Training camp goals
1. The Chargers have routinely entered recent seasons with very little tinkering to their talent-laden rosters. But after going 8-8 and missing the playoffs for the second straight year, change was needed and it came true in a topsy-turvy offseason. So during camp the Chargers will continue to get comfortable with each other and blend in the new faces with the old. That's especially true with quarterback Philip Rivers as he meshes with a set of receivers new to the Chargers. Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal and Roscoe Parrish are among his unfamiliar targets, as they try to pick up the slack from Pro Bowler Vincent Jackson leaving as a free agent to Tampa Bay. And the offensive line's left side will be somewhat new as left tackle Jared Gaither replaces Pro Bowler Marcus McNeill (released) and left guard Tyronne Green takes over for another Pro Bowler, the retired Kris Dielman.
2. The team also needs to shore up a secondary that was shaky last year, as the Chargers were dreadful in getting off the field on third downs. Cornerback Quentin Jammer must prove he hasn't lost a step to Father Time; Antoine Cason, the opposite starter, must play with more consistency or he could be fighting off a challenge from Marcus Gilchrist. And can veteran Atari Bigby fill the longtime black hole the Chargers have had at strong safety? If not Bigby, is rookie Brandon Taylor ready for his baptism by fire? The Chargers have an All-Pro free safety in Eric Weddle, but the other three positions must have a strong camp.
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Player to watch
Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram. Is it fair to focus so intently on a rookie? Sorry, but South Carolina's Ingram has little choice. The team's first-round pick is being asked to contribute immediately, as the Chargers seek a jolt to their pedestrian pass rush. Ingram needs to absorb a quick learning curve, especially considering the quarterbacks the AFC West will feature: Denver newcomer Peyton Manning and Kansas City's Matt Cassel has returned from injury. Ingram will get assistance from Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes, but that said the Chargers are counting on his future being now. Ingram showed well in the offseason workouts, which adds to the coaches' confidence in him. That helps, but Ingram is going to be watched closely until his production matches his hype.
On the hot seat
Wide receiver Robert Meachem. With the deflection of Jackson, Meachem has some big cleats to fill. If he can't supply Rivers with a consistent downfield threat, as Jackson did, the team's vaunted passing attack could be compromised. Meachem must also prove to do something else Jackson accomplished: make his teammates better by drawing so much of the defense's attention. Meachem is steady, but Jackson was often that and spectacular, a key component of what set the Chargers' offense above others. Instead of Meachem being a complementary part, like he was in the Saints' offense, he'll be asked to be the No. 1 receiver on a team that is built around the pass. He'll get help by returning receiver Malcom Floyd, but Rivers is going to be looking Meachem's way with regularity as he aims for a return trip to the playoffs.
Strategy and personnel
With the team turning to Ronnie Brown as its backup running back and third-down specialist, the roster's biggest holes have been filled.
The Chargers could add some veteran defensive backs to increase the competition level there and simply improve its depth.
But the areas the Chargers were most concerned about have been pretty much settled. It would be a surprise if the roster undergoes any significant changes between now and training camp.
Medical to watch
– TE Antonio Gates (foot) continues to work and is fine.
– K Nate Kaeding (knee) has returned to kicking.
– DE Luis Castillo (leg) should be a full go for training camp.
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