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San Diego Chargers Begin 2013 Preseason Training Camp
July 25, 2013 12:53 p.m.
Jay Paris, San Diego Sports Writer
Related Story: San Diego Chargers Begin 2013 Preseason Training Camp
CAVANAUGH: Training camp began today for the San Diego Chargers! There's a lot of expectation in the air for the Chargers this season with a new coach and general manager at the helm. And the team picked up some new players. Including a linebacker from Notre Dame whose name was in the news quite a bit earlier this year. Joining us is jay Paris, he watched the practice at Chargers Park. And welcome!
PARIS: Thanks for having me. Good to see you.
CAVANAUGH: Could you tell us anything from this morning first practice? Did you get a feel for the team?
PARIS: There's still air in the football.
[ LAUGHTER ]
PARIS: No, there's -- speaking of air, there's a new breath of fresh air, really. When you have so many changes at key positions, head coach, general manager, and who goes on the field as well, a lot of new players. You could sense there was a turning of the page today. Leaving the Norv Turner and AJ Smith era behind. So it was different in that sense, and it's a little different system, and they're using different terminology. So there's some tweaking going on out there. I think what struck me quite a bit was the enthusiasm of the fans. There were a lot of people out there today. And I know they're trucking people in from Qualcomm Stadium this year, which is kind of new. So people are ready. I don't know if that's a reflection on how quick they want to get rid of the Padres season, but there was a buzz out there.
CAVANAUGH: Do the veterans look like they've kept in shape?
PARIS: Yeah, they do. This game is a year-round sport now with the offseason workouts and the money on the table. If you show up fat and sloppy, it's called three hots and a cot. You can't make the club sitting in the tub, as they say. So you've got to be in shape. The coaches say now, they're not waiting on anybody. It's go time. So you got to be ready, show up ready, and hit the ground running.
CAVANAUGH: The last three years have been pretty painful for Chargers fans. What's been missing from the team that's kept us out of the playoffs?
PARIS: It's been -- I think the expectations were awful high, and it was -- they just lost their mojo under coach Turner and AJ Smith. And with that, Philip Rivers who is often mentions among the elite quarterbacks, he took a few steps back. When your quarterback takes a few steps back, that usually tugs the team with him. Is that all Phillip's fault? Absolutely not. His playmakers are the guys he gets the ball to. There was a talent drain on the roster, particularly in the front line. There was a lot of hits there. And there wasn't the continuity. And that front line wasn't good. So when your quarterback is laying on his back looking up at the sky, it's hard to throw a pass. And if they can shore that up, maybe the team gets better.
CAVANAUGH: I read that [General Manager Tom] Telesco got high marks for his draft picks.
PARIS: Manti Te'o, finalist from Notre Dame. He slipped down, and they felt fortunate to get him. He comes with that off the field baggage, but not many of the guys in the locker room talk about it. And Manti doesn't talk about it.
CAVANAUGH: They're keeping him away from the press.
PARIS: They were early on. He was out there today. And he's not rattled, he's not ruffled, he'll answer every question, look everybody in the eye. I think that part hasn't overwhelmed him. That's encouraging for him and the rest of the defense because he'll be playing such a critical position. DJ Fluker was their No.1, 1st round pick. And we go back to that offensive line, the guys blocking for Phillip, he's a right tackle, and he's going to have his hands full keeping the pass rushers at bay. Those are two key guys. Whereas in years past, this team was so set and the roster was so set, the positions were almost already determined. Not anymore. This is a team that needs to bounce back from its first losing season since 2003.
CAVANAUGH: You say one of the crucial aspects is whether the veterans and the rookies all get-together and learn the new calls, the new plays, the new system.
PARIS: Right. And especially Norv Turner not only was he the head coach, he was the offensive coordinator before that. So really Philip Rivers has been running the same offensive for nine years. They're not going to be coming in here and reinvent the wheel. There's only so many routes you can run and so many things you can do. But it's how you check off another play, it's what you call it, it's being comfortable with it. In football, you don't want to think and play.
CAVANAUGH: And who are the other key players we should keep an eye on?
PARIS: Jeromey Clary, Nick Hardwick's the anchor at center, left guard Chad Rinehart was brought in from the offseason. And Max Starks, the left tackle from the Super Bowl Steeler teams of the past. He's going to be a left tackle. Out of the five spot, there's going to be four guys playing in different positions. On the defensive side of the ball, Dwight Freeney came over from the Colts. One of the premier pass rushers of his time. The old joke is a lot of old people come to San Diego to retire, and they're hoping Dwight Freeney isn't one of them.
[ LAUGHTER ]
CAVANAUGH: Based on what you know about this team, and the enthusiasm out there, what do you think we're going to see on the field? A winning season for the Chargers?
PARIS: I think it's possible. They won seven last year. If they can get to eight this year that'd almost be a good year. Almost six new starters on the defensive side. The defensive line was rebuilt. Is it better? Sometimes different isn't always good. There's still a ton of question marks. And the Broncos seem to have separated themselves so much from the rest of the AFC west. A .500 season would be a good season for the Chargers.
CAVANAUGH: And you're talking about the fans who came out and watched this training camp.
PARIS: Yeah, I think that's the key. NFL games are always sold out. It's the most popular sport there is. The Chargers had four blackouts last year. There's only eight home game. And for the people who are maybe disabled or can't get out to the games economically, that's a big part of Sundays in San Diego, watching Chargers on TV. And for four of those home games not to be on local television because they weren't sold out, that was key. And it's a rarity around the league. So they need to get that buzz back.
CAVANAUGH: Is the team still talking about needing a new stadium?
PARIS: Absolutely. To anyone who'll listen. The one they're pointing to is the east village just east of Petco Park. They're hoping to ferry that in with the Convention Center expansion. So they have been looking around for ten or eleven years at different sites. The one that hopes they can still get some traction is to put it next to Petco Park, have like a sports village with the Gaslamp and the trollies and the Aztecs playing down there. Now it comes down to who writes the check.
CAVANAUGH: And we haven't seen a lot of political momentum toward that recently.
PARIS: We haven't. For a while, they thought Mayor Filner would embrace their site. They're still trying to cobble it together. There's one being built up in San Francisco this year for the 49ers. And that's a rarity because new stadiums in California are tough to build.
CAVANAUGH: Fans can watch the Chargers practice during training camp, and we'll have all that information on our website, KPBS.org.