Training Camp Primer: Offense

The Chargers were bragging this time last summer that they were returning all 22 starters. After finishing at 9-7 and in third place in the AFC West, the team made some changes.

Nowhere is that more evident than the quarterback position. Despite pacing the Chargers to 20 wins as a starter the past two years, Pro Bowler Drew Brees - who is recovering from shoulder surgery - was allowed to leave for New Orleans. That opened the door for third-year pro Philip Rivers.

The offensive line is also a question mark, as left tackle Roman Oben is mending after two foot surgeries. Plus, the unit will be playing for its third positional coach in three years as Jack Henry was brought in to replace Carl Mauck.

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Philip Rivers. Backups - A.J. Feely, Charlie Whitehurst.

Mr. Rivers, it's time for your close-up. After waiting behind Drew Brees for two seasons, Rivers will finally be flipped the car keys to drive this unit toward the playoffs. Although, some doubt if Rivers can contribute with consistency right away with but 30 NFL passes and yet to start his first NFL game. Rivers, though, counters that this is his third year in the offense and he didn't waste his time being Brees' caddy. Rivers said he absorbed through Brees what it takes to prepare on a weekly basis and how to be a leader at this level. If Rivers stumbles, the Chargers could go with Feeley a starter with the Eagles and Dolphins. Whitehurst is seen as a project but should be the team's No. 3 quarterback.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters - RB LaDainian Tomlinson, FB Lorenzo Neal. Backups - Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, Andrew Pinnock.

Tomlinson is among the NFL's elite backs and his services will be needed more than ever as the Chargers try to break in a new quarterback. To lessen the pounding Tomlinson takes, he could be more involved in the passing game to give him some space to work with - in any capacity, Tomlinson is a versatile threat with few NFL peers. Neal is the workhorse opening holes for Tomlinson and doesn't show any signs of decline skills despite this being his 14th season. Turner's play last year, especially late, could result in seeing his role increase this season. Sproles never got comfortable in the base offense, although the Chargers are still looking for ways to get him the ball.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Antonio Gates. Backups - Aaron Shea, Brandon Manumaleuna.

Some will argue in Kansas City, but Gates has become the top player at his position. Gates could be leaned on even more this season as a safety value for Rivers. Shea and Manumaleuna were brought in as blockers and will seldom see a pass headed in their direction. It's the role of the sure-handed Gates in an offense with a new quarterback, which can't be minimized.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker. Backups - Vincent Jackson, Kassim Osgood, Rashaun Woods, Malcom Floyd.

McCardell's credentials are among the game's all-time best. But does a team with Super Bowl aspirations really want a 36-year-old receiver as its go-to wide out? Parker's numbers continue to rise. But what hasn't changed his is 6-foot, 180-pound frame which often gets battered by his acrobatic and fearless catches. Jackson managed but three catches last year in a rookie season plagued by minor injuries. Osgood has some upside, but blocking is his strength; Woods was a first-round bust in San Francisco and is hoping to resurrect his career.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Starters - LT Roman Oben, LG Kris Dielman, C Nick Hardwick, RG Mike Goff, LT Shane Olivea. Backups - Leander Jordan, Marcus McNeill, Scott Mruczkowski, Cory Lekkerkerker.

Oben, and not Rivers, could be the key to the offense. The 11-year veteran is trying to rebound from two foot surgeries. Dielman, a former defensive lineman, has grown into a reliable starter. Hardwick has grown in girth some 20 pounds to handle the massive nose tackle bodies he must wrestle with. Goff is solid if not spectacular; Olivea's play seemed to wane as last season wore on.


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