Schottenheimer on Chargers minicamp

San Diego Chargers addressed the media after the final practice of minicamp on Sunday. He spoke about the progress of the offense and defense, Antonio Gates' injury, Shawne Merriman's absence and rookies who stood out.

On the progress of his team now compared to this point last year:
There's no doubt that we're further ahead because we're established I think at the quarterback position. We feel good about those guys. We're also another year further into the defensive system, so we're clearly much further ahead.

On the competition in the secondary:
That will be a very, very interesting group. There are a number of guys back there that have the skill to be good winning players in this league. The corner competition is going to be very keen, as is the safety position.

On Antonio Gates being held out of drills Sunday:
He had a little bit of a hamstring, so we held him out. I put together practice schedules for these things and invariable what happens is each day I keep shortening the practice. We had one more play to run, and if we can get to the last play and everybody's healthy, we don't run the last play.

On comparing mini-camps from year to year:
I think it's accurate to suggest that we are further ahead at this moment than we were the same time a year ago. I think there is no question about that. There's stability at the quarterback position. There's no uncertainty. We've got two guys that are competing and another young guy in Cleo (Lemon) who is growing rapidly. The opportunity to have been involved in the defensive system for an entire season is going to be a big benefit to us. There is a very healthy competition in the OCS as well as this camp between our offense and our defense. Everyone is healthy. A couple of days ago the offense had a really good day. Then the defense really stepped up, and I think that competition brings the performance level of everyone to a higher level.

On the strong side linebacker position, particularly with Shawne Merriman's situation:
When that gets resolved, it will probably be as a linebacker, but we haven't ruled out the possibility of him (Merriman) playing with his hand on the ground either. I think we all know where we are right now. It's going to be difficult for Shawne to catch up. I'm not suggesting that he can't. I've only been doing this for 28 years, and it's hard enough as it is without missing all this time.

On the possibility of playing Merriman as a down lineman instead of linebacker:
He may be more prepared to help you in that kind of role than he would be standing up. It's a non-situation right now.

On any rookies that stood out over the weekend:
I think it's safe to say that (Darren) Sproles is an exciting young player. I'm reluctant to go beyond that in terms of a minicamp where you're not in pads or anything. What he'll be asked to do here is exactly what he was asked to do in college, and he was a standout in college doing those things. There isn't a person around the organization right now that wouldn't tell you that we're hopeful that he stays injury free and that he's got an opportunity to be a contributor to us this season.

On what specific defensive improvements encourage him most:
I think it's an understanding of what we're doing. There are limits to what anybody can learn, particularly in the framework of a training camp where there is always an element of fatigue. Then you get in the games. Then, of course, you're playing those people that you feel give you the best chance to win right now. That limits the opportunity for the younger players. Now that you're into the second season of a defensive system, I think we're much better prepared because we have a better foundation. Everybody back there understands what we're trying to do. When I say everybody, I mean the guys that have been here.

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