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Show that you belong

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Aug 22, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.pe.com/sports/breakout/stories/PE_Sports_Local_D_chargers21.3fd6499.html" target="_blank">The Press-Enterprise</a>

    SAN DIEGO - Exhibition games have no bearing on the NFL standings, and fans often complain they don't get their money's worth. They pay regular-season prices but rarely see the stars and recognizable names for more than a series or two.

    But don't call exhibitions meaningless. For a significant subculture of players, those trying to win a roster spot or move up on the depth chart, they're anything but.

    The Chargers have 93 players in camp. They must cut down to the roster limit of 53 by Sept. 4. Today's home game against St. Louis, Friday's game at Minnesota and the Sept. 1 exhibition season finale against San Francisco will help determine who stays and who goes.

    "It's an opportunity to go out there and shine," said third-year linebacker Matt Wilhelm.

    Said Coach Marty Schottenheimer: "You find out if a guy has the ability to concentrate, take the information that he's learned and apply it at a competitive speed."

    It's one thing to perform in pads and shorts against prospective teammates in practice. It's quite another to do the same in full uniform at game speed.

    "The very first thing the veterans told me is that I'm going to be exhausted," said rookie linebacker Shawne Merriman, who will debut today. "I've been conditioning every day in practice, but you're going to be tired because it's something you haven't done before and things happen so quick.

    "When you get tired, (you have to) stay focused on what you're doing."

    Merriman, the 12th player selected in the NFL draft in April, doesn't have to worry about a roster spot. The Chargers' five-year, $15.73 million investment in him has pretty much assured he'll be among the fortunate 53 when the season begins Sept. 11.

    Cornerback Abraham Elimimian and tight end Landon Trusty, both undrafted free agents, have no such assurances. For them and the others profiled in this story, the stakes are huge.

    "Nothing can get you ready for what I'm facing now," said Elimimian, a rookie from the University of Hawaii. "Whatever happens, I'm taking this as a blessing because it's prepared me to be more mentally tough. Every day I have to give everything I have."

    Matt Wilhelm

    An all-Big Ten selection for Ohio State's 2003 national champions, Wilhelm was a fourth-round draft choice. He appeared in two games as a rookie and seven last season.

    Behind inside linebacker Donnie Edwards on the depth chart, Wilhelm played most of last week's game at Green Bay because Edwards didn't make the trip with a sprained ankle.

    Wilhelm made eight tackles (six unassisted), forced two fumbles and recovered one.

    "I was able to take advantage, to play two, maybe three quarters, which is something I haven't done," Wilhelm said. "... I was able to (play) against the starters -- Brett Favre, Javon Walker, Ahman Green."

    With Edwards healthy and expected to play at least a couple of series today, Wilhelm probably will not play as much.

    Abraham Elimimian

    After practicing every day for four years against Hawaii's run-and-shoot offense, you'd think a guy would be prepared for anything. Plus, Elimimian consulted with former teammates who are in the NFL as well as Hawaii coach June Jones, who had been an NFL head coach in San Diego and Atlanta.

    Yet Elimimian said he had to go through training camp in order to understand the physical and mental strain involved.

    "Words cannot describe an NFL training camp," he said.

    "I feel under the gun every day. It's not about yourself. The better you do, the better you represent your defensive coordinator and defensive back coach, and the better you represent the team."

    Against Green Bay, Elimimian's only action came on special teams.

    Landon Trusty

    The absence of All-Pro Antonio Gates has created opportunities for the other six tight ends in camp. Trusty, a standout at Central Arkansas, signed with Dallas as an undrafted free agent last year and bounced between the Cowboys' practice squad and the waiver wire. The Chargers signed him in May.

    "Antonio's a great player and I hope it all gets worked out, but I'm grateful for the opportunity I'm getting," Trusty said. "I wouldn't have imagined I'd get this many reps."

    Trusty did not catch a pass against the Packers. Still, the game helped relieve some of his nervousness.

    "Last year, I didn't get a lot of playing time in the preseason," he said. "This year, yeah, there were definitely some jitters. But I think I got them worked out."

    Shawne Merriman

    In terms of the pecking order, Merriman, a first-team All-American at Maryland, may as well be on another planet.

    His worry is more about learning the system and working himself into the mix. He missed 12 training camp practices while his contract was being negotiated and sat out several more, as well as the Green Bay exhibition, with hamstring and toe injuries.

    "They don't bring you out here and pay you the kind of money they're paying me to not be a factor, to not make something happen," he said. "So it means everything to me to go out there and show that I belong."

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