LaDainian Tomlinson (Donald Miralle/Getty)
LaDainian Tomlinson's offseason is usually pretty mundane: Work out like a fiend, do a few commercials and arrive at training camp with the hunger for success which has marked each of his eight NFL seasons.
But this offseason was a tad different. It started with attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
"When he was sworn in it was an emotional moment," LaDainian Tomlinson said. "That was when to me it sank in."
Tomlinson didn't know if his ninth NFL season would include hanging his shingle in San Diego. The team needed him to restructure his contract, and there were no guarantees the two sides would find common ground.
Despite being one of the top running backs in NFL history, Tomlinson was coming off his least productive season -- and he was turning 30 in the down months.
"There was a part of me that doubted it," Tomlinson said of his return. "I wasn't sure if it was going to happen or not."
It did, with Tomlinson tweaking his contract so he'll be back at least one more season. And one more time, he can hear the detractors after finishing the season with a groin injury that derailed his playoff time. But he's confident there is plenty of tread left on his tires.
"It was the same thing when I came into the league," he said. "They asked why did I think I could be the best back? It was just something you feel, of knowing yourself.
"(Now) it's just being healthy and proving I can still perform at a high level. That is the only thing for me: I still want to prove I can be part of the offense and help this team win a championship."
The Chargers have thought for some time the time was right for them to reach their second Super Bowl ever. In the last two seasons they have advanced to the divisional playoff game and the AFC Championship Game.
"I think there's a sense of urgency," Tomlinson said of the Super Bowl chase. "We've been at this spot, come close two times.
"But I don't want to say the window of opportunity is closing unless there are plans of dismantling the team with different players."
Every team gets adjusted during the offseason. The Chargers are no different.
What was different was that Tomlinson's name was in the mix for a change.
That, for now, has changed as a fit Tomlinson continues to shine in the team's offseason workouts.
--Quarterback Philip Rivers sounded fired up.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson and QB Philip Rivers.
Big deal -- Rivers always sounds fired up.
This being May instead of November matters little to Rivers. The revved leader of the Chargers' offense is the equivalent of a gym rat in how it relates to football. He loves the game, loves talking about it, he loves competing.
That translates into an upbeat Rivers taking part in the minicamp and looking forward to the upcoming offseason coaching sessions.
There's another reason Rivers is so gung-ho. Unlike last offseason, he's not rebounding from a serious knee injury.
"You get back here and get excited," Rivers said. "It's fun to get back going. The fact that we're so healthy, it helps in many different ways."
The Chargers are more fit. Rivers' knee surgery is behind him, same goes for Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman. And tight end Antonio Gates, another Pro Bowler, isn't walking gingerly on a sore toe.
Three of the team's biggest contributors seemed primed for big seasons.
For Rivers it's the first time in three offseasons where pain isn't a constant companion. Two years ago, it was a foot injury which derailed his preparations.
"I think the one thing that's been a lot better is not having to rehab," Rivers said. "The injuries the past two offseasons have made it not very much fun the first couple of months. That was good to be able to enjoy February and do some working out, running around."
Rivers will have a tough time topping last season. He set a Chargers franchise record with 34 touchdown passes and led the league and set another Chargers mark with a 105.5 quarterback rating. It's clear with future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson on the backside of his career that Rivers is the face of this explosive offense.
For the most part the Chargers are the same squad which won its third consecutive AFC West title last year. The team would upset the Colts in the playoffs before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.
Rivers feels the continuity the Chargers have will pay off.
"In that locker room, everybody is in their same spot and everything looks the same," Rivers said. "We're all comfortable with one another. Guys are hungry and we're excited. The attendance has been unbelievable with just the lifting and running. Now we get going and that gets guys even more excited that the season is right around the corner."
Seems like the hyper Rivers is always ready to go. But even more this year, with no question marks surrounding him about his health.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson hasn't backed off on chasing one of the NFL's most cherished records. Once bent on retiring after 2011, he's eyeing Emmitt Smith's all-time rushing record of 18,355 yards. Tomlinson sits at 11,760.
"I just took a long look and I thought about a lot of things in the offseason about my career," he said. "I just don't want to have any regrets. When I leave I want to be able to say I went for it. You don't want to get close and later say, 'you know, you could have done it."'
--LB Darry Beckwith thought he might be a third-round pick last month. The standout LSU inside linebacker was known as an explosive hitter with the smarts to excel at the next level, but his draft status remained in flux due to a bad knee that sidelined him for parts of the last three seasons.
Beckwith figured that might cause a minor slide, but nothing like the free fall that occurred during last weekend's NFL Draft.
"Teams just kept passing on me because of a medical thing," Beckwith said. "Each round, they kept passing and passing. When they passed the fourth round and I was still on the board, I started to get worried."
He landed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent, a stigma that isn't necessarily a career-killer with the Chargers. Consider the starters on their team that answer to that tag: Pro Bowlers Antonio Gates and Kris Dielman and starting inside linebacker Stephen Cooper.
--Eric Parker, a former Chargers wide receiver, has been working with the players through the league's minority coaching program.
"I like it," Parker said after a recent minicamp. "It keeps me in the game."
--The team begins its voluntary offseason coaching sessions on May 18. There are 14 coaching sessions through June 18.
--Ex-QB Dan Fouts is again leading the charge to get former Chargers coach Don Coryell into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I just felt like I had to be there. There are times in history that if you have the opportunity to be there, there is no way you can pass it up." -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson on his busy offseason, which included attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: RB Darren Sproles: Tendered at $6.621M (signed April 28).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--C Jeremy Newberry.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--WR Malcom Floyd (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) has a good connection with QB Philip Rivers and can be a solid red-zone target. Injuries slowed him some down the stretch last year.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--OT Jeromey Clary: ERFA; $460,000/1 yr.
--OG Kynan Forney: Potential UFA; $4.8M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
--CB Cletis Gordon: RFA; $1.545M/1 yr.
--RB Darren Sproles: Franchise FA; $6.621M/1 yr.
--LB Kevin Burnett: UFA Cowboys; $5.5M/2 yrs, $2M SB.
--RB Eldra Buckley (released).
--OG Mike Goff: UFA Chargers; $3.5M/2 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--LB Marques Harris: UFA 49ers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--DE Igor Olshansky: UFA Cowboys; $18M/4 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--LB Anthony Waters (released).