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Monday, August 16, 2010

Mathews impressive in debut, Chargers win 25-10

Source: SD Bolt Report

Ryan Mathews said he's been pretty good about keeping the jitters in check as he worked his way through training camp. But the former Fresno State star said being in the NFL smacked him with full force on Saturday when the Chargers prepared to face the Bears.

"Right then it hit me," Mathews said when he entered the stadium. "My nerves kicked in and I took a lap around the field. I then went inside and put my gear on and threw up."

He's not the first to be queasy over the responsibilities which come with being the lead back, as a rookie, on a team with Super Bowl dreams.

"It's humbling and I'm grateful for it," Mathews said.

He didn't little to dispute the Chargers' thinking in moving up the draft board to snag Mathews 12th overall. He rushed nine times for 50 yards and opened some eyes in doing so.

That is once his midsection was at ease -- to a degree.

On a running play in which he follows pulling left guard Kris Dielman, Mathews beat him to the hole.

"He told me to slow down a little bit; that was just the nerves," Mathews said. "I was just trying to out there too fast."

Mathews admitted he didn't get much sleep the night before the game. But he looked fresh against the Bears, in particular on a first-quarter run.

Mathews took the handoff and was met near the line of scrimmage by Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs. It appeared Briggs was set to wrap on Mathews when Briggs was brushed aside by the powerful Mathews. He quickly got into the secondary where he collected 18 yards before being brought down.

"That was impressive," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "And he showed some speed right there."

Mathews is learning quick. Not only is he picking up the nuances of being an NFL back, he is saying all the right things.

When others were gushing about his running, Mathews was pointing toward the big uglies.

"Without those big guys," he said of the offensive line, "I would be in a whole lot of trouble."

But it's clear Mathews knows what he is doing. Once he dialed it down a tad.

"It was all fast at first then it started to slow down a little bit," Mathews said. "But it is going to take some time."

Among the things the Chargers like about Mathews is his work-ethic and lack of ego.

"I got a lot of work to do still," he said. "I got to work on everything."

CAMP CALENDAR: Aug. 20: Walk-through at Marines Corps Air Station Miramar. Aug. 22: Players off. Aug. 23: Final training camp practice.


Linebacker Shawne Merriman ended his baffling boycott of training camp when he reported to the team last Friday.

Merriman, who signed his one-year tender for $3.168 million, wasn't staying away for more cash. Instead he stated that he wanted assurances that the Chargers would not trade him and that they would build the defense around him.

He got no such assurances on both fronts and finally decided he wasn't getting much accomplished sitting at home after skipping 21 practices.

"I'm happy to be back with my teammates," Merriman said. "I got a chance to speak with them over the phone, but I'm glad to be back in the building with them.

"It was time for me to come in and get ready. You can't show up before Game 1 or Game 2 and expect to play at a high level. The only way to emulate game speed is to play football."

This is a critical year for Merriman, who was once one of the most disruptive defensive players in the league. He collected 39.5 sacks in his first three years as he was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of those years.

But he only played one game in 2008 after delaying knee surgery. Then last year, slowed by the knee and a foot injury, he had but four sacks.

So with four sacks in two seasons, it's clear Merriman needs to prove himself to get a big contract next season. That contract is unlikely to come from the Chargers.

Merriman has long got under the skin of general manager A.J. Smith. he certainly didn't enhance his reputation in Smith's eyes by not reporting with the other veterans.

"We're happy to have Shawne back," Smith said. "He's an excellent player. We're ready for him to get back to work."

Linebacker Stephen Cooper, the Chargers' top tackler last year, said the moment had arrived for Merriman to slap on the pads.

"It was time for him to come in," Cooper said. "Everybody wants to get paid and everyone wants a big contract, but you can't get one sitting at home. You have to be out there performing and be on film in order to get paid.

"People are always asking whether his knee is healthy and whether he can be as productive as he was in the past. We all know he can do it, but he has to prove it on the field."

Admitted Merriman, "I didn't accomplish anything at all (by not reporting). I always knew that I was wanted here, which was one of the biggest reasons for getting things sorted out. You hate to deal with the whole business part of it, but I'm so glad it's behind me and I can go out and play.

"Everybody's on the trading block. It was more a question of it being talked about so much. This team has bigger fish to fry, and that's playing the Kansas City Chiefs in a month. At no point in time did I want conversation about my future to be above the team, and at some points (last season) it got there. That's what I wanted to stay away from."

--Even with return ace Darren Sproles sitting out the first exhibition game with a bum shoulder, coach Norv Turner was impressed with his special-teams play. "I don't see why we can't be one of the top three or four special teams in the league," he said.

--K Nick Novak was brought into camp to save the wear and tear on K Nate Kaeding's leg. But he is making the most of his chance and could land with another team. Novak hit two of three field goals Saturday, clicking from 48 and 43 yards; his miss was from 41.

--Among those getting the loudest pregame cheers Saturday was rookie RB Ryan Mathews.

"It was an unreal moment," he said. "I didn't think they were going to do that the first time."

--The Chargers' pass rush was potent in the first game. Five Chargers had sacks, led by Antwan Applewhite with two. "It changes the game," said DB Donald Strickland, who had a sack. "It gives the offense the ball more so they can score. It definitely gets in the quarterback's head. He might rush a pass, he may hold onto the ball a little longer. He's trying to get it out faster, so now he's making more mistakes when we're in his face."

--The Chargers welcome the Cowboys in Saturday night then it's off on the road. Not only are the Chargers final two exhibition games at New Orleans and San Francisco, but four of their first six regular-season games are away from Qualcomm Stadium.

--Despite OLB Shawne Merriman being a workout maniac, ILB Stephen Cooper said being in football shape is a different animal. "It'll take him a few weeks to get it back," Cooper said. "Training on your own is a whole lot different than being here. I think the coaching staff will gear towards his strengths and keep him from having to think about certain situations. He's going to be an impact player for us. Missing time this early won't change that."

--The Chargers lone touchdown reception against the Cowboys came courtesy of Legedu Naanee. He is running with the first team with Vincent Jackson out of camp. "I can't say that what we're seeing from him is new," QB Philip Rivers said. "He's been a quality receiver for some time now, and it's clear that he's coming into his own."

--Turner wasn't please the team had 10 penalties agaisnt the Bears, nine coming in the first half. "We're doing some things at the line of scrimmage and trying to get ourselves into the best play situations and we have some work to do," he said.

--The exhibition game was blacked out on local television when it failed to sell out 72 hours before kickoff.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "You trust what your eyes see and I've seen him for three months now and he has all the things you need to be an outstanding runner." -- Coach Norv Turner on rookie running back Ryan Mathews.


The big news of camp -- well until Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson return -- is that three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman has signed his tender and is back practicing. Merriman was held out of Saturday's exhibition season opener but could play Saturday when the Cowboys visit.


--LT Marcus McNeill, who declined to sign his restricted free-agent tender offer, was sent a letter to report by general manager A.J. Smith. His agent, Alvin Keels, confirmed the letter and said it doesn't change his client's stance of not reporting.

--WR Vincent Jackson is in a similar situation as McNeill. He was also sent the letter to report but doesn't plan to.

--With Shawne Merriman returning, it could cut into the reps Larry English was getting; English is having a solid camp.

--With ILB Donald Butler being lost for the season with an injury, it solidifies James Holt's chances of making the team. It helps that Holt has been active in the coaches' eyes as well.

--LB Ali Highsmith was cut to make room for Merriman.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Antonio Garay vs. Cam Thomas vs. Ogemdi Nwagbuo for starting DT.

Garay earned the top spot on the depth chart, but when the game came it was Nwagbuo trotting out wit with the first team. Garay showed well last year when coming aboard and is having a good camp. Thomas, a fifth-round pick, isn't shy about throwing his 6-foot-4, 335-pound (at least) frame around. Nwagbuo was a life-saver last year when Jamal Williams went down in the season-opener. But it seems Garay has wrestled the starting position away. This battle is worth watching the entire camp.


Josh Reed vs. Buster Davis for the No. 3 wide receiver spot.

Reed is the consummate pro, able to run exact routes and rely on his steady hands. Davis is a former first-round pick the Chargers keep talking up -- but he can never stay out of the trainer's room. The Chargers would prefer Davis starts showing something for what they have invested in him, but after one catch Saturday he was again being attended to by the medical staff after a taking a shot to his hip when returning a punt.

Richard Goodman vs. Jeremy Williams for kick return duties.

This spot will end up in the hands of Darren Sproles. But with his slight size and the Chargers trying to save him for the base offense, they might lean on someone else to occasionally field kickoffs. Goodman has had his share of drops in camp at wide receiver, but he ripped off a 51-yard return. And Williams, who is having a sensational camp, contributed a 34-yard return.

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: OLB Brandon Lang -- This undrafted rookie out of Troy continues to get noticed with a string of solid plays in practice. But really, it's what you do on game days -- especially for a long shot to make the roster -- where you must shine. Lang got his first big chance Saturday and didn't disappoint by blocking a punt out of the end zone. Lang's chances for making the team improved when Donald Butler, a third-round pick, landed on IR during camp. If making the team, Lang will likely contribute on special teams considering how loaded the Chargers are at his position.

ROOKIE REPORT: RB Ryan Mathews averaged 5.6 yards on nine carries in his NFL debut. ... SS Darrell Stuckey has been slowed with a groin injury; he is still fighting for a starting job. ... DT Cam Thomas continues to push for playing time on running downs. But he applied good pressure on a pass which was picked off by Paul Oliver. ... QB Jonathan Crompton was intercepted in his NFL debut; he's having a mediocre camp.


--RB Darren Sproles (shoulder) should return this week.

--OLB Larry English (foot) should be a go this week.

--LT Tra Thomas (knee) is still likely another week from returning.

--ILB Brandon Siler (ankle) will return to practice this week.

--SS Darrell Stuckey (groin) should return this week.

--G/C Scott Mruczkowski (ankle) could be down another week.

--T Nick Richmond (knee) is day-to-day.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Merriman agrees to tender

Source: ESPN

After missing the first part of training camp in the hopes of landing a lucrative new contract, Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman is planning to report to San Diego's camp this weekend and sign his $3.269 million tender, according to league sources.

According to sources, Merriman misses his teammates and the work too much to stay away any longer. Once he reports, San Diego will be left with two holdouts, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and offensive tackle Marcus McNeill. Jackson and McNeill also want long-term extensions and do not plan to report until they get them.

The Chargers, who finished 13-3 and won the AFC West last season, tendered Merriman, a restricted free agent, at a first and a third-round pick in March.

He is now willing to report to the Chargers to try to resume a career that got off to a tremendous start but has fallen off since. Merriman totaled 39 1/2 sacks from 2005 through 2007, but the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker struggled last year, posting only four sacks after sitting out almost the entire 2008 season because of two torn ligaments in his knee. Merriman has also dealt with off-field problems.

Merriman's then-girlfriend, reality TV personality Tila Tequila, accused Merriman of domestic violence and eventually sued him for damages after the San Diego district attorney dismissed the case. Merriman countersued Tequila, whose real name is Tila Ngyuen, and the two settled out of court in February.

Also, Merriman publicly clashed with Chargers general manager A.J. Smith in the media multiple times last season and was suspended for the first four games of the 2006 season for violating the NFL's steroid and related substances policy. Merriman finished that year with 17 sacks.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Chargers Team Report 8/02/10

Source: USA Today

A.J. Smith, the Chargers’ dour and gruff general manager, is done talking about Marcus McNeill, Vincent Jackson and Shawne Merriman. Those three players, who account for a combined six Pro Bowl selections, haven’t signed their contracts.

Smith’s role in these negotiations is a point for discussion. He went the hardball route on McNeill and Jackson, slashing their tender offers by nearly $2.5 million. Smith has dug in his heels, drawn a line in the sand — pick your cliche and Smith will sign off on it.

There were reports there was some movement in talks with McNeill, the massive left tackle whose responsibility is among the biggest on the team: keep $92 million quarterback Philip Rivers in one piece. But Smith shot that speculation down.

Jackson, like McNeill, has said it’s possible he won’t report until the season’s final six weeks. But his situation is even more clouded than McNeill, as he is facing a three-game suspension from the NFL after being convicted for his second driving under the influence charge.

Merriman’s stance, he said, is more about his lack of commitment from the Chargers than the dollar figures on his one-year deal. Merriman complained that he doesn’t feel wanted by the Chargers; that he is tired of constantly being on the trading block; that he wants a defense built around him.

“It was very disappointing to hear Shawne’s demands and desires regarding the Chargers,” Smith told the media. “But it certainly is his right to voice them. We will not guarantee him that he won’t be traded. That is not in the best interest of the organization.”

The Chargers would love, in some ways, for Merriman to be the focal point of the defense. But the truth is the player who wrecked havoc on the NFL and was named to the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons – that Shawne Merriman – hasn’t been seen of late.

In the past two years – the majority of one he missed by delaying knee surgery – Merriman shows but four sacks. Instead of being a disruptive, game-changing force on defense, Merriman has become a complementary player.

“We will not be building a defense around Shawne,” Smith added. “Our hope was that he would become an integral part of our defense. Obviously he has a lot on his mind going into the season. He will have to work that out with his agent.”

The Chargers have much to work out before kicking the season off Sept. 13 in Kansas City. They are minus their top pass-protector, top downfield threat, and top – in Merriman’s mind – pass-rusher.

That’s a lot to compensate for.

Merriman, though, figures to report sooner rather than later. That same can’t be said for McNeill and Jackson.

In the recent past, Chargers training camps have been devoid of news and spirited competitions – a tribute to the success the team has enjoyed of late. But the early buzz for this camp is just as much about the players not here as the ones returning from a 13-3 team – one that capped its season with its third playoff loss in four postseason games.

CAMP CALENDAR: The first practice was Aug. 1. There will be practices in Qualcomm Stadium Aug. 4 and Aug. 7. Camp closes Aug. 23.


—Chargers president Dean Spanos was among those relieved that top pick Ryan Mathews is in camp. Mathews has some big cleats to fill in replacing future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson.

“We are excited to have Ryan here and ready to go,” Spanos said. “Aside from his outstanding talents on the field, he’s a class young man and the kind of player we’re proud to add to our team.”

—The nickel role has been one the Chargers have had trouble filling. Just maybe in newcomer Donald Strickland the Chargers finally have their man. The seven-year veteran signed this offseason after playing there with the New York Jets in 2009 and San Francisco, Philadelphia and Indianapolis before that.

“That’s been my role the past four or five years and it’s something I have a knack for,” Strickland said. “You have to be a capable tackler and a coverage guy. It’s a little bit safety and a little bit cornerback, which I believe suits my strengths.”

—QB Philip Rivers annually shows up for training camp with his hair closely cropped. But it seems he went overboard this year. Let’s just say he would fit in as a Marines Corps poster boy for his latest buzz cut. “We cut it at the house and my (daughters) sure got a kick out of it,” Rivers said.

—CB Antoine Cason is comfortable with his early camp role of playing with the first string. “I came in to camp relaxed and ready to work,” Cason said. “I know what I’m capable of doing, which makes me confident when I go out there and play. I feel comfortable out there right now, but I’m still working to get better.”

—OL Brandyn Dombrowski started two games at right guard and seven at right tackle last season. But this season he has been plopped on the left side with tackle Marcus McNeill not in camp. And that is fine with Dombrowski.

“That’s my natural side,” Dombrowski said. “I feel more comfortable and that I can move better on the left, so I don’t think the adjustment will be that big of a deal. I’m going to pour focus into my technique, especially the little things. I’ve learned that poor technique gets you beat on game day. I have to be perfect, or as close to perfect as I can be moving forward.”

—SS Steve Gregory was on the sidelines but he became part of the play when Rivers overshot a receiver. “Hey Steve, head’s up!” Rivers shouted as the ball sailed toward Gregory. He saw the ball at the last moment and made a nice catch.

— Jets CB Antonio Cromartie, a former Charger, had this to say about his new training camp digs; his remark didn’t go unnoticed by the Chargers. “Now this is training table food. Ribs, mustard greens, bake beans, and mac cheese. Man I love it.” Cromartie was fined $2,500 last summer by the Chargers for criticizing the quality of the food they provided during training camp.

—Coach Norv Turner is a bit ticked about the constant talk about the players not at Chargers camp and what that means for the season. “We still get to play with 11 guys,” Turner said.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s always about health in this game. The physical ability will still be there for me, because I didn’t play college football and endure all the wear and tear that comes with it. That being said, I believe I’ll play through this contract. But I don’t want to be forced into retirement. I want to go out on my own terms, and no matter what, I’ll make sure that happens.” — TE Antonio Gates on if he’ll still be able to play at age 35, after his current contract extension reaches its end.


Little movement here with the big three: Marcus McNeill, Vincent Jackson and Shawne Merriman. They are restricted free agents and have yet to sign their tender offers.

But the Chargers did get RB Ryan Mathews in the fold thanks to a $25 million deal which includes $15 million in guaranteed money.


—LT Brandyn Dombrowski has been running with the first team. That development could mean that he’s for now the first-stringer, as well as the team being cautious with wearing out 35-year-old Tra Thomas. Both are getting long looks with Marcus McNeill not reporting.

—CB Antoine Cason is getting the first shot at replacing Antonio Cromartie in the starting lineup. Cason, a former first-round pick, was unable to hold down the nickel role last year. Cromartie was peddled to the Jets in the offseason because of his lack of consistency and physical play.

—DT Ryon Bingham spent last season on injured reserve but has come back and been playing with the first unit. The Chargers are seeking a replacement for three-time Pro Bowler Jamal Williams; he left as a free agent for Denver. Williams played in but one game last year before getting hurt.

—The team released SS Kevin Ellison, a nine-game starter last year, before training camp. It did so because it was impressed with rookie Darrell Stuckey; Stuckey has been running with the first team.

—With Jackson absent, Malcom Floyd has moved into his spot. Floyd has a lanky build similar to Jackson, but not the downfield speed Jackson possesses, which keeps defenses honest.

EXPECTED BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Brandyn Dombrowski vs. Tra Thomas for the starting left tackle spot. Dombrowski’s stock rose significantly last season with the Chargers after the undrafted free agent filled in for Louis Vasquez at right guard and Jeromey Clary at right tackle. But can this unsung player take care of Philip Rivers’ blind side? If not, does Thomas, entering his 13th year, have much left in his tank after contemplating retirement during the offseason? The Chargers season – if Marcus McNeill stays out for a lengthy period – could decide the Chargers’ chances for success this year.

OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Antoine Cason vs. Donald Strickland vs. Nathan Vasher for starting left cornerback spot. Cason gets the first licks in here, but he is no means a shoe-in to replace Antonio Cromartie. The Chargers were reluctant to hand the job to Cason and they proved it when bringing in Strickland and Vasher, two veterans, as insurance policies.

ROOKIE REPORT: RB Ryan Mathews signed in time for the team’s first workouts in pads after missing the first four sessions. … ILB Donald Butler, a third-round selection, got some early work before the veterans reported; he could be seeing the field mostly on special teams. … SS Darrell Stuckey, a fourth-round selection, is splitting duties on the first unit with Steve Gregory. … DT Cam Thomas is getting a good grasp on the team’s 3-4 alignment.

INJURY REPORT: The Chargers, in a nod to how early it is in camp, haven’t sustained any injuries. All are working and the team has yet to rest anyone.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Mathews is officially a Charger!!

Source: SD Tribune

Ryan Mathews' agent came to Chargers Park this morning, and the sides finished up the first-round pick's deal face-to-face.

Mathews received slightly more than $15 million guaranteed in a $26.65 million deal.

Mathews is expected at today's 4 p.m. practice. Though, because he has missed the first four practices, it isn't known how much he will participate in the first full-pads workout.