"Heart and desire," Mike Tolbert said on how he'll be a Charger come opening day. "If you tell me I can't do something, that just pushes me harder because it comes from deep down. I can make those nonbelievers, believers by being the best back on and off the field."
His field of NFL dreams is Chargers Park. His field of his college days is one Tomlinson never heard of.
Go Coastal Carolina?
Tomlinson did realize Tolbert's alma mater had a football team, right?
"I did not," Tomlinson admitted.
Tomlinson can't lie about something else -- the undrafted Tolbert has done well.
"I'm excited about his development and think he is doing a great job so far," Tomlinson said.
The team released Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal in the offseason and Andrew Pinnock, the next in line, is slow in recovering from knee surgery. A third-round pick was spent on Jacob Hester, but he's as much a tailback as a fullback.
So on a team loaded with stars and well-known names, Tolbert just might be the summer surprise.
Tomlinson said Tolbert has done well when getting work with the first unit.
"One thing I have noticed is it's not too big for him," Tomlinson said. "A lot of times you get guys running with the first team and it's too big for them and they can't handle the pressure, but not Mike."
Tolbert has already learned a valuable lesson -- it's better being the hammer than the nail.
"He gets to his blocks and he hits," Tomlinson said. "He's not trying to pity-paddy you, he is trying to hit you and I like that about him."
Coach Norv Turner is among his admirers.
"He's a very physical player," Turner said. "He is compact and gets under guys' pads. He got off to a good start."
But he is far from finished.
"I've been an underdog all my life," Tolbert said. "In high school, they said I was undersized to be linebacker and I made All-America. At college they said I was undersized to be a fullback. And now they say I'm undersized to play in the NFL.
"Growing up in a one-parent house, I've been the underdog all my life. I'm going to bust my tail harder than anyone else."
Tolbert said it like his word is as good as a pot of gold -- kind of like Tomlinson's checks.
"It doesn't hurt," Tolbert said, "blocking for the best back in the league."
CAMP CALENDAR: The team breaks training camp Saturday.
--TE Antonio Gates continues to push his mending toe as the season opener gets closer. He's yet to take part in a team practice, but has worked three times on the side. He is still experiencing discomfort, but that seems to be diminishing. Gates needs to pass a physical to be pulled from the PUP list. He made it clear that he has no intention of still being on the list when the Chargers open the regular season against Carolina on Sept. 7. "I refuse to be on that thing, man," Gates said. "I wouldn't imagine they would put me on it, based on the running I've been doing and the cutting I've been doing. I can feel some changes, but whether or not I can do it to the ability I need to (is the question). It looks OK, but the way it feels is the problem."
--The Chargers were missing two starters among their five offensive linemen with center Nick Hardwick (foot) and left tackle Marcus McNeill (stinger) ailing. But what's different than in past seasons is the Chargers plugging in two savvy veterans instead of inexperienced backups. Jeremy Newberry filled in for Hardwick and might have to do so the first month of the season. The only drawback is Newberry playing so much now instead of saving himself for September. One can almost hear the friction in his knees where the cartilage has dissipated with it basically being bone-on-bone. Good thing Newberry is known for his high tolerance for pain. L.J. Shelton subbed for McNeill and Shelton is coming off a year in which he started 16 games for the Dolphins. It was the Miami massacre in which the Dolphins lost 15 of those outings, but Shelton never asked out. He's motivated to stay in San Diego and is proving it with his play.
--Cornerback Quentin Jammer was among the starters not playing in St. Louis. Jammer gave coach Norv Turner credit for looking after his players. "Norv is really good about handling his players right," he said. "If he thinks we need a day off, he gives it to us. There are a lot of veterans on this team that could use the break and there are a lot of young guys who need to play. It's a good situation."
--Receiver Buster Davis, a first-round pick last year, finally got into the flow. He snagged two passes for a team-high 40 yards and added a 36-yard punt return. "Buster Davis is a good young football player," Turner said. "He needs to start a game and go play. He made some plays for us. He hasn't played that many snaps in a row in a long time."
--Quarterback Philip Rivers said all along he would be back at full strength for training camp despite his significant knee surgery last offseason. Everyone nodded, patted Rivers on the shoulder pads, and said sure you will. Rivers, as usual, was right. But he wasn't on the turf inside the Edward Jones Dome as the team didn't want to risk his mending knee on something other than grass.
--The Chargers attracted 28,507 fans to their 13 open training-camp practices. That topped last season's total of 23,158.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "There are a lot of guys that probably played the most they've played in an NFL game to this point. I told them it's a lot different making a play compared to putting together 12 to 15 plays in a row and operating and managing the game." -- Coach Norv Turner, on his backup players, after leaving most of the starters on the bench in the 7-6 loss to the Rams.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--CB Antonio Cromartie had a cyst removed from his wrist Friday and didn't travel with the team to St. Louis. Cromartie, who also has been nursing a tender ankle, is expected to return to practice on Monday.
--WR Vincent Jackson is back working in team drills after being absent for nine practices with a tender hamstring. He didn't play against the Rams but should resume practicing this week.
--DE Luis Castillo has yet to play in an exhibition game and is a rare sight in practice. But the team swears his tender back will not be an issue.
--RT Jeromey Clary had his hands full with the Rams' Leonard Little and was pushed around too much to the Chargers' liking. That might give L.J. Shelton life in his bid to supplant Clary.
--C Nick Hardwick is making progress in rehabbing his foot, but he still seems to be a long-shot to be ready for the Sept. 7 opener.
BATTLES OF THE WEEK
Ryon Bingham vs. Brandon McKinney for backup DT -- It's going to happen, sooner rather than later, that the team will be without Pro Bowl DT Jamal Williams. In fact, that day has already come to a degree as the team has to monitor Williams' sore knees on a daily basis. That means more time for someone in a backup role, and so far Bingham is filling in on a regular basis. Bingham has the edge on McKinney, although the beefier McKinney is seeing action on short-yardage situations. But Bingham will get the first call when the Chargers want to give Williams a blow.
Tim Dobbins vs. Brandon Siler for backup ILB -- Dobbins got an extended look early last season and the results weren't good. But he's come to camp this season more in tuned to what the Chargers are asking of him, which allows him to be the physical player he is without having to think too much. Siler was expected to push him more for the responsibility of backing up Matt Wilhelm. But to date, Siler is falling a bit short.
Derek Smith vs. Anthony Waters for backup ILB -- The competition to play behind Stephen Cooper -- and start the first four games when the suspended Cooper is out -- hasn't been as crisp as the team hoped. It knew what it was getting in the veteran Smith, and so far he has played as advertised. It was hoping Waters could give Smith a run, but Waters' knee hasn't cooperated. He had to have it cleaned out on the eve of training camp and he is just now getting back into the groove; he has played in both preseason games, but it appears Smith has the edge.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: CB Antoine Cason -- Cason capped a solid week of practice with his first NFL interception in the game at St. Louis. Not only did Cason break well and quickly on the Marc Bulger pass, but he showed his athletic skills as well when returning it 53 yards. Coach Norv Turner continues to say how excited he is about the team's first-round pick, who has all but sewed up the nickel back role. He got to start against the Rams, as Turner rested his starters.
ROOKIE REPORT: CB Antoine Cason has continued to play well. ... RB/FB Jacob Hester had his second straight strong performance in a game, leading the Chargers with 59 yards on 12 carries. ... FB Mike Tolbert, an undrafted free agent, is playing well and could force himself onto the roster. ... RB Marcus Thomas had 14 yards on just three carries against the Rams.
INJURY REPORT: TE Antonio Gates (toe) is amping up his side work. ... C Nick Hardwick (foot) could miss the season's first month. ... OL Scott Mruczkowski (foot) will undergo an MRI this week. ... DE Luis Castillo's back is not considered serious. ... OT Marcus McNeill has a neck stinger but should return this week. ... FB Andrew Pinnock (knee) is getting better. ... RB Darren Sproles' knee is thought to be a bruise.