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As Camp Rivers opens, Chargers' top pick unsigned; Mc'Neill agrees to deal

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Jul 24, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/chargers/20060724-2101-fbn-chargers-camp.html">Associated Press</a>

    <img title="Marcus McNeill" alt="Marcus McNeill" src="http://www.chargers.com/assets/118/24473_282wh.jpg" />

    By Bernie Wilson

    SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Chargers find themselves where they usually do in late July, coming off a non-playoff season and wondering if their first-round draft pick will be in training camp on time.

    Rookies were due to report Monday, with their first practice on Tuesday. By Monday night, the Chargers had agreed to contracts with all of their draft picks except first-rounder Antonio Cromartie, a cornerback from Florida State.

    "Our hope would be that we could get it done," coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

    "I have no comment across the board," said Cromartie's agent, Jason Fletcher. The agent is the brother of cornerback Jamar Fletcher, who left the Chargers in the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

    While talks with Cromartie's agent continued, the Chargers agreed Monday night to a four-year deal with offensive tackle Marcus McNeill, their second-round pick. McNeill was still in Atlanta, but said earlier in the evening that he hoped to catch a flight to San Diego on Tuesday.

    The Chargers agreed to terms late Monday afternoon with former Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, a third-round pick, and kicker Kurt Smith, taken in the sixth. The team earlier agreed to deals with four late-round picks: linebacker Tim Dobbins, tackle Jeromey Clary, defensive end Chase Page and offensive lineman Jimmy Martin.

    Dating to 2001, the Chargers have gotten their first pick into camp on time only once, cornerback Sammy Davis in 2003. The Chargers gave up on Davis in the offseason, shipping him to San Francisco for another first-round bust, wide receiver Rashaun Woods.

    Even when he does sign, Cromartie will find the focus will be on the other side of the ball.

    This will be the Philip Rivers camp, where the Chargers begin finding out if the untested quarterback can help get them to the playoffs for just the second time in 11 seasons.

    Rivers and other selected veterans are due in camp beginning Tuesday. The first full-squad workout will be Saturday.

    Rivers takes over for Drew Brees, who injured his throwing shoulder in the meaningless season finale and, after having surgery, was deemed by general manager A.J. Smith to be damaged goods. Brees signed as a free agent with New Orleans.

    Rivers has thrown just 30 passes in two NFL seasons. He's thrown one touchdown pass, leaving him three behind running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

    Rivers' next start will be his first.

    "Obviously all eyes are on him," said Smith, who obtained Rivers and a handful of draft picks from the New York Giants on draft day 2004 for Eli Manning. "If you're a good team and you have a new quarterback, you hope he doesn't foul things up. I don't think he will foul things up. I think he will be part of it.

    "He was a very talented college player who's been in the wings in the NFL for two years and is now called upon," Smith added. "It's your time. I think he's extremely talented. He's been around two years on a good football team. We're about to find out how good he is or how promising a future he has. I have all the confidence in his ability, but he has to prove it at the NFL level."

    The Chargers believe they are a playoff-caliber team, even though they lost three of their last four games to finish 9-7 and third in the AFC West, missing the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons. They also scored only one touchdown in each of their last two games after having scored more than 40 points three times during an eight-game stretch.

    Smith and Schottenheimer had such a spat over the Brees move that team president Dean Spanos called them into his office for a rare knuckle-rapping session.

    Smith and Schottenheimer did agree on one thing – that going 4-4 in San Diego last year doomed the Chargers to another January at home.

    "When I see 4-4, that's unacceptable," said Smith, who's overseen just one finish above third place in the AFC West in his three seasons in charge. "We fell short and didn't get it done, and you can point to that 4-4 at home."

    Said Schottenheimer: "You can't go to the playoffs winning four games at home."

    By comparison, the Chargers were 4-1 in games in the Eastern time zone, including wrecking the Indianapolis Colts' perfect season and ending New England's 21-game home winning streak.

    Another big question this camp is the health of left tackle Roman Oben, who missed the last eight games with a foot injury and had two operations in the offseason. Schottenheimer said the Chargers will be conservative with the 33-year-old Oben, who, when healthy, would protect Rivers' blind side.

    Spanos and Smith have said they expect to go deep into the playoffs, which certainly puts Schottenheimer on the hot seat.

    "My expectations far surpass any that anybody has around here," Schottenheimer said.
     

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