Rivers to Cash In, Castillo to Deliver

QB Philip Rivers (Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty)

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is set to become a very rich young man. The market has been set on elite quarterbacks, when the New York Giants came to terms with Eli Manning on a six-year extension reported by the Associated Press to be worth $97.5 million and including $35 million in guaranteed money.

Philip Rivers is set to start negotiations in earnest with the Chargers as his rookie contract expires at the end of the season.

And while Rivers doesn't have the big thing that Manning does -- a Super Bowl ring -- he has better statistical numbers in just about every category.

Rivers tied for the most touchdown passes thrown last year in the NFL with 34, as well as having a league-best 105.5 rating.

It was believed the dialogue between the parties had already started, but Rivers said that is not the case.

"We really haven't talked much about it," Rivers said. "When talks pick up, you'll know. Until then, my focus is on helping this team get better."

There's little doubt that Rivers, who threw for 4,009 yards last year, is staying put in San Diego. But the Chargers will have to dig deep into their pockets.

"You know that you're linked to guys by position and compared to them in every aspect," said Rivers, who was traded for Manning during the 2004 NFL draft.

"But what happened doesn't change my mind set any. I'm optimistic and hopeful that I'll be here for a long time. When it happens, it'll happen."

Rivers' contract is among the reasons the Chargers need to make something happen this season.


QB Philip Rivers
Shana Siler/SDBoltReport.com
The brass and some of the players cringe when someone mentions the window of opportunity is closing on this core of payers.

LaDainian Tomlinson is 30 years old and likely on the downhill of his career.

And while the team's other stars don't have to worry about age, the Chargers have to fret about being able to keep them all.

In addition to Rivers' deal soon coming to an end, the team must also contend with expiring contracts belonging to Pro Bowlers Shawne Merriman and left tackle Marcus McNeill.

Then after the 2010 season, Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates will also have to have his contract situation addressed.

So there's no guarantee this bunch is all going to be together much longer.

That's why this season -- after the Chargers fell short of reaching the Super Bowl in their last three seasons which resulted in a playoff invitation -- is so important.

What isn't as critical, so says Rivers, is determining a bona fide leader on this team expected to make a deep playoff run.

Tomlinson always was the face of the team, although Merriman started to hog the spotlight when going to the Pro Bowl his first three years.

But Tomlinson is coming off his least productive season of his career and Merriman missed all but one game last year with a knee injury.

Meanwhile, Rivers was etching his name all over the Chargers' record book.

"I think the label of whose team it is, that's more, I don't want to say a media thing..." Rivers said. "As far as how it may be perceived, as far as how games are played out, I think what we want to be is a complete team.

"We've got a really personable team, a team with a lot of different characters. And it really meshes well.

"We have a lot of guys in this room that are so-called superstars in this league, and rightfully so."

But Rivers said the Chargers are in a good place because those stars check their egos at the locker room door.

"It can cause for some tension but that doesn't really happen here," Rivers said. "It really doesn't. Guys manage that really well."

In the not so distant future, Rivers will be managing millions more in his bank account.



--Might Luis Castillo give the Chargers more bang for their bucks?

Castillo signed a seven-year contract extension in July 2008 valued at $48 million with $17.5 in guaranteed money, one that will keep him in San Diego through 2014.

But the Chargers are hoping from here on out he can be more productive.


DE Luis Castillo
Donald Miralle/Getty
While Castillo recorded a career-high 53 tackles, he had just 1.5 sacks and six tackles for losses in 2008.

That's a lot of lettuce being spread his way for numbers which hardly jump off the statistical page.

To be fair, an end in a 3-4 alignment has to do the dirty work and let his teammates reap the benefits. The ball-carriers are funneled toward the linebackers, and they get the lion's share of tackles and headlines.

But it was in this same 3-4 system in 2006 when Castillo had 7.0 sacks and 10 tackles for losses.

So what gives?

Castillo has been slowed the past two seasons by ankle injuries. And he knows there is a taller ceiling to his game.

"It's not to say that there weren't good games and good moments, but I have higher expectations for myself," he said. "My coaches do too, which is a good thing because the expectations are based upon your ability. You have to be able to put it all together."

Defensive end Jacques Cesaire said there is more to Castillo that a fine lines on a stat sheet.

"Everybody equates big contracts with huge numbers," Cesaire said. "Nobody sees the little things that Luis does as far as playing sound, gap control defense. If you go back and look at the film, Luis consistently beats his man in one-on-one situations.

"In our profession, defensive linemen are graded on their sack production.

"Unless you're a beast like Jamal Williams who takes on three blockers at once, nobody cares about what you do unless you hit the quarterback. There's nobody that works harder at that than Luis, but he does so many little things right that people often forget about."

Castillo doesn't forget those checks he's cashing. But he doesn't dwell on it.

"(The contract) is a burden if you allow yourself to go out and not prepare the way you need to," Castillo said. "It starts eating at you, but if you go out and give it all you have and are trying your best, it's not an issue and you sleep well at night."

Others, according to Castillo, better not go to sleep on him.

"Coming off the last two years with ankle injuries, even though I finished the year playing, took its toll on me during the offseason," Castillo said. "You make excuses for yourself. You're hurt, your body's not where it should be and you give yourself an out sometimes when you're not able to do the things you need to. It's been great to get back to basics and really work."

Castillo said with that work comes production -- even if sometimes it is hard to recognize.

"I don't measure in numbers, but in being able to win certain situations," Castillo said. "You can get a 10-sack season and that's great, but sometimes that doesn't happen. As long as you feel like you're winning one-on-one situations and you're putting yourself in position to make big plays, that's all that matters. That's what I want, to get (back) to that again."

CAMP CALENDAR:

Aug. 12: Open practice at Qualcomm Stadium.
Aug. 27: Camp closes.

NOTES, QUOTES --DT Jamal Williams practiced in the first seven sessions before taking a workout off. Williams is entering his 12th season and the team is trying to keep him fresh -- but he's feeling fit and getting the work in. "After a while you learn to practice efficiently," Williams said. "(Coach) Norv (Turner) has emphasized that we're going to do some thumping, but we're going to take care of the players because health is the main key to our success."

--CB Antonio Cromartie was fined $2,500 for a Twitter send which complained about the food served at the team's training camp. He said in his tweet that the food could be a reason why the Chargers haven't won a Super Bowl. Cromartie thought the fine was "excessive" and said he wouldn't take back what he said.


FB Jacob Hester
Jeff Gross/Getty
--FB/RB Jacob Hester is playing at 238 pounds, about eight pounds heavier than he was last year. Hester looks more relaxed and comfortable compared to his play this time last summer. He was as high as 242 pounds during minicamp, but the coaching staff suggested he trim down. "They put me at a goal weight, and I was able to hit it," said Hester, who weighed 250 briefly in high school. "It was easy to gain the weight, and it doesn't bother me as far as moving around is concerned. I'm comfortable where I'm at, and I'm ready to get after it. If I can stay at this weight, I'm going to be fine."

--Could this be the home season of TV blackouts? The Chargers are warning fans that could be forthcoming as ticket sales show just one game -- against the Eagles -- being sold out.

--CB Cletis Gordon continues to have a good camp, but it's tough seeing where he would play more. It's a crowded backfield and Gordon knows it. "I don't really concern myself where I fit in," said Gordon, who played on some of the team's nickel packages last year because of injuries.

--Rookie DT Vaughn Martin continues to absorb the learning curve from playing in college in Canada to the NFL. "A couple of guys were making the joke (my first) day in pads, that was my first day I ever played football in my life -- officially."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "That's steep man. That's half a new set of rims or something. Those had better be some powerful words and they better be reaching a lot more than the 40,000 people I have (following me) right now." -- LB Shawne Merriman on teammate Antonio Cromartie being fined $2,500 for his Twitter remarks.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

--WR Buster Davis was making it a point to making in through training camp without visiting the trainer's room. But the oft-injured, former first-round pick is ailing with a tight quad. The team's patience with Davis is growing thin.

--RB Michael Bennett is having to fight to keep his roster spot. He needs a big showing in the preseason games or the veteran could be cut.

--LT Marcus McNeill continues to shine in camp. McNeill is moving freely again after having neck surgery in the offseason; he now wears a neck brace.

--CB Quentin Jammer continues to open eyes with his play. Jammer is being stingy with the receivers in practice, to the point some are complaining about his physical play.

--RB Darren Sproles continues to return punts and kicks, despite now being playing with a $6 million contract. While Sproles will be used more in the offensive base packages, he will continue as the kick and punt returner.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK:

OG Kynan Forney vs. Louis Vasquez for the starting job on the right side. -- This spirited competition is picking up steam, due in part to the team going with pads in some of the workouts. Forney has the experience but Vasquez is making up ground with his physical play. Forney was awarded $4.8 million contract extension in the offseason, despite not taking a snap last season. But Vasquez isn't giving any quarter and while there is a chance he will fall short, it won't be for the lack of effort.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS:

Antonio Cromartie vs. Antoine Cason for starting RCB -- This probably won't be much of a competition but it is worth watching. Cromartie had a huge dropoff from 10 to two interceptions last year -- he later said he was hurt. Cason, in his rookie year, did well in the nickel role. While it is likely a stretch to see Cason beat out Cromartie, it is worth watching if Cromartie doesn't rebound.

Darren Sproles vs. Antonio Cromartie for punt- and kick-return duties. Cromartie has been getting plenty of work fielding punts and kicks; that said, among the reasons Sproles was awarded a $6.6 million franchise player contract was his contributions in the return game. But Sproles might need a breather if he is being used more in the base offense. If so, Cromartie -- a great athlete -- could fill in.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: WR Legedu Naanee -- This might be the year Naanee gets more into the offensive mix, and the versatile player is performing like he wants more reps. He had a solid week, lining up in various spots -- he played quarterback for some of his time at Boise State. Naanee would be a perfect player to run in a Wildcat style offense and considering how Norv Turner likes to tinker with players and schemes, that is a possibility. But Naanee was making most of his noise in the slot, with Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson out wide. "He looks really good," QB Philip Rivers said of Naanee. "He's made some really good catches. He's a strong, physical guy. Added Naanee, a third-year pro: "I feel good out there but it's still early.

ROOKIE REPORT: Top pick Larry English continues to look solid. With Shawne Merriman going easy on his knee as camp progresses, English has been running with the No. 1 defense. ... RG Louis Vasquez was impressive once the team went into pads. ... RB Gartrell Johnson is running so well he may cost veteran Michael Bennett his roster spot. ... Tyronne Green continues to get work at guard and center in a backup capacity. ... Vaughn Martin has been getting most his work at defensive end and not at tackle. ... WR Demetrius Byrd, a seventh-round pick, remains unsigned.

INJURY REPORT: LB Stephen Cooper (ankle) could be compromised in practice this week and might go easy on the injury.
--LB Darry Beckwith (hamstring) is day-to-day.
--LB Larry English (hamstring) has missed a week of practices but could return early this week.

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