The San Diego Chargers kicked off the start of training camp today with the rookies reporting as they get the opportunity for a head start on the veterans, who come in this weekend. As only the first day of camp, and without the traditional crows of fans, Monday's practice had a subdued and deliberate feel to it. There wasn't a whole lot going on today without the veterans on hand, but nevertheless, I came away with a few observations I'd like to share with you.
ALSO SEE: Chargers 2009 Training Camp Pictures
Gartrell Johnson Impresses
Gartrell Johnson is a guy who continues to impress me each and every time I watch him practice. He's not hard to miss out there; dreadlocks burst out of his helmet and whip around as he runs. He is thickly built with a strong lower half, displays excellent vision, and is very explosive in his cuts. Johnson practices hard and is quietly becoming a coach favorite. As I asked Coach Turner about his impressions of Johnson, coach's eyes light up, "I'm excited about Johnson. He's got some good instincts, that's why we drafted him. Now we haven't been in pads yet...no one's tried to tackle him yet and he hasn't tried to avoid a tackle yet. We have a lot of evaluating to do with all our players." With only two running backs reporting to camp today, Gartrell Johnson got lots of work; "They can't wear me out," he insisted.
The preseason is going to be Johnson's opportunity to shine; with Ladainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles ahead of him on the depth chart, there simply wont be a lot of extra carries for Johnson in the regular season. Of course, if Johnson continues to impress he'll have a shot at stealing some carries here and there. Johnson brings some unique talents to the table, and could be a nice change of pace for Ladainain Tomlinson to lean on. Johnson welcomes contact and prides himself in his ability to be difficult to tackle. "That's kind of what I'm known for," he tells me.
It's still early on, and the pad's have yet to start popping, but Gartrell Johnson could become the next Michael Turner. I think Johnson is flying a bit under the radar right now, but I can't wait for you guys to see him in action.
Kory Sperry Displays Excellent Ball Skills
Tight End Kory Sperry made a few excellent catches today. As a former basketball player, Sperry has shades of Antonio Gates in him. Sperry plucks the ball out of the air and using his body to shield defenders. He extends for his catches and has soft hands. Sperry could become a nice player for the Bolts.
Vaughn Martin Ridiculously Athletic
Vaughn Martin showed off his natural athleticism today, using explosive movements at the snap and move much faster than most guys his size. Martin is a load, but light on his feet. I've compared him to a mix between Luis Castillo and Igor Olshansky in the past, and I think that's a pretty accurate assessment. Martin's has a nice rip move that he's been working on, it is shows. He was lined up at right defensive end most of the time, and on a couple of looks was lined up at what seemed like a wide 5 technique on the back side. On these plays, Vaughn really had to hustle in pursuit as the ball was being run to the opposite side.
Martin still has a lot of learning to do, both technique-wise as well as in the playbook. That will all come with coaching. What can't be coached, however, is the man's pure athleticism. Martin's another guy to watch once the pads come on.
Kevin Ellison Still Unsigned
It's disappointing to hear that Kevin Ellison is still unsigned. He wasn't at practice today and his continued absence will only slow his progress. It's hard enough for a college player to make the leap to the pros, but safeties have so much to learn that missing valuable practices like today's is not good. Head Coach Turner wasn't too pleased that Ellison missed the start of camp, and warned that Ellison isn't guaranteed to make the final roster simply because he was drafted. "I'm disappointed that Kevin's not here," Coach Turner said. "He's a sixth round pick. I just hope it doesn't keep him from making the football team. Every day he's not here, it's going to hurt him. It's a big deal for a young player to miss, especially for a young guy who's fighting to make a very good roster. It's real big."
Philip Rivers Looks Excellent
Although rookies are the focus at the start of training camp, Philip Rivers and the other QBs were in camp throwing and working with the young guys. Rivers looks fantastic; probably the best shape I've ever seen him in. For all the talk that Rivers isn't a very mobile QB, he actually throws on the run quite well. I'd like to see more of that going forward. He practiced today without his knee braces, but he says he'll wear them during the season.
Labels: Chargers Practice 2009
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