Camp coming to a close

With training camp drawing to a close, the Chargers put on one final night show for their fans at Chargers Park. Practice highlights included some big hits by Stephen Cooper, impressive returns by Cletis Gordon and a nifty touchdown reception by Cory Lekkerkerker.

Unfortunately, there was plenty of sloppy play, too. The linebackers were frequently drawn offsides by hard counts during a one-on-one pass blocking drill; the cornerbacks were mugging receivers downfield during the seven-on-seven session; and the receivers – especially the usually reliable Malcom Floyd – dropped too many easy passes.

One player who did look sharp was Stephen Cooper, who showed a great deal of power in giving LaDainian Tomlinson his first real hit of training camp. Although Matt Wilhelm has been starting in place of the injured Donnie Edwards, Cooper could be the one to assume Edwards' starting position if he is traded.

"Our focus is to stop the run," Cooper noted, although hitting Tomlinson isn't quite the way to get noticed.

On the offensive side of things, two players stood out for their pass protection skills: Brandon Manumaleuna and Ray Perkins. Facing blitzing linebackers, both routinely stoned their man, allowing quarterback Brett Elliot to get off his passes unchallenged. The play of the day still goes to Lekkerkerker, who caught a two-yard touchdown pass on a tackle-eligible play during gold zone drills.

The story on special teams was the continued development of Cletis Gordon. As he starts to better understand the blocking schemes in front of him, he is becoming more confident in where he wants to go with the ball. That confidence is showing, as he looks much faster now that his uncertainty is fading.

"He has done nothing to compromise his situation and he is developing very well as a secondary player," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "He is very coachable. He has a lot of growing to do but has done a nice job up until this point."

Another point of interest was the play of Marcus McNeill, who only recently was inserted into the starting line-up. He looked comfortable playing with the first-team offense and his combination of size and strength should help improve the team's running game. Roman Oben once again did only limited agility drills, leaving him a long shot to be ready by opening day.

Now that camp is ending, this is a good opportunity to name the outstanding stud and resounding dud of this year's camp.

Stud: Brandon Manumaleuna.

His versatility is terrific. He can play either tight end or fullback, yet has the hands of a wide receiver and the blocking skills of an offensive tackle. With Antonio Gates firmly entrenched as the starter, Manumaleuna will catch defenses off guard with his pass-catching talents. The change in scenery has done wonders for him.

"The interesting thing about Brandon is he is a very good receiver," Schottenheimer confirmed. "He has very good hands and has unusual flexibility for someone his size."

Dud: Donnie Edwards

Something fishy is going on with his back injury. Maybe he is milking it in order to diminish his own trade value, spiting A.J. Smith in the process. Then again, maybe the team is being extra cautious in to preserve his trade value, similar to what the Titans did with Steve McNair earlier this offseason. Either way, Cooper, Wilhelm and rookie Tim Dobbins each seems more than capable of filling the void that will be left by Edwards' departure, which seems inevitable at this point.


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