Most important time of the year

This is Christmas time. At least for the San Diego Chargers coaching and scouting departments. Head coach Marty Schottenheimer said it best. "With all these young men you spend a lot of time on them, studying them researching, a couple of weeks in preparation for the draft and now you finally get an opportunity to see them." Christmas for the staff and the first days of work for the rookies - time to make an impact as time goes by quickly.

It's only May and it's only football players running around in shorts. But don't discount how important the rookie orientation workouts are to the San Diego Chargers.

Rookies get their first taste of the big leagues while gathering for two days and four sessions of NFL-style coaching. On the final day of the three-day event, the newcomers will be joined by the veterans as the team kicks off its offseason coaching sessions.

But it's the rookies that will garner the most attention, as the Chargers made few moves regarding older players this offseason. The most significant free-agency signing was Carolina safety Marlon McCree.

The first question is whether top draft choice Antonio Cromartie is ready to resume his playing career. The talented cornerback from Florida State missed last season with a serious knee injury, but the Chargers' team doctors were convinced he's sound and now he gets to prove it after the Chargers took him 19th overall.

How about left tackle Marcus McNeill out of Auburn? The second-round pick's development could be more critical than Cromartie's.

The Chargers' fingers are crossed that McNeill can learn for at least a year behind savvy veteran Roman Oben. But the reality is Oben isn't close to getting on the field, and some are holding their breath in the organization about whether he'll be over his two foot surgeries by training camp.

So McNeill will see plenty of work in the opening workouts. The Chargers must find out if he can handle the load of protecting first-year starting quarterback Philip Rivers' blind side.

If the job is too big for McNeill and Oben is still ailing, the Chargers could be forced to go with journeyman Leander Jordan. That prospect scared the team so much it wasted little time in drafting McNeill.

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