Hot Dogs Headline Final Chargers Practice at Qualcomm

William RisserCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2009

I hadn't been to Qualcomm Stadium since moving to San Diego, so when I saw the Chargers were having their last open practice Wednesday night I had to go and check out the Bolts for myself. Turns out over 10,000 other Charger fans had the same idea.

Free parking, admission and open field level seating were nice aspects but let's be clear: the $1 Charger Dogs were the star this evening. Limit six per transaction, which many people were taking them up on. This made for a difficult situation at the condiment stand but goodwill won out.   

The news of the day, Shaun Phillips' assault case being dismissed and confirmation of the blackout of the pre-season game against Seattle this Saturday, didn't seem to resonate much amongst the Charger faithful I encountered. 

The Seahawks game will be replayed Saturday night and Phillips did receive a nice cheer when he came out of the locker room a few minutes late so all appears to be well in Chargerland.

After checking out where I will be sitting Week 2 against the Ravens, I ambled down to the first few rows on the 40 yard-line for a seat. Practice got underway around 7 p.m. as I dug into my first dog with Kid Rock's Sweet Home Alabama playing over the loud speaker. Nice night for some football. 

The regular exercises of shagging punts and general milling around gave way to some special teams work. Antonio Cromartie was catching kickoffs one-handed and dancing to the jams enough to botch one catch. Smiles all around.

From there it was on to positional group work-outs. I was near the linebackers so I watched Shawne Merriman, Phillips and Co. go through their drills as fans called out "Lights, Lights!" and "Where are your pads, English?"

Second-year player, and former San Diego State Aztec, Antwan Applewhite had his name called a number of times throughout the practice. First-round draft choice Larry English (hamstring) attended but didn't practice while Stephen Cooper (ankle) was out. 

The pace was relaxed would be an understatement. Malcom Floyd looked fast because, I think, everyone else was making sure not to hurt someone. Players were more concerned with not making mistakes instead of trying to go too fast. 

Then an air-horn would sound and all the players would head to a different station for their next drills.

The linebacker on running back blocking drill drew the most oohs and ahhs as they'd crash into each other, clearly audible from the other end of the stadium. I would not want to be the rookie back who has to take on any of these linebackers.

With the positional drills finished by 7:45, it was time for some 7-on-7 drills which consisted of a mix of running and short passing plays. LaDainian Tomlinson showed good burst and the offensive line was commanding. Veteran Michael Bennett and rookie Gartrell Johnson also got a few carries.

After only a few reps the starters were done, with a 12 yard completion from Philip Rivers to Antonio Gates over the middle being the highlight. They also ran a screen to LT out of a two tight-end set that shifted Gates outside. Looked good. Billy Volek and Charlie Whitehurst took over the offense from there.

With the second and third strings in, I got a chance to get a good look at defensive rookies Vaughn Martin and Kevin Ellison.

Martin, at defensive end, showed both why he's a force and that he's got a ways to go on consecutive plays. The first he stood up L.J. Shelton with sheer power and made the play on rookie back Johnson at the line. On the next play, he misread where it was going and was flat on his stomach as the play went away from him. 

Strong safety Ellison, on the last play of the drill, had a clear interception but had it wrestled away by undrafted rookie free-agent Rodgeriqus Smith. Ellison should have had the pick and knew it. Not the way he wanted to end that drill. 

Air horn. Field goal practice anyone? Hooray, it's like intermission. So I got more hot dogs. Nate Kaeding was 5-of-5 from 38 and 42 yards. Clockwork, baby.

What? More special teams practice? Hell yeah! The first team kickoff coverage unit got burned before redeeming themselves while the starting return team looked good right off the bat. Craig Davis, Cletis Gordon and Cromartie all took turns as the return man. Darren Sproles, who was busy becoming a father, wasn't in attendance. 

At this point, mass booing begins in the stands behind me. Everyone's looking around, players included, to see what the ruckus was. It's a guy in a Denver Broncos jersey getting lambasted with boos. But the Broncos are terrible so it soon blows over...until someone is spotted walking around in a Tom Brady jersey. Uh oh.

This guy got it bad. I mean brutal. People were throwing things at him on top of the relentless booing. It also couldn't have helped that his buddy, in Chargers garb, was pushing him around. Finally a security guard told him to take off the Brady jersey which he did promptly. At that, a triumphant cheer came out of the crowd.

Air horn. It was time for the 11-on-11 drill. Finally, a big play or two, right? Not exactly.

The first teamers didn't do much more than some off-tackle runs and swing passes before being relived. Floyd went up for one ball over the middle but it was too high for even him. 

\With Louis Vasquez (foot) still out, Kynan Forney worked at right guard with the starting offense. Rookie fourth-round draft choice Tyronne Green played some at guard. The former Auburn Tiger was initially thought to be brought in to backup the center position, but one can never have enough versatility on the O-line. 

The lack of offensive fireworks was also due in part to a good looking first string defense. Ryon Bingham started in place of a still injured Jacques Cesaire (calf) at right end while Ian Scott took Jamal Williams' (rest) spot at nose guard.

Tim Dobbins and Kevin Burnett started at inside linebacker with Philips and Merriman outside. Ferocious once again.

The strong safety spot saw a rotation of Clinton Hart, Steve Gregory and Ellison. But with so few passes down the field there was little to see out of that group.

Same for a deep group of talented corners. The trio of Quentin Jammer, Antoine Cason and Cromartie are going to have themselves some fun this year. 

Another air horn, more special teams practice with not exactly first string players. Enough, it was time to get one more hot dog and head back to the beach for the night.

What? No more hot dogs? One concession stand was empty. A ten minute wait at another. A third had a ridiculous line. I guess three was going to have to be enough.

Having enough hot dogs was about the only thing that the Chargers didn't seem to be prepared for tonight. And that bodes well for the future.