Rivers Adjusting to New Targets

QB Philip Rivers (U.S. Presswire)

The "my name is" tags weren't quite needed at the last week's Chargers' minicamp. Still, it was an important exercise for a team that has so many new faces, especially those serving as targets for quarterback Philip Rivers.

With the defection of Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson during the offseason, the Chargers filled his void with various pass-catchers. The team is hoping depth overcomes Jackson's departure, as the squad is looking at many players to replace Philip Rivers' most reliable downfield threat.

"They're veterans," Rivers said of his new cast of receivers. "They know how to operate."

Potentially cutting through rival secondaries will be Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Micheal Spurlock and Roscoe Parrish. Throw in tight end Dante Rosario, and it's clear the minicamp and offseason workouts were critical to a team looking to break its two-year drought of missing the playoffs.

Meachem has gone from catching passes from the quarterback Rivers replaced in San Diego - New Orleans' Drew Brees - to Rivers. Meachem noted that Rivers, like Brees, is similar to having another coach barking out suggestions.

"You have two coaches on the field who tell everybody where to go and to put people in the right spots," Meachem said. "And you enjoy that, being a wide receiver."

Coach Norv Turner said he's not worried about Rivers getting up to speed with his newbie receivers. Not after years of getting by when Jackson, and tight end Antonio Gates, were absent with injuries.

Two years ago, Rivers completed passes to 17 different receivers.

"He's become very good at it," Turner said of Rivers. "I think he works awful hard, both on and off the field, of communicating with those guys. He works hard to get on the same page."

That includes sharing the good the Chargers have to offer, and the warts of years past. Rivers is bent on making sure that the fresh faces realize not making the postseason has become stale at Chargers Park.

"Win the division - that's the goal," Rivers said, without a hint of a smile. "We haven't done that in two years. And the guys that haven't been part of that the last couple of years quickly become part of that."

That speed of learning the Chargers' ins and outs gathered velocity during the minicamp. Now the real camp starts in a month, and Rivers is revved.

"It will be five weeks before we roll," Rivers said. "And I can't wait for it to get here."


RB Ryan Mathews
Ronald Martinez/Getty
--Ryan Mathews looks more confident and comfortable and that is a welcoming sign for the Chargers.

Mathews is set to begin his third year in the wake of his best year. Last year the former first-round pick collected a combined 1,546 yards from scrimmage for six touchdowns and became the first Charger back not named LaDainian Tomlinson to rush for 1,000 yards.

But Mathews, and the Chargers, know there is still an upside to be reached for. Mathews has honed his skills as a receiver and a pass-blocker, and seems to finally put aside his reputation as a fumbler; that said, he did lose three of five fumbles last year.

Mathews will never be a rah-rah guy or wow the media with his quotes. He seems content on just punching the clock and avoiding the spotlight, and if the results are what he produced last year, the Chargers will take it.

"I'm progressing and it's going great," the 6-1, 218-pound Mathews said after a recent minicamp workout. "I'm just trying to make myself better and everybody is out here performing well.

"I'm just trying to be the best back I can be by just learning and getting better."

Mathews' trip to the Pro Bowl after last season did more for him than accumulating frequent flier miles. By playing with his Pro Bowl peers, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said it was obvious Mathews' belief grew in being surrounded - and being one of - the game's best players.

The Chargers have a varied running back group with Ronnie Brown, Le'Ron McClain, Curtis Brinkley and rookie Edwin Baker. But it's Mathews who'll be asked to do the heavy lifting.

"I'm trying to improve every part of my game," said Mathews, who missed two games last year with injuries. "But we're a tight group, a real tight group. Ronnie and the young guys are making it fun.

"(Ronnie) has brought a mentality with him and he has helped me out a lot by studying film and me picking his brain. He is a great vet."

The Chargers predicted greatness for Mathews, the first back taken after Tomlinson left after nine years leading the Chargers. His rookie year he was dogged by injuries and rushed for 678 yards; he bested that last year, although he was down from seven touchdowns to six.

But Mathews could be on the verge of proving the Chargers were right when moving up in the draft to select him. While others focus on Rivers and the Chargers' vaunted passing attack, it's clear if they want to return to the playoffs they'll also need to be successful closer to the ground.

Some NFL insiders with their ear to the ground can hear Mathews coming.

Tomlinson retires as a Charger

--One of the NFL's greatest running backs, LaDainian Tomlinson, returned to where his star shined the brightest. After two years with the Jets, Tomlinson, the NFL's all-time fifth-leading rusher, retired as a Charger this week after signing a one-day contract. Tomlinson, the NFL MVP in 2006 when setting the single-season touchdown record, has re-connected with the organization that drafted him fifth overall more than a decade ago. There were some harsh words from both sides when the Chargers and Tomlinson parted, but none of those ill feelings were evident when Tomlinson stood before an appreciative crowd filled with ex-teammates and club officials.

"Just like brothers, or close cousins, you may not (agree) all the time with the way things are done," Tomlinson said. "But at the end of the day, you love them guys. They're your brothers."

Quarterback Philip Rivers became the face of the franchise when Tomlinson exited and said this about his former backfield mate: "He was a true pro."

--Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick hasn't changed much. He maintains that underdog attitude that has helped him become the anchor of the Chargers' line.

"I just always try to get the best out of myself," said Hardwick, one of only three returning offensive linemen starters from last year's opening day. "I keep trying to get better every day, find something new to work on, and I always try to find another way to help the guys around me; find a way to get the unit better, find a way to get the offense better, and just keep showing up."

--Kicker Nick Novak led the Chargers in points and was 11th in scoring in the NFL last year but he comes to training camp fighting for a job. Nate Kaeding is recovered from his knee injury that cost him most of last year. The two will battle it out come July, with the best leg winning. Novak converted 79 percent of his attempts last year including 12 from 40-plus yards.

"There were a lot of positives," Novak said. "The perfectionist that I am, I wish I did better. Like any year, there's good and bad. But overall I was happy with my performance."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I always felt in my heart that I was a Charger." - Former Chargers great LaDainian Tomlinson, on why he signed a one-day contract with the club before announcing his retirement.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

With the team turning to Ronnie Brown as its backup running back and third-down specialist, the roster's biggest holes have been filled.

The Chargers could add some veteran defensive backs to increase the competition level there and simply improve its depth.

But the areas the Chargers were most concerned about have been pretty much settled. It would be a surprise if the roster undergoes any significant changes between now and training camp.



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