San Diego Chargers open training camp

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“San Di-e-go, super chargers, charge!”

The lockout has lifted and the lightning bolts officially opened training camp last Thursday.

With the first game of the season just 45 days away, players gathered at Charger’s Park on Thursday morning for a set of team walkthroughs before the first official practice took place on Thursday afternoon, with players participating in two special teams periods, two run periods, 16 plays of blitz and a combination of 7-on-7, 9-on-9 and team drills, the Chargers’ official website said.

“It’s nice to get on the field and get started,” head coach Norv Turner told the media after practice.  “There’s no question that we’re behind a little bit from where I would like us to be, but today we got started trying to get caught up.  We’re working hard to get our young guys caught up, but I thought we had an outstanding start.”

The day featured notable starters such as quarterback Philip Rivers tossing passes to the likes of receivers Antoine Cason and Patrick Crayton, running back Ryan Mathews taking handoffs out of the backfield, and linebacker Shaun Phillips taking part in defensive drills.

A sight for sore chargers fans eyes, pro bowl tight end Antonio Gates also returned to the practice field after a plantar fasciitis injury left him sidelined for most of the 2010 season.

Though feeling better, Gates said he would take it easy on his body this preseason in order to ensure a 100 percent healthy return on opening day.

“I’m trying to get what I need to be well-rested and well-prepared,” Gates told the Charger’s website.  “It’s a give-and-take at this point.”

Among some of the rookies new to the Charger’s team this year are second-round draft picks Marcus Gilchrist, a cornerback out of Clemson who is expected to play a big part in the Charger’s defense and special teams, and linebacker Jonas Mouton, who led the Big Ten in tackles last year for Michigan.

Wide receiver Vincent Brown, out of San Diego State, signed his contract on Thursday and starting catching River’s passes at camp on Friday.  According to the SDSU official athletic site, Brown caught 209 passes for 3,110 yards in his college career, good enough for third all-time in school history.  His 23 touchdowns were good enough for fifth all-time.

First-round draft picks Corey Liuget, the defensive end out of Illinois, and third-rounder Shareece Wright out of USC, now remain the only two rookies yet to sign contracts, but deals could be done by the end of the weekend, the Union-Tribune reported.

Other new faces joining the Chargers for the 2011 season are veteran linebacker and two-time pro bowler Takeo Spikes and safety Bob Sanders, who has suffered injury-plagued seasons the past couple years but, when healthy, can deliver punishing hits over the middle.  The team also re-signed veteran free agents Jeromey Clary and Randy McMichael.

Notably missing from Chargers training camp are wide receiver Vincent Jackson and running back and special teams extraordinaire Darren Sproles.

Sproles entered free agency and signed with the New Orleans Saints last Thursday.  His previous contract with the Chargers, $14 million for each of the past two seasons, made him the second highest paid running back in the NFL, but the bolts could not afford to continue paying him and were forced to let their ultimate utility man go.  Sproles led the Chargers in receptions in 2010 and since 2009 carried the ball 143 times for 610 yards.

Jackson received a Chargers’ non-exclusive franchise tag in February after holding out for a longer contract for half of last season.  The receiver can sign that tag as early as Friday, and reports that, according to Jackson’s agent, he is expected to do so and remain a Charger for the full 2011 season, making $11 million in the process.

With both old faces and sharp new additions, the Chargers will once again look to contend for an AFC West Championship after finishing the 2010 season with a 9-7 record, good enough for second place in the division.

The path to the Super Bowl begins with the first preseason game on August 11 when the Chargers host the Seattle Seahawks at Qualcomm Stadium.  The first regular season game of the year will be one month later on September 11 when the Minnesota Vikings come to town.

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