Fox 5 San Diego Staff
12:41 AM EDT, August 1, 2011
The Chargers have done a nifty job, it seems, in adding some key players in this wacky, condensed offseason -- inside linebacker Takeo Spikes and safety Bob Sanders. One Pro Bowler is back, but maybe not quite in the condition many expected.
Tight end Antonio Gates played with grit last year, ignoring the pain of his torn plantar fasciitis in his foot. Gates finally had to shut it down and missed the final six games. But after an offseason of rest -- no surgery was required -- the hope that a healthy Gates would report to camp ready to go was misguided.
Gates is at practice, but he's working on the side. Seems that what ailed him in 2010 is still there. And Gates said part of that blame was because of the sport's labor unrest with its collective bargaining agreement.
"This whole thing about the CBA put a damper on a lot of things," Gates said. "People say, 'Oh, he had the time off (his foot),' but when you're not in with the training staff that normally understands you and knows what it takes to rehab it right, it's difficult."
The real chore is covering Gates, something rivals have been attempting for eight seasons.
But last year it became easier for one reason -- Gates was on the sidelines starting in November. The plan was to rest Gates and let him get somewhat healthy so he could aid the Chargers in the playoffs.
Trouble was the Chargers didn't make it, and Gates never slipped on the shoulder the pads.
He said his offseason progress slid with not being able to work with a medical staff familiar with his injury.
"I had to deal with guys that really didn't know me, didn't know what I was about, had to go and do their research ... so it was difficult," Gates said. "You take the bitter with the sweet. You understand what's at stake with the league, but you've still got to do the things that keep you as healthy as possible."
It's imperative the Chargers have a fit Gates. Not only for his stellar
production -- a team-high 10 touchdown receptions last year. Gates is also the only player with eight touchdown receptions in each of the last seven seasons.
But it's what Gates does to make those around him better.
With Gates exploiting the middle, it opens up the outside routes for Vincent Jackson and Patrick Crayton.
With Gates forcing defenses to watch him on routes, it opens up the running game for Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert.
With Gates as an option, it supplies Philip Rivers with a reliable safety value in case the downfield routes don't develop. Rivers has avoided numerous sacks by being able to dump the ball to Gates at the appropriate moment.
But if he isn't able to go, all that goes down the drain.
And just to be clear, Gates and the coaches don't think this will hamper him. But to be clearer, Gates wasn't shy about mentioning what a task it will be this year to stay out of the trainer's room.
"People think it's an injury, but it's a pain tolerance," Gates said. "One day you might feel like you can run around and jump around. Next day, it's sore.
"I think the main thing is to continue with the treatment and training staff. They will continue to do the things that are necessary for me to prepare, but yet get me the proper rest that I need."
The Chargers, to a degree, displayed their concern by bringing back veteran tight end Randy McMichael. He stepped in when Gates was down last year -- the Chargers are hopeful he's not required as much in 2011.
But that hinges on how much attention Gates' sore foot requires.
CAMP CALENDAR: Aug. 6 -- FanFest and workout at Qualcomm Stadium; Aug. 22-- Camp closes
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - NOTES, QUOTES
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson is looked upon as a diva by many in the game.
But the Pro Bowler who has had his scrapes with the team over contracts said he
noticed no ill will when he reported to camp. While he has frustrated the
Chargers with his actions off the field, Jackson is a solid clubhouse guy with a
great work ethic and the respect of his teammates.
"Honestly, when I came in it was a like reunion with your family," Jackson
said. Guys welcomed me (with) open arms."'
--The Chargers used their first-round pick on run-stopping defensive end
Corey Liuget to try and shore up the run defense. Although he's yet to sign and
considering he didn't have an offseason to learn, it's questionable if he'll be
a steady contributor. But the Chargers also chased away three of their best
run-stoppers: inside linebackers Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett and Brandon
Siler. That's a lot of experience and muscle heading out the door.
Instead, much will be asked of veteran Takeo Spikes, but also Donald Butler
and Jonas Mouton. Butler was hurt all of last year; Mouton is a rookie.
Spikes is an inside linebacker and tackling machine coming over from the
49ers. That Spikes turns 35 this season might be a red flag. But he played last
year for coordinator Greg Manusky, who is now handling that responsibility with
the Chargers. It figures if Spikes' tank was tapped, Manusky would know about
-- Things aren't as big a mystery on offense; the Chargers seem primed to
pick up where leaving off -- at one point last year Philip Rivers was
challenging the 5,000-yard passing mark. Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson
is signed; running back Ryan Mathews should be better in his second year; Mike
Tolbert should build on his coming out season of last year; tight end Antonio
Gates is among the league's best at his position; the starting five offensive
linemen are back.
-- Running back Ryan Mathews needs to prove that he gets it. Chargers
coaches grew frustrated last year when, as a rookie, Mathews struggled to pick
up pass protections and other nuances of the pro game. Then he showed up at
camp, went through drills and was obviously not in the proper physical
-- Good line from coach Norv Turner, when greeting the San Diego media in
his press conference to kick off training camp. "I probably should repeat what I
told a number of our players," Turner said, with the timing of a comedian. "With
all sincerity, I missed some of you."
-- The Chargers' first camp practice open to the public drew some 3,000
fans. Many started lining up at Chargers Park three hours before the gates were
-- The Chargers were pleased to get backup quarterback Billy Volek to
return. The sides haggled over guaranteed money, but Volek agreed to a deal
similar to the three-year, $9 million contract that expired following the 2010
season. It's just a year shorter.
"Having Billy back is great," general manager A.J. Smith. "He has been an
integral part of our team, knows our system and has performed well when called
upon. Billy is a true pro, always prepared and ready to step in if necessary."
-- RT Jeromey Clary is often a target of criticism from Chargers fans. But
the front-office thinks otherwise in awarding him a four-year, $20 million
"I'm so excited to remain a Charger," Clary said. "I love working with
these guys and helping this team win. This contract will only increase my
motivation and make me work harder. I didn't get into this game for the money. I
want to win playoff games and hopefully a Super Bowl. I'm happy I get to pursue
those goals with this team."
-- What does veteran inside linebacker Takeo Spikes bring to the team?
Experience and a dose of nasty.
"He is an outstanding player," Smith said. "Takeo will bring his physical,
aggressive style to our defense. I love his competitiveness and instincts. I
believe he will be an immediate contributor."
Spikes is energized to do just that.
"One of the intangibles that I bring is my leadership," Spikes said. "Even
though everybody is from different places across America, to me I feel like the
great ones bring everybody together and believe in the same common goal, and
that's to win a championship. That's why I'm in San Diego."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a good feeling to be here on time and have a full year
to contribute to the team." -- WR Vincent Jackson, after signing his
franchised-designated contract, nearly one year after acrimonious negotiations
prevented his appearance at training camp and being on the roster for most the
NFL Team Report - San Diego Chargers - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers have most of their housekeeping done in the personnel
department, but where is top pick Corey Liuget?
The team was counting on Leigut to contribute quickly as they move him into
a starting role opposite Luis Castillo.
The Chargers have a history of dickering with the first-round draftees, but
really, what is the point on both sides this year. With the revamped collective
bargaining agreement, the compensation for drafted players is pretty clear.
--WR Buster Davis, a former first-round pick, was cut. Davis never could
stay on the field with any consistency, troubled to avoid various injuries. That
was his same reputation at LSU, but that didn't deter GM A.J. Smith from
selecting him 30th overall.
-- ILB Kevin Burnett had a career-year for the Chargers in leading them in
tackles. But they decided his asking price was too high; Burnett wanted to stay.
Burnett signed with the Dolphins.
-- ILB Stephen Cooper has been a big part of the run defense, but he wasn't
invited back either. Cooper is starting to show some wear and tear and the team
was reluctant to bring him back with his knee issues.
-- WR Malcom Floyd is still on the market, and the Chargers don't seem
inclined to bring him back. Floyd would like be a No. 1 receiver elsewhere, and
wants to be paid like one.
EXPECTED BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Louis Vasquez vs. Tyronne Greene at starting
right guard. This should be Vasquez's job, and it really is, with him starting
seven games since being drafted in the third round of the 2009 draft. But
Vasquez was nicked up last year and had to be spelled by Greene. Greene - who
always seemed to have coach Norv Turner's blessings -- did well and now is being
told to go for Vasquez's spot. This could be something to keep an eye on.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Ryan Mathews vs. Mike Tolbert vs. Jacob Hester as the
third-down receiver out of the backfield: The Chargers are going to miss Darren
Sproles, especially on third downs. He led the team with 18 receptions last year
in that situation and has 44 over the last three years. Now what? Mathews,
Tolbert and Hester will try and fill that role; each has shortcomings. In
particular, Mathews has to prove he can handle pass-protection responsibilities.
-- DE Corey Liuget has yet to sign.
-- ILB Jonas Mouton is getting some reps with the regulars.
-- WR Vincent Brown is in camp and will be given a shot at the No. 3
position with Malcom Floyd not expected back.
-- CB Marcus Gilchrist will be asked to sit and learn behind Antoine Cason
and Quentin Jammer; but they want him to be active on special teams.
-- CB Shareece Wright is expected to challenge for a roster spot,
especially if he shines on special teams.
-- OLB Andrew Gachkar is at a position which is loaded with proven players,
and Larry English. Gachkar's contributions likely come on special teams.
-- T Steve Schilling is likely headed to the practice squad, depending on
-- RB Jordan Todman is looked at as more as an insurance policy, but with
Darren Sproles not coming back, he might get a longer look.
--RB Ryan Mathews isn't hurt, but he still has work to do on conditioning.
-- TE Antonio Gates will be cautious with his foot as he eases into
-- OLB Larry English (foot) has been working on the side.
--WR Vincent Jackson (tendered at $11.933M).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--S Tyrone Carter probably won't be returning now that Eric Weddle has
--LB Stephen Cooper is likely headed elsewhere as durability has become an
issue and the team is hoping second-year pro Donald Butler contributes.
--LS James Dearth got hurt in one of his first practices and never saw the
field; won't be back.
--WR Malcom Floyd isn't quite a No. 1 receiver, but he is not far off. If
another team pays him like one, he could exit.
--DL Travis Johnson could be fighting for a roster spot in camp; if he
makes it that far.
--LB Brandon Moore will likely be pushed aside with other linebackers
returning to health.
--WR Legedu Naanee won't be brought back. He never showed the talent the
Chargers had hoped for; offseason alcohol arrest doomed his chances.
--LS Ryan Neill isn't in the team's plans with David Binn coming back;
Neill played in two games.
--S Paul Oliver will be back, but at the Chargers' price. He doesn't have
much leverage of going elsewhere with sparse playing time.
--LB Brandon Siler is solid in the short-yardage situations and on special
teams. The uncertainty with Kevin Burnett and Stephen Cooper could allow him to
--S Pat Watkins isn't expected to be courted by the Chargers.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--LB Antwan Applewhite (RFA tender of $1.8M with second-round pick as
compensation withdrawn) is still in the Chargers' plans, but he has to make up
for some lost time because of injuries; Chargers aren't likely to chase away
--LB Darry Beckwith (not tendered as ERFA).
--FB Billy Latsko (not tendered as ERFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--RB Curtis Brinkley will be hard-pressed to make the team, especially with
the team taking a running back in the draft.
DRAFT CHOICES SIGNED
--CB Marcus Gilchrist (2/50): $3.956M/4 yrs, $2.107M guaranteed/$1.377M SB;
2011 cap: $719,200.
--LB Jonas Mouton (2/61): $3.263M/4 yrs, $1.125M guaranteed/$873,360 SB;
2011 cap: $593,340.
--T Stephen Schilling (6/201): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Andrew Gachkar (7/234): 4 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Antwan Barnes: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--DE Jacques Cesaire: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--OT Jeromey Clary: UFA; $20M/4 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--T Brandyn Dombrowski: ERFA; terms unknown.
--LB James Holt: Potential ERFA; terms unknown.
--CB Dante Hughes: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Vincent Jackson: FFA; $11.933M/1 yr
--TE Randy McMichael: UFA; $910,000/1 yr.
--OL Scott Mruczkowski: UFA; terms unknown.
--DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo: Potential ERFA; terms unknown.
--RB Mike Tolbert: RFA (tendered at $1.8M with second-round pick as
compensation); $1.8M/1 yr.
--QB Billy Volek: UFA; $6M/2 yrs, $2.5M SB.
--WR Kelley Washington: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--FS Eric Weddle: UFA; $40M/5 yrs, $19M guaranteed/$13M SB.
--LB Travis LaBoy: UFA 49ers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--S Bob Sanders: FA Colts; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LB Takeo Spikes: UFA 49ers; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Kevin Burnett: UFA Dolphins; $10M/4 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--WR Craig Davis (released).
--RB Darren Sproles: UFA Saints; 4 yrs, $6M guaranteed.
--CB Donald Strickland (released).
--LB Jyles Tucker (released).
--TE Kris Wilson (released).
Copyright © 2013, Reuters