Chargers Monday morning camp: Opportunities

San Diego Chargers camp is a time for opportunity. It is a time when the younger players can make their name known and get some significant time in preseason. It is a time to take advantage of an injury, no matter how small or big. Sometimes it is the only opportunity to impress the coaching staff.

Matt Wilhelm, a mystery man to most, proved to be the strongest linebacker on the field. Wilhelm, working out at inside linebacker and making all the adjustment calls for the second team defense, was working over the sleds, pushing them up in the air with a vengeance as he went through his drills.

Wilhelm had a quiet camp last year but has been much more noticeable this time around. He is making plays and has proven to be quite stout against the run. In one-on-one drills on Monday he first paired up with Jesse Chatman and blew him up on two occasions. He used a power move the first time around and then made a nifty inside move to get at the quarterback. When he was paired against Andrew Pinnock, Wilhelm saw his reign come to an end. Pinnock locked him up both times they battled and earned praise from his coaches who were yelling, "Dance with him! Dance with him!" Pinnock kept the linebacker locked up and won those battles.

Still the odd man out last year has made strides and with Carlos Polk out with a groin injury he has a shot to get noticed and perhaps even used this year.

Wilhelm also tipped a pass from Joe Germaine during 9-on-9 work, dropping back and reading the quarterback's eyes and reacting quickly when the ball was released.

Stephen Cooper was not far behind in terms of strength and has been running with the first team on defense.

"I got a lot of really good feedback from the coaches," Cooper said. "They are really excited about me. Plugging away and keep doing what I am doing to get on the field. I am going to give it my all in camp and hopefully I can get a starting job. I am going to play my role, do my special teams and let it take care of itself."

Cooper matched up with Pinnock his first time out and got him with a quick burst around the edge. He was otherwise thwarted by the multitude of backs that blocked him. He has been diagnosing plays well in team drills and has been knifing through the line to get into the backfield.

With Donnie Edwards seemingly ahead of him, the competition is tough to crack the lineup.

"I can't worry about that," Cooper said. "I have to worry about my job and what I am capable of doing. Make sure I know what I am doing at my position and getting the job done to the best of my ability."

The second year linebacker out of Maine has been taking advantage of the injury to Edwards.

Ben Leber has been one of the better rushers off the edge, showing a better burst coming from the left side. Leber came out with guns blazing on Monday. He trucked fullback Lorenzo Neal, sending the big man sprawling backwards with a shudder. Leber followed up with a Brock Edwards matchup and Leber schooled the rookie by taking the inside present that Edwards handed him. The undrafted rookie tried to meet him in the middle but the savvy veteran quickly moved inside and left Edwards flat-footed.

It wasn't until Calvin Murray stepped to the plate that Leber was stonewalled.

Overall, the linebacker play may be underrated in San Diego. The team has several players who are capable of making plays and a few that could see some time in the backfield if Wade Phillips gives them an opportunity. With a nice core, it could wind up being a team strength – if used properly.

Lightning quicks:

Courtney Van Buren returned to the field and was immediately inserted into the starting left tackle position.

Josh Norman tipped a high pass from Cleo Lemon that was intercepted by Kevin House.

Lemon was off the mark for most of Monday's morning practice. The quarterback was high on a number of passes. Drew Brees looked very good out there.

Jonathan Cox drew some "Oohs" when he knocked Wes Welker to the ground after a catch – and Cox took it easy on the diminutive receiver.

Ryan Krause found a few soft spots in the middle of the zone and sat in them, prompting Coach Brewster to say, "Nice spot Ryan" on several occasions.

Coach Manusky has maintained his usual self with words of encouragement during 7-on-7 drills, "Come on guys, kick their (tails)!"

Kevin Dyson was in pads and only ran a few routes on the day. He seemed to be testing his groin injury that held him out on Saturday.

Grant Mattos made the catch of the morning – more on that later today.

Denis Savage can be reached at

SD Super Chargers Top Stories