'The best thing about our team is that competition seems to bring out the best in everyone...we've got a lot of guys who love playing football...' - Philip Rivers
(Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press)
Competition good for optimistic Chargers
JOE McDONNELL  |
Published: Thursday, August 09, 2012, 10:10pm
Both QB's—Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers—tossed interceptions, lost fumbles and the teams combined for five turnovers in the first 12:22 of the first quarter. Rivers and Rodgers played most of the opening period before giving way to backups Jarrett Lee and Graham Harrell. Rivers was 3-5 with a 23 yard touchdown pass to TE Antonio Gates. Rodgers finished up 2 of 8 for 16 yards. But while the Chargers 23-13 win was mostly routine, a deeper look shows that this was an incredibly important opening night for the Bolts, despite its exhibition status.
After an off-season makeover that saw 24 new players join the Chargers—seven through the draft—it was important for veterans and rookies alike to show their abilities. "We've got a lot of players hoping to win jobs and hold onto jobs, and that's how they approached the game," head coach Norv Turner said. Making things even more pressurized was replacement officials—including line judge Shannon Eastin, the first female official in NFL history--calling the game while the regulars are engaged in a labor dispute.
"We have enough to think about as players," said All Pro safety Eric Weddle said earlier in the week. "No matter who is out there, we just have to go out and play and start getting ready for the season." And defensive end Shaun Phillips added some humor to the situation, saying that "some of the guys we have out at practice miss calls," he said laughing, "so of course new guys out there are going to miss calls. But at the end of the day, games shouldn't come down to referees.
With so many jobs on the line, it's the perfect attitude on a team battling for a playoff berth after two straight years of missing out on the party. No distractions, no complaints. Just play football.
Of course, guys like River, Gates, Weddle, Cason and Ryan Matthews don't have to be concerned about earning a roster spot. Many others are in the same position. However, when a team goes out and spends a ton of money to sign 17 free agents, there are more than a few veteran Chargers who know their jobs are on the line.
Phillips also isn't one of them, and he feels the competition will benefit the final 53-man roster that will open the season in Oakland.
"First of all, we were all at the point that we wanted to hit someone besides (our teammates)," Phillips said. "It's good to release that pressure, because (over) at the (practice) field you have to hold back just a little bit.
"The best thing about our team is that competition seems to bring out the best in everyone. In a lot of places, competition breeds jealousy, but we've got a lot of guys who love playing football and (they) get along with each other. We all have fun together; on the road we hang out in the hotels together."
Phillips also believes that getting along off the field is a key to winning on the field.
"It does," he said enthusiastically, "because you have trust in the man next to you. When I go out there, I play for the guy next to me, and I tell everybody else that's the way it should be. Like any team, we have our ups and down, but we always play four quarters of football. That's one thing about the San Diego Chargers; you don't have to worry about us playing hard. We always do."
A lot of the players have talked about the new additions such as strong safety Atari Bigby—a former Packer who played on their Super Bowl title team in 2010—and the multi-talented running back Ronnie Brown, signed as a free agent from Philadelphia, but the number two overall pick by Miami in the 2005 draft. The veteran Chargers not only welcome them as new teammates, but for the information and knowledge they've brought from their previous teams.
"A guy like Jarrett Johnson comes in and he brings a lot from a talented defense in Baltimore," Weddle said. "We can take some of those things and make ourselves better players."
The Chargers are hoping that the exhibition season can propel them away from a very weird 2011 campaign. They won four of five, dropped six straight and then went 4-1 again. The fast finish wasn't enough for a playoff spot, but it gave the Chargers a lot to think about as they got ready for Thursday night's first practice game.
"Losing is contagious, just like winning is contagious," said Phillips, a nine-year veteran from Purdue. "It just became a contagious thing, and we didn't take it as the challenge that we should have. But that was last year's team, and while we have some of the same faces, we have a completely new team.
"Last season is just that—last season."
NOTES: Lee was impressive after replacing Rivers, going 15-22 for 235 yards and a touchdown—a 27 yard toss to wide receiver Vincent Brown. Harrell was 15 of 27 for 135 yards when he took over for Rodgers….With Matthews on the shelf, Brown will likely get increased reps during the next phase of training camp. "He's in great shape and looks good," said Turner. "Ryan is a big part of our offense, but we'll see what Ronnie and some of the other guys can do."………Turner was pleased with his teams overall performance. "From the opening kickoff, we moved the ball down the field and we scored on that drive. The offense did well, and so did the defense. We forced a lot of turnovers, and the guys showed they were ready." He wasn't happy about the three turnovers, but said his team had made a commitment to be one of the teams with the least turnovers during the season. "We've talked about it a lot, how important it is to be mistake-free. The team will get better at keeping the ball."
In many ways, it was a typical first exhibition game for the San Diego Chargers and Green Bay Packers—even down to one team losing a star player on his first touch of the meaningless pre-season. Running back Ryan Matthews fractured his collarbone, will have surgery Friday and miss 4-6 weeks.
McDonnell is an award-winning journalist/talk show host. He joined
FoxSportsWest.com in February 2011 as a writer/podcaster. Named LA Daily
News Sports Talk Host of the Decade, he won the yearly award 7 times.
He's also won 2 Golden