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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Vasquez named to PFW All-Rookie Team

By: Casey Pearce

Chargers guard Louis Vasquez named to Pro Football Weekly’s All-Rookie First Team.

When the Chargers used a third-round pick in April’s draft to select guard Louis Vasquez, they thought they were getting a smart, physical offensive lineman who was capable of quickly transitioning from his collegiate spread offense to San Diego’s pro-style attack.

Vasquez proved to be just that. As a rookie, he started 14 games at right guard, missing only Weeks 2 and 3 due to a knee injury, and the Texas Tech alum played well enough to earn All-Rookie honors from Pro Football Weekly. The publication lists the top rookie at each position on its squad, and Vasquez joined Buffalo’s Andy Levitre as the top guards.

Like every Charger has done in recent weeks when given personal accolades, Vasquez credited his teammates with much of his success.

“Getting to play with the veterans that we have on our offensive line has been huge for me, and our line coaches (Hal Hunter and Mike Sullivan) really helped me a lot,” Vasquez said. “It was a great year that hopefully I can continue to build on.”

Head Coach Norv Turner praised Vasquez for the way he took hold of the opportunity to start so early in his career.

“Louis really has been outstanding,” Turner said. “He's a guy that's gotten better as he's played. When you look at ouroffensive line across the board, we're big and we’re physical, and he'sas physical as anybody we line up with.”

Vasquez was the only Charger recognized by PFW, but San Diego saw its rookie class make major contributions. First-round pick Larry English was part of the rotation at outside linebacker and coaches were encouraged by his high motor and disciplined play. Defensive end Vaughn Martin saw his playing time increase as the year went along, and safety Kevin Ellison elevated himself to the top of the depth chart in the team’s base defense.

As expected, fourth-round guard/center Tyronne Green spent most of his rookie season learning on the practice field, and coaches were pleased with his progress. Two undrafted free agents, linebacker James Holt and safety C.J. Spillman, made names for themselves on special teams.

“We’ve had a lot of young guys make strong contributions to this team and a lot of guys stepped up,” Turner said.

Room to improve

Turner said Monday that he’ll encourage all of his players to follow the examples set by so many veterans, specifically tight end Antonio Gates, who despite being established veterans had their most productive years of their careers in 2009.

“We’ve got players that can get better,” Turner said. “If Antonio Gates can have his career best year at 29 then a guy that’s played two years at the age of 25 certainly has room to improve.”

After battling the lingering affects of offseason toe surgery in 2008, Gates played relatively pain and injury free this season and set a career high in receiving yards.

Anxiously awaiting

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson delivered his trademark ear-to-ear smile Monday when asked where he’ll focus his attention over the next couple months.

“Trying to be a great husband to my pregnant wife,” Tomlinson said.

LT’s wife LaTorsha is approximately four months along as the couple anticipates its first child.

“I am really excited about that,” LaDainian Tomlinson said. “Just all the preparation that goes into getting ready for the baby, it’s exciting and now I get to really be involved day-in and day-out so obviously I’m excited about that.”

Giving back

Quarterback Philip Rivers will spend most of his offseason in San Diego with his family aside from a few weeks in his native Alabama. One of the main focuses of his next few months will be establishing his foundation, which will be called “Rivers of Hope.”

“The specific focus will be out soon but it’s geared toward foster-care and helping those children and parents that are looking to adopt,” Rivers said.

Like many of his teammates did Monday, Rivers said Sunday’s loss to the Jets will eat at him for a while.

“It’s tough. I hate losing as much as anybody. I know we all feel this loss and hurt in this locker room and in this building. It doesn’t get better over night. In fact it’ll probably get worse these next two weeks until nobody’s playing and you can feel better, but we’ll gear back up and be back at it.”

Good day for Turners

On the same day Turner signed a three-year extension with the Chargers, his son received a promotion in his coaching career. Scott Turner, Norv’s oldest son, was named wide receivers coach at the University of Pittsburgh. Scott spent the past two years as an offensive assistant on Dave Wannstedt’s staff.

Tuning in

Some Chargers said they won’t be able to stomach watching the conference championship games next weekend, but linebacker Stephen Cooper for one will be glued to his couch, particularly for the AFC Championship.

“Oh I’m definitely going to watch,” Cooper said. “I love football. I’m a fan of football and I love watching it. You’ve got two good teams playing next week in the Jets and the Colts. You’ve got Peyton Manning versus a great Jets defense so it’s going to be a good matchup.”

On the NFC side, many Chargers will be pulling for former teammate Drew Brees.

“He’s my buddy,” Tomlinson said.