Mini Camp: First-Round Picks Show Off Skills

The Chargers opened mini camp to the public on Saturday morning and put on a show for the hundreds of fans in attendance. Last year's first-round pick, Buster Davis, made a great grab along the left sideline. This year's first-rounder, Antoine Cason, had a big play of his own to disrupt Philip Rivers' return. was live on the scene.

Rivers, L.T. Back in Action

Philip Rivers worked in individual drills and took some snaps with the first-team offense. Rivers completed 4 of 5 passes during seven-on-seven drills, including a 50-yard TD pass to Malcom Floyd. Rivers' only blemish came on a comeback route to Kassim Osgood along the left sideline. Antoine Cason jumped the route and knocked down the pass, nearly corralling it for a pick-six.

LaDainian Tomlinson was also back on the field, showing impressive speed around the corner and displaying a burst that had Chargers fans exhaling in relief. Tomlinson appeared to be in high spirits, chumming it up with his teammates and giving grief to Shaun Phillips after Phillips knocked down a pass intended for L.T. out of the backfield.

Rivers and Tomlinson are just two of many Chargers rehabbing from injury. Among those who were not able to go were TE Antonio Gates, NT Jamal Williams, C Nick Hardwick, FB Andrew Pinnock, WR Eric Parker and LB Carlos Polk. K Nate Kaeding was at home in Iowa, as he and his wife are expecting their first child.

A Wrinkle in Time

Norv Turner has spoken about the ability to add more wrinkles to the offense this season, now that the players are more comfortable with the playbook. One new twist appeared twice in today's morning session – the pitch to a wide receiver out of the backfield. Twice in today's practice, the Chargers motioned a receiver into the backfield and then pitched him the ball on a sweep left.

First, it was Buster Davis, who picked up about 15 yards before being touched up. Next, it was Legedu Naanee – now wearing No. 11 – who scampered for about 8 yards. The sweep wasn't the only big play for Davis; he also hauled in a leaping catch in which he jumped over Cletis Gordon and tapped both feet just inside the left sideline on the way down. The throw came from Charlie Whitehurst, who received the majority of the day's reps with mixed results.

Rookie Report

Cason lined up as the nickel back with the first-string defense. When the second unit came on the field, Cason and Cletis Gordon manned the corners. Cason also participated on the second unit for the kick coverage team, where he was joined by third-round pick Jacob Hester and sixth-round pick DeJuan Tribble.

With Cason, Gordon and Tribble all playing corner, the team has moved second-year man Paul Oliver to strong safety. Steve Gregory, who converted from cornerback to safety last season, was the second-team free safety. Gregory has a chance to stick because of his contributions on special teams (11 tackles last season).

Also fighting for time on special teams are undrafted rookies Gary Banks, a receiver from Troy, and Frank Stanley, a cornerback from Idaho. Stanley mishandled one kickoff during drills, letting the ball fly clean over his head.

Another rookie looking to make a name for himself is Eric Bakhtiari, an outside linebacker from the University of San Diego. Bakhtiari got in a scrum with tackle Tony Pape, a journeyman who is fighting for the final spot on the offensive line behind the newly acquired L.J. Shelton.

Running Waters

No one should assume 12-year veteran Derek Smith will be the one to replace Stephen Cooper in the starting lineup for the first four games of the season. Anthony Waters looks strong and is able to plant on his left leg and explode like he used to at Clemson, before he tore his ACL. Waters (6'3", 238 pounds) looks powerful and resembles the last man to wear No. 53 – Steve Foley.

With the Chargers stacked at inside linebacker, don't be surprised to see Waters occasionally line up at outside linebacker this season, especially once Cooper returns from his four-game ban. Waters has the strength to battle offensive tackles and the speed to get around the edge.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

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