Chargers get back to football as training camp kicks off 2015-16 NFL season

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The San Diego Chargers and city of San Diego currently aren’t talking to one another in the long-running quest to build a new stadium for the NFL team in the region. But fan interest certainly hasn’t waned in the team if judged by overflow crowds attending last weekend’s training camp practices at Chargers Park.

“I’m paid to win football games,” Chargers head coach Mike McCoy told members of the media following the conclusion of Sunday’s training session.

The San Diego Chargers and city of San Diego currently aren’t talking to one another in the long-running quest to build a new stadium for the NFL team in the region. But fan interest certainly hasn’t waned in the team if judged by overflow crowds attending last weekend’s training camp practices at Chargers Park.

“I’m paid to win football games,” Chargers head coach Mike McCoy told members of the media following the conclusion of Sunday’s training session.

That would mean either in San Diego or Los Angeles – or wherever else the team would be playing future games.

McCoy and Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco both emphasized the team is focused on performing well in the upcoming season and not on becoming distracted by the ongoing drama of the stadium issue.

The Chargers will play the 2015-16 NFL season at Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley. That’s a certainty. And the team is hoping to reward its rabid fans with a playoff appearance.

“We always appreciate the support we get from the fans,” McCoy said. “We want the fans to energize us.”

The Chargers kick off their four-game preseason schedule Thursday, Aug. 13, with a 7 p.m. game against the Dallas Cowboys at Qualcomm Stadium.

The Chargers next host the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks at 5 p.m. on Aug. 29.

The Chargers play two road exhibition games: Aug. 22 against the Arizona Cardinals and Sept. 3 against the San Francisco 49ers.

The Chargers kick off regular season play with a non-conference home game against the Detroit Lions on Sept. 13. Fifteen other regular season games follow through Jan. 3.

The Chargers got out to a fast start last season before injuries limited the team’s performance. The Chargers finished the season 9-7 in third place in the AFC West Division standings behind the Denver Broncos (12-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (9-7).

Denver was the only team from the division to make the NFL playoffs.

“We still have some work to do (in training camp), but the guys are listening to Mike’s message,” Telesco explained. “We’re excited to get back to playing at Qualcomm, excited to get back to playing football.”

“We’ve got a great team this year,” McCoy interjected. “It’s very competitive with all the different people coming in, with guys leaving and our draft picks. There’s a lot of depth.

“The foundation has been laid the last two years. We’re ready to take it to the next level by dominating teams and blowing them out.”

The Chargers tabbed running back Melvin Gordon (Wisconsin) as the team’s No. 1 draft pick this season. Last year’s No. 1 draft pick, cornerback Jason Verrett, is also back this season with the team, as is 2013 No. 1 draft pick D.J. Fluker, a six-foot-five, 339-pound offensive lineman.

Overall, the Chargers signed all five of their 2015 draft picks and also inked 21 undrafted college free agents to contracts.

McCoy said one obvious area in which the team needs to improve is in the running game. The addition of Gordon, who rushed for 2,587 yards and scored 29 touchdowns last season for the Badgers, should help.

“We’ve got to get back to running the football like it should be done in this league,” McCoy said flatly. “Last year we just didn’t get it done.”

Branden Oliver was the surprise of last year’s training camp. Oliver went on to rush for 582 yards and score three touchdowns his rookie season.

One major disappointment last year was the loss of veteran Danny Woodhead to a broken leg just three games into the 2014-15 season.

“It’s almost like having Danny back (as a new player),” McCoy said. “It’s great to have Danny back in the mix.”

One hindrance the Chargers will need to overcome early in the season will be the four-game suspension dealt star tight end Antonio Gates by the league due to a rules violation.

Gates, a nine-time All-Pro selection, is the team’s career leader in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

Gates and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers hold the NFL record for most touchdowns (72) between a single quarterback and tight end. Rivers passed for 4,286 yards and 31 touchdowns last season, including 821 yards and 12 TDs to Gates.

“It’s unfair to compare anyone else to Antonio,” McCoy said of Gates, who was voted by his teammates as the Chargers’ 2014 Offensive Player of the Year. “We’ll have to use some other players, some running backs maybe, in his place.”

McCoy said the team has significantly bolstered its depth in the wide receivers department with the offseason signing of Super Bowl record-holder Jacoby Jones, eight-year veteran Stevie Johnson (six seasons in Buffalo) and former Ram Austin Pettis. Top returners include Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal.

Floyd led the team with 856 yards and six touchdowns while Allen had 783 yards and four TDs. Royal had 778 yards and seven touchdowns.

“There’s a lot of depth there,” McCoy said. “It’s a quarterback’s dream. We have a lot of receivers who have some skill, who can play.”

McCoy said mistakes are inevitable in the game.

“Philip Rivers is going to throw an interception at some point during the season,” McCoy said. “It is going to happen. We just have to be ready to come back out on the field on the next series.”

Media outlets aren’t picking the Chargers to play in the next Super Bowl. But McCoy believes the force may be with his team this season.

“The key to our season will be to get better every day,” the Chargers head coach stressed. “The key to being successful in this league is to be playing your best at the end of the season. There are ups and downs in training camp and you can’t be at your best every Sunday.”

The Chargers will hold their annual FanFest on Saturday, Aug. 8, at Qualcomm Stadium. Admission and parking is free.

The stadium parking lot opens at 9 a.m. and gates to the stadium open at 9:45 a.m. The Chargers are scheduled to begin a full-pads on-field practice at approximately 10:30 a.m.

As soon as the gates open, 13 Charger alumni will be at tables throughout the plaza concourse (Gates A, D and G) to sign autographs for fans. The alumni list includes Rolf Benirschke, Willie Buchanon, Darren Carrington, Luis Castillo, Nick Hardwick, Raylee Johnson, Anthony Miller, Lorenzo Neal, Vaughn Parker, Billy Shields, Billy Ray Smith, Doug Wilkerson and Jamal Williams.

To keep up with the team, visit the website at www.chargers.com.

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