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NFL camp preview: New Chargers facing old questions

The SportsXchange

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- After three straight years missing the playoffs, the San Diego Chargers are rebooting under new general manager Tom Telesco and first-year head coach Mike McCoy.

Yet, among all the newness as the team opens camp Wednesday and begins practice Thursday, two familiar questions dominate -- can quarterback Philip Rivers return to top form and can running back Ryan Mathews live up to his pedigree as a first-round draft pick?

The roster was purged of many productive, but aged, veterans, but Telesco managed to grab up two noteworthy veterans in left tackle Max Starks and outside linebacker Dwight Freeney.

Curiosity over Rivers and Mathews must be considered in a context that includes another rebuilt and unproven offensive line.

Defensively, there is promise. But there's also the fact that side of the ball could see six new starters. That includes a secondary in which there is but one returning starter -- free safety Eric Weddle.

And, how much gas does Freeney have in his tank? How fast can rookie inside linebacker Manti Te'o get up to speed?

Rivers, once considered among the NFL's elite quarterbacks, is coming off two subpar seasons. All the blame can't fall on Rivers, as the offense was robbed of playmakers and the offensive line was shoddy.

That was clear again last season when Rivers committed 22 turnovers (15 interceptions) while being sacked 49 times. Rivers has to prove that his best days aren't behind him as he enters his 10th season while under a new head coach and offensive coordinator in a revamped scheme designed to take advantage of his skills.

"We have to get him going back to basics; take what the defense is giving you," McCoy said. "Don't be afraid to check it down. You don't have to make that big play every play. We are going to do some different things in the passing game with him, raise the completion percentage, get the ball out of his hand a little bit quicker, help the offensive line, run the football."

McCoy believes Rivers tried to do too much.

"You don't have to do it by yourself," McCoy said. "Everyone in the organization -- offense, defense, special teams -- we all have to play better. That is the way we are going to approach it."

Rivers is hoping for a breakthrough year by wide receiver Vincent Brown who was derailed by a broken ankle last year.

While not a speed burner, Brown is an excellent route-runner and has great hands. Now in his third season, a healthy Brown could help Rivers become productive again.

On defense, the Chargers will introduce two new starters at cornerback -- free agent Derek Cox (Jacksonville) and third year vet Shareece Wright. They replace Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason, two players the Chargers decided to let go via free agency.

Cox is a steady pro entering his fifth season, and started 12 games last year. But Wright is more of a wild card, playing the role of a backup last year and as the nickel back.
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