FB Jacob Hester (Donald Miralle/Getty)
Jacob Hester will never be Lorenzo Neal -- few are -- as Neal, it can be argued, was among the greatest fullbacks to ever play the game. Certainly one of the top fullbacks to ever suit up as a member of the Chargers. But as Hester enters his second year, he does so knowing that his rookie campaign revealed he needs add some meat to his frame.
So while others in San Diego are trying to get in bathing-suit shape for summer, Jacob Hester is chowing down.
"It's pretty easy," Hester said. "You go home, let the wife cook and eat 'til you can't eat anymore. Then you work out like crazy and try to turn it into muscle. But in order to maintain the weight you want, you really have to watch your diet."
But Hester can't get too big, as something else weighs on his minds.
"There was a time this offseason when I was trying to gain a bunch of muscle for playing fullback," Hester said last week. "But I got to a point where they stopped me and said, 'Don't forget that you still need to run the ball a little bit,' which meant they didn't want me to gain too much weight.
"There's a point where you can get too big and too stiff, and that's when you have to back off a little bit. It's a tough balance, trying to find that ideal weight where you can be versatile and effective, but I feel like we got it done."
Hester played last year at 5-foot-11, 225 pounds. He shot for 240 pounds as the Chargers try to get their mediocre running game back in shape. Hester has reached that weight. Now he can't wait to get started for good.
After being primarily a running back for the national champion LSU two seasons ago, Hester will likely make his mark with the Chargers clearing lanes for the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles.
Hester did get 19 rushes last year for 95 yards and a touchdown. But he was beat out by undrafted rookie Mike Tolbert early in the year before taking over when Tolbert was hurt midway through the season.
Hester often spent some time in the doghouse after losing a fumble.
But this offseason, he's not losing weight. And that should add to his contributions in 2009.
--The guys were cut loose, like kids heading off to recess.
Those standing at the driveway at Chargers Park recently did so at their own risk.
The Chargers OTAs are done and so are the Chargers, right? Not exactly.
It's imperative, the Chargers' training staff and players have said, that the team stay sharp while enjoying some down time before next month's training camp gets underway.
"I'm going to train pretty hard this summer to cement what I've done," cornerback Antoine Cason said. "I don't ruin all the work I've done between February and now by getting lazy and showing up for camp out of shape."
Cason will show up hoping to compete for a job.
Antonio Cromartie, after coming off a disastrous 2008, will be watched closely as he tries to rebound to his 2007 level. That was when Cromartie set a team record and lead the NFL with 10 interceptions.
But after last year's fallback, Cason has some thinking he will get a long look at a starting job. In his rookie season, Cason fared well as the team's nickel back.
Still, Cason knows he has to come back in good shape to have a shot.
The same goes for fullback/running back Jacob Hester. He needs to stay sharp and in shape to lead what he hopes is a successful 2009.
Every player knows it's what you do when no one is watching that makes the difference.
"You definitely don't want to take four weeks off," Hester said. "You have to keep up with the workouts and the learning the play script. Every day, I go through 30 or so plays and figure out exactly what you have to do. There is an offseason and there is some downtime, but you never stop thinking about football."
Chargers strength and conditioning coach Jeff Hurd trusts that his charges will keep their nose to the grindstone.
"The guys have done such a great job to this point that you don't want anyone to slip while they're away," Hurd said. "The goal is to build the foundation throughout the offseason, and while you won't wipe it all out with a few bad weeks, it can cause a player to take a significant step back. That rarely happens because these players are competitors who won't let themselves slack off."
Slacking now and could lead to a "see ya" after camp. Everyone is aware making a good impression in camp could lead -- or not -- to a roster spot.
"At this level, they understand how important their workouts are to on-field success," Hurd said. "There's so much competition that everyone is trying to push themselves in order to win starting jobs or increase playing time.
--The team held one of its final OTA sessions at the nearby Marine Corps Air Station Mira Mar. "It always adds something when you practice in front of the fans, and it's rewarding to get to entertain people that do so much for us," quarterback Billy Volek said. "A lot of the people out here just returned from overseas or have family members who are gone right now. If we can provide a little distraction to some of those stresses, that's a good feeling."
--It's usually a question asked each summer with the team nearing training camp: Should CB Quentin Jammer be moved to safety to fill a void the Chargers always seem to have there.
"I was a safety two years in college and it's actually one of my favorite positions that I've ever played, but I'm not looking to move right now," Jammer said. "I'm having too much fun at cornerback and all my focus is on becoming a better corner."
--With the bulk of veterans done with their OTAs, three players were singled out for their impressive practices: WR Vincent Jackson, CB Antonio Cromartie and RB LaDainian Tomlinson.
--The Wildcat offense is so last year -- anyone ready for the Chargers' version, called Wild Frog? That is in honor of Tomlinson, a former TCU Horned Frog standout and a member of the formation which could be sprung on opponents next season. With Tomlinson, Sproles and the versatile Legedu Naanee, the Chargers would seem to have the personnel to employ it. If nothing else, they are giving the Chargers' defense a look they will likely encounter this season. "I think it's good for our defense to see," coach Norv Turner said. "They're going to face it. But if we practice it enough and get good enough at it, we've got versatile guys. If we can get some plays out of it, it will be good."
--Former Chargers QB Ryan Leaf, the No. 2 overall pick in 1998, is facing burglary and drug charges in Texas.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've still got two weeks of the offseason conditioning program and we still have some preparing to do. The practice part is finished, but this is a 12-month job." -- ILB Stephen Cooper on staying committed in the offseason.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: RB Darren Sproles: Tendered at $6.621M (signed April 28).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--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.
--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.
--C Jeremy Newberry: Not tendered as UFA/Falcons; terms unknown.
--DE Igor Olshansky: UFA Cowboys; $18M/4 yrs, $8M guaranteed.
--LB Anthony Waters (released).