Chargers camp: Oh Happy Day

The glory days have returned, if just for a few short weeks. The San Diego Chargers are set to open training camp – a time of year when the fans are in high spirits as the team has yet to lose a game, a quarterback has yet to throw a ball too short, a wide open receiver has not yet dropped a ball and no one has gone for it on fourth down from the opponents 30 instead of kicking the field goal.

It is the time for optimism, regardless of whether it is unfounded. LaDainian Tomlinson recently said he would be happy with eight wins.

That may be some sort of veteran talk to get his teammates pumped but it should not be fooling anyone. The Chargers are just not that good – yet. Eight wins from this group may be more than they can chew.

Going into Camp Carson, the Chargers are riddled with questions. Besides the obvious cut questions that will permeate the ranks, there are smoldering topics that will need answers and far too many to produce a .500 season.

Here are ten questions, in no particular order, that no one is talking about but need to be answered as camp dawns:

1. Is Carson the answer?

The team moved its training camp up to Carson to build continuity. They achieved this by separating the offense and defense in the locker room. This year they have torn the walls down and are committed to building team unity. Will it make it to the field?

2. Two of a kind

The Chargers strength could be in its tight ends. Antonio Gates is a refreshing sight and may be the best option the quarterback has. Will Justin Peelle be on the other side making strides in the passing game or will a Ryan Krause/Josh Norman combo be used to exploit the linebackers keying on Tomlinson. The holes underneath should be open.

3. Backup, we don't need no stinking backup

The truth is the Chargers do. For three years the team has treaded without a bona fide backup to LaDainian Tomlinson. The harsh reality is the team needs a backup it can count on and that means giving the backup carries in garbage time and in certain game situations.

4. Specialists be damned

Recalling the glory days when Leon Johnson would make it on the field at The Meadowlands, there was a certain energy he brought. A few injuries later and he looks slower than molasses. If the team is going to carry a specialist to return kicks, let that person by dynamic. Let that person be able to take it to the house. Johnson may not be able to run to the sidelines before the barrage of assailants bear down on him.

5. First down

Generally reserved for a run play, the Chargers need to come out firing. If the general consensus is to run 80 percent of the time, they need to throw 40 percent of the time. Make the defense think. Don't play into their hands by running with a stacked line. The thinking needs to be present during camp, even if they don't show it during preseason games.

6. A touch of Stew

As good as the secondary needs to be, it will be interesting to see the new dynamics of secondary coach Brian Stewart. Last year it seemed that defensive assistant John Pagano had more weight than Jerry Holmes. Stewart must impress his teachings and influence on a still very young group. They are teachable and he needs to teach them the right way.

7. Who has the tight end?

Over the last two years Donnie Edwards has been more than capable in covering the tight ends that dare to cross the middle. On the flip side, Ben Leber seemingly regressed from a rookie campaign. Leber has the most to lose in the switch to the 3-4. He could have a renaissance or could be left with the Gatorade by the end of the year. He needs to perform better in coverage than he ever has for this team to succeed.

8. A click of the fingers

The snap is one of the most overlooked aspects of football. A crisp exchange from the center to the quarterback makes for a smooth transition into the rest of an offense's game. An awkward snap can doom a play before it begins. With Jason Ball tentatively not scheduled to be at camp, the duties fall on David Brandt, Troy Andrew and Nick Hardwick. The problem is there will be no fourth center to be found. Who gets the benefit of Hardwick, the odds on favorite to be the starter if Ball stays on the sidelines? Is it a hint into who will start? Someone has to get comfortable with the center and it could be the tell-tale sign on who will begin the year over center.

9. Forget the nose

Too much has been made of the nose guard position and Jamal Williams not being at an adequate weight. Williams will be fine. Instead the real question is who will tackle the ball carrier. Anyone who has seen Donnie Edwards play knows he has a beat on the ball. He will get his tackles. Look to the left and right of center and the questions pop up. Who will provide containment on the outside? Steve Foley and Shaun Phillips are known pass rush specialists but how will they fare when they are run at…and they will be run at. Will the ends be muscled around or will they step up to the task?

10. Bring out your dead

It is almost inevitable that a veteran will get cut. The candidate list is longer than most think and it may start amongst the linebackers and receivers. The team is moving in a different direction and some pieces may not fit. Last year it was Ryan McNeil. Who will it be this year?

En-lightning Note: The San Diego Chargers must cut three players before camp officially begins on Friday and they will have to cut two more as they sign Igor Olshansky and Philip Rivers. The Bolts can bring 80 players to Camp Carson and have four roster exemptions from players allocated to NFL Europe. will be at training camp in Carson throughout, leading the coverage into the season.

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