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Chargers: Mini Camp Ushers in New Era

Ryan Mathews, Charlie Whitehurst and Philip Rivers practice in 2012 Training Camp. Photo Credit: Dan McLellan

Ryan Mathews, Charlie Whitehurst and Philip Rivers practice in 2012 Training Camp.

Ryan Mathews, Charlie Whitehurst and Philip Rivers practice in 2012 Training Camp. Photo Credit: Dan McLellan

With the start of Mini Camp, a new era of Chargers football has officially begun. Just over three months ago general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy were hired. Since then; 12 members of the staff have been added, 13 new players have been signed or claimed, three were re-signed and five have been released. The Bolts makeover is still not complete, but Mini Camp gives the current roster their first opportunity to work together on a football field. Things appear to be off to a good start. The camp is voluntary, but 100 percent of the players participated on Tuesday. McCoy’s main objectives for Mini Camp are to make sure players understand the basic foundations of his new systems and are ready to buy-in to his way of doing business. It is an easy evaluation. McCoy is looking for those who have done their homework. “We’ve given them a few things to study,” he said. “There weren’t many mistakes out there which is great. It tells me that these guys care about what we’re doing.” QB Philip Rivers has had his nose in the playbook almost from the moment McCoy was hired. “[Rivers] absolutely loves the game,” McCoy said. “He loves to be here as much as he can. He wants to learn every little detail of the offense.”

Rivers admitted change has made this the absolute most demanding offseason of his career. “When you did something for nine years . . . the (offseason) focus was on fundamentals and improving techniques and little tweaks scheme-wise,” he explained. “It wasn’t having to study your base stuff. It’s hard.” He even confessed being nervous calling plays in the huddle. “I’ve been practicing at the house because you get in there and you call a play that you’ve never really called in that situation before. I know what to do, I can do it on paper, but you get out there and have to call it and it’s certainly different.” Rivers was so focused on not making a mistake; he tuned out the defense. “I didn’t hear (ILB) Donald Butler or (FS) Eric Weddle. I didn’t hear all their calls like I remember hearing them all the time. I was too busy thinking where in the world I was fixing to throw the ball.”

Providing better protection for Rivers, who was sacked 79 (49, 30) times and has thrown 35 (15, 20) interceptions over the past two seasons, is widely considered to be the primary concern going into next week’s NFL draft. The Chargers currently have the 11th pick in the first round, but Telesco and McCoy fell far short of committing that pick will be spent on an offensive lineman. “Some people might say that [O-line] is the position you have to take,” McCoy said. “We’re going to take the best player available that can help us today win football games.”  Concurred. “Number one, we don’t rank our needs. If you start ranking your needs, it may start influencing your draft board.” Telesco did admit the O-line is an area that needs improvement. “Sure, it’s something we’re looking to address.”

This may be the first time Telesco will be pulling the trigger in a war room, but he is keenly aware the decisions he makes on draft day will go a long way in determining his overall job performance. “[The draft] is where in a typical year you put 12, almost 13 months of work in to these players trying to find the guys that fit into what you want to do. Once you do, they grow into your program and that’s how we think we can build a team that can win consistently over the long haul.” Gaudy college stats and combine numbers are not the only criteria that go into making selections. “We take a really large picture of the player,” Telesco said, “It’s not just talent. It’s character makeup, psychological makeup, work ethic, college production is important (and) medical history is important. So it’s a very large picture of the player and a lot of that is as important as the talent part of it.”

Even with a holistic approach, Telesco views the draft as more of an art than an exact science. He pointed out that the best GMs have a 65-70 percent success rate. “That’s just a part of us as people trying to pick other humans and their performance in a different environment,” Telesco said. “You’re just not going to hit on players 100 percent of the time.” San Diego has seven picks in this year’s draft. With many holes remaining on the roster, Telesco is hopeful all his selections will help return to the Bolts back to the playoffs. “We want to win consistently for a long time, but we want to win now,” Telesco said. “We’re looking for these guys to step in and contribute in some way. They may not all be starters right away. We’re looking for players to come in and contribute and like I said, we’re looking to win now.”

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