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Turner's mission: Toughening, tightening Chargers

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Aug 25, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    Aug. 25, 2009
    By Tom Krasovic
    Special to CBSSports.com

    When San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner took a look at the team's out-of-division schedule, he channeled his inner Mike Ditka.

    Bruisers such as the Ravens, Steelers, Eagles and Titans await San Diego, so Turner made ruggedness even more of an emphasis.

    "Being physical, that's what the league's about anyway," he said. "But if you look at our schedule, it's very demanding in that area. If we're going to do the things we want to do -- put pressure on the quarterback and run the ball the way we want to run the ball -- it's a major deal.

    "And it's not lip service."

    Turner stopped short of pulling a Lindy Infante. As coach of the Packers in the late 1980s, Infante overly brutalized his team one August by running two-a-day practices for three weeks, live tackling included.

    Turner preached physicality in his meetings, both with players individually and as a team. He then demanded more physical practices, stressing consistency.

    It's easy for players to ease up during training camp, almost imperceptibly, said defensive end Luis Castillo.

    As the end of two-a-days neared, several Chargers said they'd held true to Turner's mandate.

    "Regardless of the fact that we're tired, for the most part, it's been physical, it's been full go," Castillo said three weeks into his fifth training camp. "We've had some injuries. We've had some things test us. But we've held in there, and it's going to make us better in the long run."

    Nose tackle Jamal Williams said he's grateful that his battered knees held firm this month.

    "It's been a little more physical than it's been the past with Coach Turner," said Williams, a four-time Pro Bowler entering his 12th season with the club. "He's putting the emphasis on it, which is a good thing."

    Turner still showed restraint. He disallowed full tackling and ordered players to stay on their feet, which he said reduces the risk of injury. Mindful of the season's length, Turner replaced one practice with a weight training session and cancelled the final practice for rookies and free agents.

    He dialed up the heat in other ways, many of them subtle.

    "When we're in full pads, we've had very, very physical run periods, very physical blitz periods," he said. "There's been an emphasis.

    "The number of physical inside run periods, the number of blitz periods -- that's not different. What we've done is, hey, we can make it more physical, and still keep each other healthy. We work hard to stay off the ground. We work hard on being smart with what we do."

    Any improvement on the margins could be critical. The Chargers have shown they can be good, winning the AFC West three years in a row, including twice under Turner. Now it's Super Bowl or bust, said tight end Antonio Gates upon getting to camp.

    A faster start can only help, Turner said. His last two teams lagged early, and it took a collapse by the Broncos last year for the Chargers to overcome a 4-8 start.
    Turner wants running back LaDainian Tomlinson in better form to start the season, so, despite the risk of injury, he approved the back's request to play in preseason games for the first time since 2005.

    The more physical this team is, the better its chances of giving San Diego its first Lombardi Trophy, general manager A.J. Smith said.

    "Coach Turner's message is, 'Guys, you have to be consistently physical,'" Smith said. "It's an attitude that goes throughout the football team and it brings success, and it's a message that's constant."

    Williams doubts that outsiders realize how determined Turner is for the Chargers to improve a run defense that ranked 11th in the NFL, a running game that was seventh and a defensive sack total that was 22nd.

    "Everybody thinks he's the laid-back California kid," Williams said. "He still has some edge to him."
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