Why the smiles from the Chargers? Philip Rivers played in an AFC Championship Game with a torn ACL in his knee. That required major surgery after the season, but he's already taking nearly every snap in the offseason workouts.
When Rivers first got hurt, he said he would return quickly. But he's surprised many by getting back under center so soon.
"I've certainly come a long way," Rivers said. "I remember that first week, feeling like 'This is bad.' Just the whole thing. The first week or two was really miserable. Just hurting. I can't sleep. Just getting situated. It hurts to straighten it out. Is it ever going to feel good?
"It's amazing now. There are some times when I don't realize that I ever had anything. Out here, you have a brace and you're a little bit more conscious of it. But just around the house and stuff, there are times when I can go hours and not even think about it."
The Chargers didn't want to ponder life without Rivers. Although they certainly went down that path when they made a strong -- and successful -- push to bring back Billy Volek, his backup.
But so far, it looks like Volek will be back at his customary position of holding the clipboard.
Count coach Norv Turner among those amazed by Rivers' progress.
"He's probably doing more than I thought he'd be doing," Turner said. "I was prepared to have him really not do anything except maybe throw routes against air. He's making great progress. Obviously, we're being very careful with him and limiting some of the things we're asking him to do. But he's getting the reps throwing, and he's getting reps against our defense. It's good work for him."
And that's good news for the Chargers who could be without some key players the season's first month. Among those likely sidelined are center Nick Hardwick (foot), tight end Antonio Gates (foot) and inside linebacker Stephen Cooper (four-game suspension).
That makes the news on Rivers something he and the team embraces.
"I think we're on schedule," Rivers said. "I'm doing more than I maybe thought I'd been able to do practice-wise if you asked me this in February."
MORE THAN PHYSICAL
The Chargers are hoping Rivers' game grows even more during Norv Turner's second season as head coach. Turner said the Rivers he saw toward the end of last year -- when the Chargers finished the season with six straight wins -- is what he expects this year.
But to move forward, they are going backward. In the dark at the Chargers Park offices, coaches are hoping they can help Rivers, their third-year starter, see the light even more.
Turner, offensive coordinator Clarence Shelmon and quarterbacks coach John Ramsdell are reviewing every offensive play from last season with Rivers under center.
"Every play we had is cut up in a number of different ways," Turner said. "We're as thorough as we can be in terms of preparing these guys to get ready to play another season."
Rivers stubbed his toe occasionally in the season's first 10 games, heaving 12 interceptions and only 11 touchdowns.
But in the final six games, he had a quarterback rating of over 100 in four of those games. During that six-game winning run, he threw 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
"We were explosive," Turner said. "We were one of the top two or three offenses in the league over that stretch. I just expect him to keep building on that."
Rivers, 26, is also busy building up his rebuilt knee. Among the teammates he leans on for advice is cornerback Antonio Cromartie. He underwent a similar ACL surgery in 2005 that forced him to miss his final year at Florida State.
Cromartie led the NFL with 10 interceptions last season.
New center Jeremy Newberry has also rebounded from a torn ACL.
"I was healthy to play that same season, so I know it's possible," Newberry said of Rivers' situation. "I was on the field probably 3 1/2 months later. When you're younger, your body bounces back quick, too. He's a young guy, and he's got that on his side. He'll be just fine. I don't see that being a problem at all."
--The Chargers were well represented at the U.S. Open with pro Ben Curtis wearing Chargers gear during the event. Curtis has an apparel contract with the NFL. Chargers P Mike Scifres and K Nate Kaeding came out to greet him.
"I can't imagine how many millions of people will be watching this tournament, and at a great venue like this, to have the Chargers colors represented, especially by a major championship winner like Ben, is great for the organization," Kaeding said. "This whole event is so great for the city of San Diego in general. To be part of it is great."
Kaeding is also close friends with 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson; both are from the same area of Iowa.
--SS Clinton Hart is looking to improve his game after setting career highs in every category in his first year as a starter in 2007. But he wants to help his teammates as well. "To be better back there," he said, "you have to be a leader."
--C Jeremy Newberry had some other offers before signing with the Chargers. But the veteran wasn't keen on leaving California, after playing at Cal, with the Raiders and the 49ers. "I didn't really even entertain those ideas because I'd rather have retired than went to the East Coast and been away from my daughters," he said. "I'm not playing financially anymore. I want to win a championship."
--The Chargers wrap up their offseason coaching sessions next week.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I've still got a chip on my shoulder because I don't think I played as well as I needed to (last year)." -- Jeromey Clary said on his play last season as a starter.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--RB Tyronne Gross (not tendered as ERFA).
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--C Jeremy Newberry: Not tendered as UFA by Raiders; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--OT L.J. Shelton: FA Dolphins; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Derek Smith: FA 49ers; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--OT Jeromey Clary: ERFA; terms unknown.
--WR Malcom Floyd: ERFA; terms unknown.
--CB Cletis Gordon: ERFA; terms unknown.
--CB Steve Gregory: ERFA; terms unknown.
--LB Marques Harris: RFA; tendered at $1.47M; terms unknown.
--DT Brandon McKinney: ERFA; terms unknown.
--G Scott Mruczkowski: Potential RFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--QB Billy Volek: UFA; $9M/3 yrs, $3M SB.
--CB Drayton Florence: UFA Jaguars; $36M/6 yrs, $12M SB.
--S Marlon McCree (released).
--FB Lorenzo Neal (released).
--OT Shane Olivea (released).
--K Dave Rayner: Not tendered as RFA/Dolphins; terms unknown.
--RB Michael Turner: UFA Falcons; $34.5M/6 yrs, $15M guaranteed.