year, because of inconsistent play and injuries. The coaches are predicting a spirited competition here. Privately, they say otherwise. Florence would have to stumble in camp to be eclipsed by Davis.
# Will Schottenheimer temper his practices to save his lads for September and beyond? Schottenheimer delivers his demanding Oklahoma drill this morning, but it will end Sooner rather than later. Schottenheimer hasn't worked his players in pads in consecutive camp practices the last two years. That trend should be continued.
Chargers Notes: The Chargers conducted their first full-squad training camp drills Friday, doing so without Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates and rookie LB Shawne Merriman. Gates' teammates are strongly behind his quest to up his 2005 salary from $380,000, on the heels of setting the NFL record last season for touchdown catches at his position. Merriman, a first-round pick, still has a way to go in earning the respect that lands at Gates' cleats. "I wouldn't say Gates not being here is acceptable, but his situation is different,'' RB LaDainian Tomlinson said. "He came to minicamp and was here the whole offseason, and he still didn't get a deal done. The whole time he was working on the deal, so obviously he had to resort to another tactic. Shawne's situation is he didn't show up for minicamp or anything.'' General manager A. J. Smith wasn't effusive on how negotiations are going with his unsigned players: "There's open communications with both of them, and there's nothing else to say. We're talking, and that's good.'' Neither agent, Andre Colona (Gates) or Kevin Poston (Merriman) returned calls. But one player's call on Gates' quest for a rich deal was telling. "I think he has a good case,'' QB Drew Brees said. "I'll just leave it at that.'' ... Many players mentioned the boost the team received from fans cheering their workouts. Spectators get another chance today, with the team's first workout in pads being conducted this morning. The 8:30 a.m. session is capped by the demanding Oklahoma drill. "It's pretty much head up and may the best man win,'' Tomlinson said. The team also practices at 3:55 p.m., but out of pads. ... T Courtney VanBuren might have suffered a setback in his return from a knee injury. He was pulled from practice and will be examined by the medical staff. The team is being cautious with DEs Dave Ball (back) and Adrian Dingle (knee), and LB Ben Leber (foot); they will work but once during two-a-days. The same likely goes for LT Roman Oben (knee). WR Reche Caldwell's practice time was limited with a tweaked hamstring. DL Jamal Williams is also limited with an ankle sprain.