Vasquez, Ellison Challenge for Starting Jobs

OG Louis Vasquez (Kevin Terrell/Getty)

If it's May, it's time for a crash course in NFL football. That's true of San Diego and every other NFL locale.

With hot-shot rookies and long-range prospects gathered for an intense education in the offseason coaching sessions, it's likely some will feel as if they're swimming in information and treading water to stay afloat while trying to grasp the pro game.

"We try to throw a lot at these guys before (the end of minicamp), especially our rookies, and let them know what they're up against," coach Norv Turner said.

Rookie right guard Louis Vasquez is among those absorbing all he can. The former Texas Tech standout is hoping to his learning curve isn't steep.

Vasquez might have more to learn than other blockers. He played in the spread formation for the Red Raiders, an offense which leaned heavily on the passing game. And while the Chargers have transformed into a pass-first offense, they do still have LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield. And while Turner has built his reputation as being a quarterback's coach, he still appreciates a consistent running attack.

"They throw quite a bit at you in college, but it's nothing quite like this," said Vasquez, a third-round pick. "My head was spinning at bit at first, but I'm starting to feel comfortable with what I'm learning and my ability to apply it."

Vasquez, if he can get up to speed, could push for a starting job.

Veteran Mike Goff fled as a free agent to Kansas City and Kynan Forney has been tabbed as the potential starter. But that's not to say Vasquez won't get a long look, especially if he has the look of someone knowing his assignments.

In camp, he admitted that sometimes trying to glean so much so fast can be overwhelming.

"If I look over the playbook too much, the information can get jumbled up a bit," Vasquez said. "I focus on it until I'm confident I understand the play. I'll review here and there just to stay fresh, but for the most part I've been focusing on my workouts and getting ready for these sessions and the rest of the offseason program."

The offseason is mostly to start getting the body into football shape in time for camp. But the mental aspect, especially for the younger players eager to show they can play above the shoulders, carries almost as much importance.

"I've been talking to the veterans, and they've suggested some things that have helped me out a lot," Vasquez said.


SS Kevin Ellison
Kevin Terrell/Getty

--The strong safety spot remains a point of mystery for the Chargers.

It's been that way, really, since general manager A.J. Smith passed on the opportunity to draft future Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu, electing to trade down and select defensive backs Sammy Davis and Terrence Kiel.

So when Clinton Hart disappointed last year and eventually lost his job to Steven Gregory, it was obvious the Chargers would try to fill that need yet again this offseason.

Not comfortable doing so through the free-agency market, Smith drafted Southern Cal safety Kevin Ellison in the sixth round.

Ellison has proven to be a solid player -- when he can stay on the field. But next to his reputation as a hard-hitter at USC was the knock that he's too often bit by the injury bug. Perhaps that is in his past. If so, his future could be as the starting strong safety.

First he must hurdle Hart -- who said he is much better prepared for a big year after his broken hand healed -- and Gregory. Paul Oliver is a candidate for a look at that spot, too.

But if Ellison can stay fit and learn the defensive playbook that has undergone a tweak or two from coordinator Ron Rivera, he has a shot.

"I have a solid grasp on the stuff we're doing," Ellison said. "I feel comfortable because I've put a lot of time in. I've done the work, and I'm going to keep on doing it.

"It's important to create a foundation of knowledge that you can build upon. Once you understand the basics of certain schemes, things naturally fit together. If you understand the core concepts of a play, it allows you to focus on the little things that can make you successful."

Ellison has a presence and he doesn't seem overwhelmed by the mountain of new stuff thrown his direction. He's confident in the way he goes about his business, no matter the obstacles which may be ahead.

"It doesn't change a thing," Ellison said. "I prepare the same way all the time, whether there's an opening in the starting lineup or there's an All-Pro playing my position. If I put as much as I can into it, I believe good things will come."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Despite missing the minicamp in a contract dispute, WR Malcolm Floyd has played well in the coaching sessions, hooking up with QB Philip Rivers on a couple of spectacular plays. Floyd and Rivers have had a strong connection since they both were backups and spent many hours after practices honing their skills.

"I just can't describe how good it feels to be back with the guys," Floyd said. "I've stressed about the contract stuff for a while, but I'm glad it's all over. I'm ready to go to work."

--Coach Norv Turner said that training camp at Chargers Park will begin July 21.

--DT Jamal Williams (knees) is attending but not participating in the offseason coaching sessions. He is expected to be ready for training camp.

--LT Marcus McNeill (neck) is not rushing back into action and continues to be an observer during OTAs. The club anticipates him being OK for camp.

--The Chargers next coaching session will run from June 1-3.

--The team has no interest in a new proposal to build a stadium at the current site, which would include office buildings, a hotel and residence. For now, the only proposal seriously being looked at in San Diego County remains in Chula Vista, a city near the U.S.-Mexico border.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you get that first year out of the way, the mental confidence really goes up. Going into this year, I feel good about how I see and react to the game now." -- CB Antoine Cason on how much comfortable he is in his second year in the NFL.

FRANCHISE PLAYER: RB Darren Sproles: Tendered at $6.621M (signed April 28).

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

--C Jeremy Newberry.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED

--OT Jeromey Clary: ERFA; $460,000/1 yr.
--WR Malcom Floyd: RFA; $1.545M/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.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED

--LB Kevin Burnett: UFA Cowboys; $5.5M/2 yrs, $2M SB.

PLAYERS LOST

--RB Eldra Buckley (released).
--OG Mike Goff: UFA Chiefs; $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).

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