A leader of the San Diego Chargers' pack

The San Diego Chargers talked about bringing in veteran leadership to mentor the young team they assembled. They made a few such moves but one that is panning out in its entirety is the addition of Keenan McCardell to the wide receiving corps.

Keenan McCardell has been around. And when the veteran wide receiver looks around the Chargers' locker room, he likes what he sees.

"We're pretty good," he said. "But it's up to us to stay good."

The Chargers have had a good rest, and now crank it up again with a visit to Oakland on Sunday. Three weeks after demolishing the Raiders, 42-14, they try to stay hot by proving they can do it on the road.

"I think we got a lot of young guys that want to play, and a mix of veterans who want to play," McCardell said. "As Marty (Schottenheimer) says, if we practice well doing the week we will play well on Sunday. And nine times out of 10 we will get a good result. They are believing it and they are seeing it. When you win, you see it."

The Chargers (6-3) are eyeing a playoff spot after winning six of their first nine, three straight and four of their past five. That's a heady destination for the Chargers, who last were invited to the postseason in 1995.

McCardell, as do other veterans, know the Chargers haven't accomplished anything yet. And some sense a trap on Sunday, with the Raiders (3-6) being at the Black Hole and eager to erase the red-face they left San Diego with.

So Schottenheimer has been cracking the whip this week in practice. And McCardell, as well as others long in the NFL tooth, are telling the youngsters to fall in line. If not, it's easy to fall out of a share of the AFC West lead.

"It's up to the veterans to go out and show these guys that this is how we work, each and every day," said McCardell, who has 15 catches for 209 yards and a touchdown in three games. "This is how we work, this is how we become a better team. That's how playoff teams become playoff teams -- they get better each week, during the practice week."

McCardell's practices have come with a certain sense of urgency. He didn't join the club until Oct. 19, and has been playing catch up since. Each week, he gets deeper into the playbook, with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron giving him more and more responsibilities.

McCardell has seen his long reception of the year go up every week. In three games, his longs have been good for 23 yards, 24 yards and 31 yards.

"I'm pretty well up to speed with everything," the 13-year pro said. "The bye week came, and I really didn't like it because I wanted to keep playing. But it gave me a chance to study a little bit more."

In his studies on the Raiders this week, he's not buying into the notion the Chargers are 28 points better.

"They have been banged up and they had a bye week just like us, so they are getting healthy," he said. "They have some very talented guys and we expect those guys to be healthy and playing their "A" game. They will be playing at home and (ticked) off about what happened last time. So we are expecting their best.

"They are going to come back and be ready to play. We can't go in there and overlook nothing, just because we beat them. This is a rival game and you go out and play. Just go out and say, `hey, we got to beat these guys with the fundamentals, the little things. We just played them three weeks ago, so there is no tricky anybody."

The real trick for the Chargers is finishing what they started.

In 2001, they began 5-2 and ended up 5-11. In 2002, they jumped from the gate at 6-1 and finished 8-8.

Maybe this year will be different. Maybe the tone for the rest of the season starts Sunday in Oakland.

"It's going to be the team that is fundamentally sound that wins the game," McCardell said.


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