Training Camp: Young Stars Take a Step Back

Coach Norv Turner (Donald Miralle/Getty)

After enjoying nothing but success during the first four days of training camp, a few key youngsters took a step back on Tuesday. Scott Chandler put on a disappointing display as a blocker while Paul Oliver looked out of place with the first-team defense. So what went wrong? Michael Kranzler was on the scene and has all the answers.

Chandler's Blocking Bungles

The Chargers worked out in "shells" on Tuesday, but practice was not short on contact. Scott Chandler struggled in individual blocking drills, whiffing badly against both Antwan Applewhite and Marques Harris by getting overextended and losing his balance.

Chandler's blocking deficiencies kept him off of the field last season, and he needs to improve dramatically during training camp in order to be productive while Antonio Gates is still on the sidelines. Chandler is a strong receiver and a dangerous red zone weapon, but until he becomes a stronger blocker he will struggle to get the playing time he desires, especially once the team is back at full strength. With Brandon Manumaleuna showing improved speed and hands, Chandler may have to fight to see the field even with Gates on the sideline if he cannot improve as a blocker.

Oliver Owned by Chambers

Paul Oliver worked in with the first team today but struggled in that role. He gave up several big plays to Chris Chambers, including one where Oliver committed pass interference yet Chambers still made the deep grab. Antoine Cason had better success with the second team, usually finding himself in the right position and even intercepting a pass from Billy Volek during the two-minute drill that was tipped by Tra Battle.

Runners and Receivers

The offense is looking to add some new wrinkles to the playbook, including an increased reliance on running backs catching the ball out of the backfield. With LaDainian Tomlinson healthy and backups Darren Sproles and Jacob Hester also strong receivers, Norv Turner may be looking to get the ball into the hands of these weapons in any way possible.

Slotted for Success

Buster Davis worked with the first team offense today and showed good quickness as a slot receiver. While Legedu Naanee is a capable (and often dangerous) receiver from any spot on the field, Davis' skill-set suits him perfectly as a slot receiver. He is quick enough to run short patterns to keep the chains moving, but he can also be a weapon in the backfield by running reverses.

While Naanee has had a better camp so far, it wouldn't be surprising to see Davis win the No. 3 receiver spot while Naanee gets worked in regularly to spell either Chris Chambers or Vincent Jackson on the outside. Naanee has the potential to be a very good wide receiver, and his skill-set may suit him best on the outside.

Vinnedge Vexes Coaches

Rookie punter Billy Vinnedge continued to struggle with inconsistency today, kicking one ball so badly that the coaches had to again revert to the JUGS machine so that the punt returners could put in some work of their own. Vinnedge has a strong leg, but he seems to be unable to kick the ball with any sort of consistency.

Rookie Report

Jacob Hester came crashing back to earth as he had one of his first rough practices today, especially in blocking drills. After getting knocked backwards several yards by a charging Stephen Cooper, Hester lowered his head and completely missed a blitzing Jason Brisbane. While he had several good runs and receptions after that, Hester ended his day by being knocked to the ground by Clinton Hart when he tried to run the ball up the middle in a full-team red zone drill.

Two rookies have really begun to stand out from the crowd with their play over the past week. DeJuan Tribble has been very solid in coverage, breaking up several passes while never seeming to be out of place. His small size and the lack of available roster spots may keep him on the practice squad this season, but he is a playmaker and is definitely someone to watch over the next few years.

On the offensive side of the ball, Gary Banks has continued to turn heads with his play at wide receiver. He made several difficult catches today, including a diving grab of a ball tipped by Antoine Cason. While there likely will not be a roster spot available for him, barring any significant injuries, the former Chicago Cubs minor leaguer is proving that he belongs in the NFL.

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