Rookies look to make lasting impression

With training camp set to officially begin this weekend, the San Diego Chargers' rookie class has had a few days to leave lasting impressions through the rest of camp.

With so few positions open, despite head coach Marty Schottenheimer's "open competition" stance, the first reflection they shoot back to the coaches will be a lasting one.

Antonio Cromartie and Marcus McNeill knew that coming into the signing process and had agents that worked through the night to heed the call in order to get them in and start getting work done.

"Missing a day in training camp when the veterans get in is like missing a week," Cromartie remarked. "That will help me out in trying to compete for a starting job."

"Everyone knew I was trying to get in because I really can't compete (for a starting job) if I am at home doing nothing," McNeill said in earnest.

Both have a shot at seeing a lot of time on the field this season and each could find themselves as starters. The learning curve is also advanced for the cornerback and left tackle positions, requiring those early reps to set the tone for the rest of camp.

It was two years ago that Philip Rivers could have supplanted Drew Brees and that fact hasn't been lost on anyone.

Cromartie already has the athleticism to play the position but the key is getting the mental part of the game refined and applying the technique on the field.

"He needs a lot of work but he is a good worker," said Schottenheimer. "It is a matter of him putting it together on the mental side of it. The technical and fundamentals of the position is as important as the actual assignment. When done properly it will enable you to succeed more often."

Cromartie echoed those sentiments. "The physical part right now is not the biggest thing. It is just the mental part, getting into the film room to break down film to study myself and also study others."

While Cromartie may have further to go to supplant Drayton Florence, McNeill has an opportunity to anchor the left side of the line from day one, although his competition appears to be Schottenheimer favorite Leander Jordan with Roman Oben still hobbled.

Without depth at right or left tackle it would seem that McNeill could snatch the left side of the line away from his challengers with a strong training camp.

"We drafted him believing he has the opportunity to be a starter," Schottenheimer said of McNeill. "It remains to be seen when that will be.

"I have been pleased with the progress of Leander Jordan. He has a lot of skill. He is a player that doesn't have a lot of history as a starter but I think he may jump up and surprise people this year. He will play tackle, right or left."

"Whether Roman was healthy or not does not matter," McNeill began. "I always wanted to come in here and compete to the best of my ability. I guess it is a better avenue for me but he is teaching me a lot, taking me under his wing, so I am learning from him."

And the early work, getting in on time, and impressing the coaches with their ethic on the practice field provides one way to be noticed early and remain in the forefront throughout. With the bulk of camp and pads sessions in their future, the lights won't suddenly go dim. They will be expected to continue to prove their worth and when September 11 rolls around they may just find themselves in the starting lineup. It was made possibly by getting under contract in a reasonable time frame.


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