There’s nothing like the fresh scent of rookie mini camp in the air and at Chargers Park on Friday, the Bolts officially welcomed the class of 2012 to the field. Now with the current rookie wage scale, the Chargers didn’t have nearly as much difficulty agreeing to terms with each of their incoming draftees. That meant that every player was in attendance and ready to begin their work as professionals this past weekend.
The highest profile of all the Bolts’ new pieces is undoubtedly pass rusher Melvin Ingram and he was eager to learn during these practice sessions. According to the team website, Ingram said: “I’m trying to listen to everything. I’m trying to make everything stay in my head. Everything the coaches say, I’m soaking it up. I’m like a sponge out there.”
Ingram sported the number 54 which was worn by nine-year Chargers veteran Stephen Cooper in years past. His size and build are similar to Cooper at 6’1” 264lbs., but his ability to explode off of the line of scrimmage and disrupt plays in the backfield distinguishes him from the former 54. During 11-on-11 drills Ingram showed just why the team drafted him and Head Coach Norv Turner offered him some praise saying: “We’re not stressing the physical part of (the game) right now. But you see his body type and the way he operates. He’s got a good combination of great quickness, and he’s going to be a very physical player — we saw that in everything he does. He’s got a great first step, and guys like that have a knack for rushing the passer.”
That talent for taking down opposing quarterbacks will be a welcomed addition for the Chargers who really struggled in that department during the 2011 season. The defense accumulated just 32.0 sacks which was a steep decline from 2010 when they had 47.0. Ron Rivera’s departure for the Carolina Panthers may have had something to do with that, but the need for a consistent edge rusher opposite Shaun Phillips will certainly aid the cause.
Second round pick Kendall Reyes was “a big 300-pound guy with great change of direction and great quickness” according to coach Turner. His ability to assimilate quickly and become a part of the club’s rotation up front along the defensive line will be important to enhancing the defense as a whole. Reyes is doing everything in his power to fit in as quickly as possible as he said: “Right now I just want to be the coaches’ go-to guy. I want to do everything right and I want to do everything hard and just be aggressive and go fast.”
Brandon Taylor, the team’s third round pick, will also add a lot to the Chargers’ defense. The biggest asset that he brings is an innate leadership that can’t be taught. One of his new teammates, Jacob Hester, is also one of his former teammates at LSU and he offered some personal insight on what Taylor will bring to the team. "You know you've got to be special when four offensive guys vote for a defensive guy to be No. 18 (a special number worn at LSU). He's just a real humble guy who works hard. Even when he got hurt, I was talking with the trainer, he said he'd be there twice a day, trying to get back as soon as he could. And the way he played, too. The tenacity he plays defense, I really enjoyed that."
My sleeper pick from this year’s class is tight end Ladarius Green who is an Antonio Gates clone at the tight end position. He found himself receiving some constructive criticism over the weekend however and seemed to take it well. “They’re telling me to bulk up a little bit. Get around the mid 240s to high 240s.” Green caught 51 passes for 606 yards and eight touchdowns at Louisiana-Lafayette last season, but the NFL will be a totally different animal. At 6’6” 235lbs. currently, his build is more like a wide receiver than a tight end. With the proper strength training and time spent under a tremendous mentor like Gates at his position, Green could blossom into quite a star sooner rather than later.
This is clearly a learning process for all of these young guys and their ability to pick up new information and translate it onto the field is critical to their individual learning curves. Coach Turner believes that this mini camp atmosphere is the perfect place to get a jump start on the upcoming season as he said: “We have to find out how different guys learn, because not all guys learn the same way. So we’re getting to know them, and in the process, we’re going to be evaluating their athleticism, but it’s a lot easier to evaluate that after they know what to do and they can go perform fast like we’d ask our veteran guys to. We threw a lot at them. We wanted to get them ready so they could compete when they start working with the veterans. For a young group, they're in outstanding condition. I think there are going to be some young guys who are going to be able to come in and have an impact on our team.”
Everything accelerated Monday as the veterans were brought into the mix and merged with the first year players. Only time will tell just which young players will become clear-cut starters from day one, but there seems to be a common theme surrounding the organization following the first look at these youngsters: Optimism.
Now it’s your turn to weigh-in! Do you believe that adding Melvin Ingram will boost sack totals for the team in 2012? Can Kendall Reyes fit in immediately as a rotation player on the team’s 3-4 front? Will Brandon Taylor provide the perfect complement for Eric Weddle in the secondary? Do you see Ladarius Green making an impact in his rookie season with the team’s plethora of tight ends? Are you as optimistic about these new rookies as the coaching staff seems to be? Please fill up the comments below with your thoughts!
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