Chargers' Goals for Training Camp
TE Antonio Gates (Donald Miralle/Getty)
TE Antonio Gates (Donald Miralle/Getty)

Posted Jul 12, 2008

The Sports Xchange identifies the Chargers' top three goals for training camp, which begins for rookies and selected veterans on July 20. Not surprisingly, getting key players back healthy is goal No. 1. What else is on the list? Read on to find out.

1. Check out of the training room.

The Chargers know they have a roster which can match up against any in the league. What they don't know is which players will be able to take part in training camp.

Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is still hobbling after undergoing offseason toe surgery. It's doubtful Gates will be able to do much -- if anything -- in the practices leading up to the regular-season opener.

The Chargers are hoping Gates is ready by Sept. 7, but that is far from a given.

Another limping Charger is center Nick Hardwick. He, too, has a toe issue and underwent surgery but not until the team was well into the offseason.

It's doubtful he will be healthy for the season opener, which is why the team signed veteran Jeremy Newberry just in case.

Quarterback Philip Rivers -- somewhat amazingly -- is back after undergoing surgery to repair a torn knee ligament in the offseason. He was able to take the majority of his reps during the offseason workouts and is moving well.

Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jamal Williams had both his knees operated on after the season. Neither surgery was serious, but the wear and tear is starting to show on Williams as he enters his 11th season.

The Chargers will be careful how much they use Williams in training camp with the aim of having him healthy for the regular season.

Kicker Nate Kaeding should be back at 100 percent after kicking through the postseason with a broken left (plant) leg. The Chargers are confident he can resume his role handling the kickoffs.

2. Get used to new inside linebacker.

The Chargers signed Derek Smith after the 49ers let him go. Smith is going to be leaned on, especially early on, with starter Stephen Cooper being out the first month because of a suspension.

Smith is a heady veteran and the Chargers are banking there will not be a significant decline with him replacing Cooper. That said, Cooper was keen in getting everyone lined up correctly and was the team's leading tackler last year in his first season as a starter.

Matt Wilhelm, the other inside linebacker, can help Smith. Wilhelm was solid after he got healthy last year and is a savvy player in the defense's middle.

3. Get secondary in order.

Two key Chargers moved on, with starting safety Marlon McCree going to Denver and nickel back Drayton Florence fleeing to Jacksonville. The Chargers are upbeat over Eric Weddle, a second-year pro, taking over for McCree. Weddle has a nose for the football and showed well in spot play last year.

Weddle had 48 tackles, three for losses, a sack and an interception in his rookie year.

Antoine Cason, the team's top pick, is being counted on to fill Florence's role as the nickel back. A four-year starter at Arizona, Cason is thought to be a heady player and could make the transition -- that is what the Chargers are banking on.

If Cason isn't up to the task, the team could turn to Cletis Gordon, Paul Oliver or Steve Gregory.

CAMP CALENDAR: Rookies and selected veterans report July 20 and have a practice the next day. The full squad reports July 24 and practices on July 25. The Chargers break training camp Aug. 23.

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