The 2003 San Diego Chargers hit the field for the first time on Wednesday, July 23 for Training Camp 2003 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
It marks the team's first practice at the state-of-the-art Home Depot Center. The Chargers signed a five-year agreement to hold training camp at the new facility after holding camp on the University of California at San Diego campus for the previous 27 years.
Rookies and select veterans, including the team's quarterbacks, will report to camp on Tuesday, July 22 and the full squad will report to camp on Friday, July 25. The entire team will practice for the first time on Saturday, July 26 at 8:00 am and 3:00 pm. The Chargers break camp on Aug. 21.
Optimism abounds for the 2003 San Diego Chargers. The team is coming off an 8-8 finish in 2002, one game shy of a playoff berth. The Chargers have shown dramatic improvement in the past two seasons since finishing 1-15 in 2000. From 5-11 in 2001 to 8-8 in Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer's first season a year ago, Schottenheimer and General Manager A.J. Smith have called this season "the push year," as in push to the playoffs.
"This is the push year for us," said Smith, the first-year general manager who succeeded John Butler in May following his passing from cancer. "I want us to go to the playoffs. I want us to go over the top, and then we'll chase a championship. You don't always win the Super Bowl every year, but you want to go to the playoffs every year and chase that dream. Then you want to maintain that playoff status so you gain credibility around the National Football League as one of the top teams because you are always in the playoffs. That's our dream. That's what we're working for."
"John and I had a vision when we came here to build a championship team together," added Smith. "John built the foundation for the Chargers. There is no question about that. What I hope to do is to build something very special over time on top of that foundation.
"Organizations win. You build it from top to bottom, you make it sound, and if you stay together, and you get on the same page, you're going to be very, very hard to beat. We have it going in the right direction.
"We have strong ownership that supports us in everything we want to do to win. That's very important. You don't have that in a lot of places. We have that here. We also have a solid front office. We have an outstanding coach. To have a chance to be successful in this league, you must have an outstanding coach. Sometimes they develop over time, other times you have to go get one right now. We have that coach now."
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Page 2 New additions to the roster have fueled optimism as well. Key signings for the offense are led by Pro Bowl wide receiver David Boston, one of the NFL's most dominating pass catchers. Joining Boston are another Pro Bowler in fullback Lorenzo Neal and offensive lineman Solomon Page. The defense received a boost with the signing of veteran safety Kwamie Lassiter. The Chargers raided the Arizona Cardinals to get Boston and Lassiter. Neal comes to San Diego by way of the Cincinnati Bengals and Page was a starter for the Dallas Cowboys.
There will be plenty of compelling story lines to follow throughout camp. The defense has undergone dramatic changes. Only one starter (Ryan McNeil) returns to the secondary, and he is making the switch from cornerback to free safety. Only 2002 first-round choice Quentin Jammer appears to have a starting spot in hand at cornerback. Lassiter is expected to push for a starting safety position. Three rookie draftees - cornerbacks Sammy Davis (first round) and Drayton Florence (second round), and safety Terrence Kiel (second round) - are in the mix as are returning corners Tay Cody, Tony Okanlawon and Kevin House.
A three-player battle is expected for the starting middle linebacker position. Rookie fourth-round choice Matt Wilhelm from Ohio State will challenge third-year players Carlos Polk and San Diego native Zeke Moreno who played at Castle Park High School in Chula Vista and the University of Southern California.
The defensive line, decimated by injuries a year ago, should be back to full strength. Defensive end Marcellus Wiley from Compton, California and Saint Monica High, has recovered from offseason abdominal surgery. Stalwart defensive tackle Jamal Williams is back after missing the last four games with an ankle injury.
On offense, an abundance of talent will compete at wide receiver. The addition of Boston and the emergence of second-year receiver Reche Caldwell will give the team plenty of aerial weapons to go with the versatile Tim Dwight and youngster Eric Parker. Along the offensive line, newcomer Page is pushing for playing time in a line that returns all five starters.
Fans will also be able to get an up-close look at one of the NFL's most exciting performers in running back LaDainian Tomlinson. L.T. was the Chargers' MVP in 2002 and earned his first Pro Bowl appearance after finishing second the league with 1,683 rushing yards and setting a team record with 2,172 total yards from scrimmage.
The team is encouraging fans to come out and watch the Bolts prepare for the 2003 season. All training camp workouts are free and open to the public. There is a $2 charge for parking on the campus of Cal State Dominquez Hills. There will be food and concession stands as well as opportunities to purchase game tickets and the latest Chargers gear.
Fans also will see a host of Southern California athletes competing for roster spots: QB Seth Burford (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo), WR Terry Charles (Wilson High, Long Beach); LB Donnie Edwards (Chula Vista High, Chula Vista & UCLA), WR Grant Mattos (USC), LB Zeke Moreno (Castle Park High, Chula Vista & USC), WR Kassim Osgood (San Diego State), T Vaughn Parker (UCLA), G Tony Terrell (Hawthorne High, Los Angeles) and DE Marcellus Wiley (Saint Monica High, Compton).
On Sunday, Aug. 3, the Chargers and Anheuser-Busch will host FanFest 2003 at The Home Depot National Training Center. The exact time of the afternoon event is to be determined. FanFest will include player autograph opportunities, interactive games, face painters, balloon artists, live music, raffle prizes and the Charger Girls.