Chargers 2011 Training Camp Impressions, Part I

Visiting Chargers training camp during the summer in Mission Valley always leaves me as optimistic as ever about the coming NFL season and especially about our Bolts. Before the bumps and bruises of the regular season start taking their toll, players are still excited, energetic, and LOUD throughout practice. It seems like the players never stop talking, whether they are pushing a teammate during a drill, cheering on a good play or heckling a player who got embarrassed on the field.

Training camp is also a time to gauge player participation, to see who is playing and who is not, and to see where guys are lining up and whom they are playing with.

Players not participating on this particular Friday afternoon included Antonio Gates, resting his injured foot, rookie WR Vincent Brown, who has been out a few days with an injured quadriceps, rookie CB Shareece Wright, young offensive linemen Nick Richmond and Colin Baxter, and newly signed WR Malcolm Floyd.

On offensive, things are mostly unchanged from last year, with the exception of the absence of Darren Sproles. It was strange watching just four running backs run through positional drills (including Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert, Jacob Hester, and rookie Jordan Todman) without number 43 joining in the fun. Yet, Todman had some of that spark that Sproles brought to the offense, as witnessed when he took his turn in 11 on 11 drills. He looked quick when he took a handoff, and made some nice cuts as he blew through the line of scrimmage on one particular play. But Todman is still a rookie, and running backs coach Ollie Wilson spent a lot of time critiquing his technique and providing him with a lot of instruction, reminiscent of his work with Mathews last year.

The offensive line returns intact, including the backups. Marcus McNeil, Kris Dielman, Nick Hardwick, Louis Vasquez, and Jeromey Clary worked hard in positional drills and took most if not all of the snaps with the first-team offense. They looked a little larger than I remembered, but they look focused and ready to play. This may be a tough unit for rookie sixth-round pick Stephen Schilling to crack.

Ryan Mathews and Jacob Hester took most first team reps on offense, as the plan is for Mathews to be the Chargers’ lead back. If he is still suffering from poor offseason conditioning, you couldn’t tell.

With Floyd waiting to join practice, Vincent Jackson and Patrick Crayton were your number one and two wide receivers, with Jackson getting the biggest cheers from the throng of fans assembled in the bleachers. Laurent Robinson and Seyi Ajirotutu shared reps in three receiver sets, with Tutu making a couple of great grabs…and Robinson making one key drop that you would think he would normally catch in practice. With 13 wide receivers in camp, and at least eight with a serious shot at making the roster, it is going to be interesting to see if veterans like Robinson and Kelley Washington make the team over young guys like Richard Goodman and Ajirotutu.

As you would expect, Philip Rivers ran the first team offense and looked sharp throwing short or long. Billy Volek ran the second team, and rookie Scott Tolzien got a little work in as well. We are hearing that Tolzien has been impressive in picking up the offense, but he is no where near the level of Rivers and Volek at this point (which is not a knock on the former Wisconsin QB). I think he might have a shot at the practice squad, but I don’t know that he will make the roster, considering the large number of receivers and linemen (offense and defense), and the need to add depth at running back and linebacker.

Stay tuned this week for more coverage from Chargers training camp focusing on defense and special teams.

With the offensive firepower on offense, yet the concerns about Gates’ lingering foot injury, what are your predictions for this year’s Chargers offense?

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August 8, 2011

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