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Five things to watch at Opening Day

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Jul 27, 2007.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006
    riday, Jul 27, 2007
    By Casey Pearce, Chargers.com

    It’s a day that football fans anticipate for months. In just a few short hours, fans will start packing into Chargers Park for Opening Day and to get their first look at the 2007 Bolts. The Chargers hold their first full-squad practice Saturday at 3:45 and fans are invited to attend. When you arrive, here are a few things to keep an eye on.

    1. Inside linebacker

    Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm know the opportunity that’s at hand. Both have patiently waited for their turns to start, and the time is now. Although neither has been a full-time starter, both have seen the field extensively throughout their professional careers. Head Coach Norv Turner said earlier this week that the experience Wilhelm and Cooper have attained over the years makes him very comfortable about their ascension to their new roles.

    As both players are well aware, they’ll be counted on to be vocal leaders. It will be interesting to watch – and listen – as Cooper and Wilhelm take charge and make the transition a seamless one.

    2. Strong safety

    The Chargers open the season with really only one position that requires a training camp battle to determine the starter. That’s the strong safety spot, where veteran Clinton Hart and rookie Eric Weddle are set to vie for the job. Regardless who is ultimately on the field for the first defensive snap against the Bears on September 9, both players will see significant action throughout the season in substitution packages and on special teams. The competition that is created over the next month will certainly benefit both players and the team, no matter who ends up first on the depth chart.

    3. New voices

    The Chargers have nine new coaches on their staff this season and each brings a unique teaching style to the field. Earlier this week, center Nick Hardwick mentioned that he’d overheard Turner making corrections he’d never heard before. Defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell is always right in the middle of the action encouraging his players. Secondary coaches Bill Bradley and Kevin Ross are very animated and detailed. Tight ends coach Clancy Barone is a technician as is running backs coach Matt Simon. Inside linebackers coach Ron Rivera isn’t much of a screamer but finds ways to get his message across. Strength and conditioning coaches Jeff Hurd and Vernon Stephens has the group in tip-top shape as they open camp.

    Of course, several of the coaches who return from last year are a treat to listen to as well. The defensive line regularly conducts their individual drills near the fence line where fans can get very close to the action. Eavesdropping on veteran Wayne Nunnely’s tutorial sessions can be educational. The same can be said for offensive line coaches Jack Henry and Hal Hunter.

    4. Special teams

    There’s nothing more exciting than the special teams drills. For many of the fringe players battling for roster spots, special teams play is mandatory and they know it. With jobs on the line, players give everything they have to catch the eyes of the coaching staff.

    The Chargers boast a roster full of veterans, so if a young player wants to hang around for the season, they’d better be proficient in the kicking game. Just ask players like Cooper, Wilhelm and Kassim Osgood.

    5. One-on-ones

    Does it get any better during the summer than watching Igor Olshansky and Kris Dielman lock horns during one-on-one pass rushing drills? How about Vincent Jackson and Quentin Jammer going at it battling for the football?

    The Chargers incorporate some one-on-one drills nearly every day. It’s individual competition at its finest, and it’s worth watching every time you visit Chargers Park.

    It’s a wrap

    The Chargers completed their three-day rookie period Friday and now anxiously anticipate the arrival of the veterans as training camp gets into full swing Saturday.

    “I think we got out of the three days what we were looking to,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “It’s just a little jump start with our rookies, our quarterbacks and having those three veteran safeties in I think is really going to help us in terms of starting fast tomorrow, which we want to do. It was really good for our staff. It gives you three days to get back in it and really get focused again. I’m excited for tomorrow morning.”

    Turner altered the pace of his workouts at times so that the players could draw the most information possible out of the sessions.

    “We’re teaching and coaching,” Turner said. “We had a lot of periods that were slow teaching periods. I think the young guys learned a lot.”

    Big Slim

    While camp doesn’t kick off until Saturday morning, several players were in the facility throughout the week working out on their own and getting ready.

    Fullback Lorenzo Neal got quite a reception Friday afternoon when he made his way into the locker room to show off his new figure. Neal, who generally plays at around 250 pounds, said that he’s currently tipping the scales at roughly 230.

    “I always come to camp in shape,” Neal said. “I found a program this spring that I really liked and I really got after it. I feel great.”

    As teammates teased Neal about his stature, the 15-year veteran quickly quipped back, “I can still put that hat on you,” referring to his ability to lay viscous blocks and clear the way for his ball carrier.

    Feeling young

    Turner reiterated Friday how pleased he was to have veteran safeties Marlon McCree, Bhawoh Jue and Clinton Hart around for the early start on camp. McCree, who missed a portion of the Offseason Coaching Sessions due to soreness in his knee, found the early work particularly beneficial and said that he’s no longer experiencing any pain in the joint that caused his trouble earlier this spring.

    “I feel like I’m 22 years old,” McCree said. “I’m ready to go.”

    Headed home

    Former Chargers wide receiver Keenan McCardell, who grew up in Houston, will spend his 17<SUP>th</SUP> NFL season in his hometown after signing a one-year contract with the Texans Friday.


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