Bolts Notebook: Offseason Battle Updates

The Chargers' offseason coaching sessions have given the team a head-start on training camp. Among the issues the Chargers are working through are finding a starting right guard, settling on a starting strong safety and figuring out their rotation at linebacker.

So far on the competition front it looks as if Kynan Forney will get first chance to replace Mike Goff at right guard, after Goff wasn't retained and landed with the Chiefs. Although the Chargers are high on Forney -- they signed him to a two-year contract during the offseason -- he didn't take a snap last season.

Forney came over from the Falcons as a free agent, but the Chargers didn't want to tinker anymore with an offensive line which was already in flux because of injuries. Goff being among the most durable Chargers, he never gave Forney a sniff at starting.

But the team is also intrigued by Louis Vasquez, a third-round pick out of Texas Tech. The Chargers like what they've seen so far, but they are also aware that Vasquez has to get up to speed on NFL run-blocking. At Texas Tech, Vasquez was in an offense which basically threw on first, second and third downs. So Vasquez's chances will center on how fast he can transfer his talents from a spread offense to one which throws the ball, but also leans on its running game.


SS Clinton Hart
Donald Miralle/Getty

Clinton Hart, the opening day starter at strong safety last season, is bent on reclaiming his spot.

Hart's season was derailed by a broken hand early in the season and a neck injury late in the season. Maybe his physical shortcomings came into play as he was often out of position and missed numerous tackles. That was among the reasons the Chargers went with Steve Gregory down the stretch, with Hart's contributions coming in spots.

But there is also a rookie chomping at the bit at this position. The Chargers are giving Kevin Ellison a real look and they are intrigued by the former Southern Cal standout. Ellison's deal is staying on the field as his career at USC was compromised by injuries.

But if healthy -- and able to pick up the Chargers' defense at a decent pace -- don't be surprised if Ellison, a sixth-round selection, is in the mix.

The inside linebacker on passing downs will likely come down to a battle between Matt Wilhelm and Kevin Burnett, who signed as a free agent from Dallas. Wilhelm was the scapegoat of what ailed the Chargers on underneath routes, which is surprising because that was considered his strength.

Burnett's forte is dropping back into coverage and he is eager to show he is more than a special-team player.

The Chargers must also sort out which outside linebackers are on the field on passing downs.

Shaun Phillips figures to be opposite a mended Shawne Merriman, although Merriman has yet to be given full clearance to return after his knee operation. The Chargers also spent their top pick on Larry English, a pass-rushing specialist from Northern Illinois.

Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera has hinted that all three could be on the field at the same time in their 3-4 alignment.


QB Philip Rivers
Jeff Gross/Getty

--Would there be a better season for the Chargers to win their first Super Bowl?

The Chargers kicked off their 50th anniversary season recently with some off the team's all-time greats assembling, hoping this is the year the team hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Among the luminaries in attendance were Lance Alworth, Doug Wilkerson, Charlie Joiner, Darren Bennett, Philip Rivers and a collection of team execs, led by club president Dean Spanos.

Rivers said San Diego, while being the nation's seventh-largest city, has a small-town atmosphere to it. And that is no more evident than on game days, when it seems like everyone is tuned in -- and turned on -- by the Chargers. But Chargers fans also show their allegiance in the offseason.

"Growing up in a small town in Alabama where football is pretty much it, it kind of has that same feel here in San Diego," Rivers said. "When you're driving down Interstate 15 in March and see all the Chargers flags and stickers, it shows you how excited this city is."

Maybe the Chargers fans are so keen on their team because of its success of late -- especially at Qualcomm Stadium. Consider that in Rivers' three years as a starter, the Chargers are 20-4 in what's pegged as America's Finest City.

"You wonder why we're so good at home, the fans have a great deal to do with that," Rivers said. "We take a great deal of pride in winning when we play at home and our fans help us a lot with the environment they create."

But those fans have been incredibly forgiving. The Chargers won the 1963 AFL title but have no other league championships; they advanced to the Super Bowl to cap the 1994 season but were blown out by the 49ers.

Wilkerson, a member of the Chargers Hall of Fame and a three-time Pro Bowler in his 14 seasons, knows how the fans feel. The Chargers were dead last in the AFC West in four of his first five seasons with the club, which stretched from 1971-75. Then Don Coryell came aboard -- as did improved personnel -- and Air Coryell and a long string of success followed.

"I look back and appreciate how patient the fans were," Wilkerson said. "We had some great coaches but the talent wasn't there. The fans hung with us. They were intertwined in everything that we did. The availability of the players to the community is special. Everywhere you went, everybody loved the players and we became immediately attracted to not only the city but the people."

"We had good football players, guys that loved playing the game," Wilkerson said. "They enjoyed being in the city of San Diego. In 1979, Charger Power was born. Chargers fans created that. They made it our moniker. They created a song for it. As fast as we could score, they enjoyed it more, and we set a lot of offensive records."

The Chargers are on record that they are tired of falling short. They advanced to the AFC Championship game two seasons ago but fell to the Patriots. They got to the divisional round game last season, before bowing to the Steelers.

This year? It's a golden one, and a golden opportunity to do something no other Chargers team has done: win a Super Bowl.

NOTES, QUOTES

--ILB Stephen Cooper said the offseason sessions have been productive, but a joy as well.

"We're getting a lot of good work done but we're having a lot of fun too," he said. "We've got a good group of guys who love working together, whether it's June or August or December."

--Rodney Harrison retired after an impressive stint with the Patriots to move into the broadcasting booth, but he first made his mark with the Chargers. He played in San Diego for from 1994-02 and his 26 interceptions rank third in Chargers history. Harrison will likely be among those honored during the team's 50th anniversary.

--The Chargers will release the 20 greatest moments in team history throughout the year, with the greatest moment being revealed during the Jan. 3 regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins. "That should be a fun and interesting process," Chargers president Dean Spanos said. "There are decades to deal with, and everyone will have a different opinion on who belongs on that team. It should spark some conversation and get people talking about the past."

--The Chargers return to practice next Tuesday and will work Wednesday and Thursday, too. After next Thursday's work, most of the veterans' work is done. Rookies and select veterans will complete the pre-training camp work with four practices from June 15-18.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's why you always see us score a lot of points, you see us move the ball on everybody and have this explosive offense -- that's all Norv. His mind is always working. He has a great mind and I think that's underrated." -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson on head coach Norv Turner's offensive approach.

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

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered)

--C Jeremy Newberry (not tendered as UFA June 1).

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 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).

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