Gates Steals the Show

The back-ups stole some heavy reps during Thursday's practice, as the Chargers prepare for an upcoming game against the St. Louis Rams. A pair of rookie receivers stood out, but Craig Davis wasn't one of them. Luckily, Antonio Gates was there to carry the first-string offense. On defense, the cornerbacks engaged in some oneupmanship while a rookie linebacker continued to climb up the depth chart.

The Chargers are readying to square off against the St. Louis Rams, but first they had to battle the Thursday's heat at Chargers Park. The second and third teams received heavy reps, but the starters broke a healthy sweat of their own.

Practice got underway with a false start. The secondary was asked to join the team for offense-vs.-defense drills, but it turned out just one safety was needed. Undrafted rookie Miguel Merrick was offered up. Much like the fourth-string quarterback who plays during run-only drills, such assignments are usually an unfavorable indicator of one's place on the pecking order.

Secondary coach Bill Bradley was on a mission throughout practice. "Let's go, let's go," was his mantra for the day. While the defensive backs waited to join the rest of the team, Philip Rivers managed a run-heavy offensive session by leaning heavily on LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner and Tyronne Gross.

Billy Volek ushered in the second stringers and showed visible angst after fumbling an early snap. Andrew Pinnock helped redeem the offense with a strong run up the middle. Gross received snaps with the second team as well, and played like he belonged with the starters.

The secondary was brought in for the eleven-on-eleven passing drills but little to slow the offense. Rhema McKnight was stopped for a short gain on a pass by Volek. Fullback Mike Warren, battled through the defense to complete a nice catch from Charlie Whitehurst. Rivers turned to his main man when he got back in on the fun, hitting L.T. and Antonio Gates in succession. Jyles Tucker provided tight coverage on the throw to Gates.

Next, the third-string offense faced off with the first-string defense. Cornerback Drayton Florence nearly intercepted a pair of passes from Whitehurst, one intended for Onrea Jones and the other for Mark Simmons, who was able to corral the difficult reception. Marlon McCree almost got his hands around a pass meant for Sonny Shackelford, but the ball fell incomplete.

The units then flipped as the drill continued with the offensive No. 1s going against the defensive back-ups. Craig Davis, however, struggled to earn his first-team status. He and Rivers appear out of sync, failing to connect on two early attempts. The third time proved to be a charm, as Davis made a tough catch downfield. Sandwiched between Davis's plays were a couple passes to third-year receiver Vincent Jackson, who went one for two.

Before Rivers handed the reins back to the third team, Gates did a little showing off. First, the made an incredible shoe-top catch on a hard throw from Rivers. Next, Rivers redeemed himself with a better throw and Gates made the grab look easy.

The defense roasted Whitehurst on his next three plays. Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie broke up two consecutive passes. Perhaps rattled, Whitehurst threw his next attempt away.

Rivers worked on his side-arm throw during full-squad drills, dropping low-trajectory throws to L.T. and Turner. Legedu Naanee practiced with the premier posse, making a jumping catch to show off his potential. McKnight made a one-handed catch from Whitehurst and successfully battled to keep possession.

Steve Gregory was back in action after missing Tuesday's camp, and Matt Wilhelm's strained calf seems to be healing. The inside 'backer's boot was off and replaced with a tennis shoe.


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