Fears allayed, football is back

SAN DIEGO — While Aug. 11 may not be a day that lives in infamy, it will, for football fans, be remembered as the day the NFL returned to the fields after tense player and owner collective bargaining negotiations and a lockout potentially threatened a season without the game.
The Chargers began their 2011-2012 campaign against the Seattle Seahawks in the first of two preseason games at Qualcomm Stadium.
“It’s just nice to play again,” said Chargers QB Philip Rivers. “We woke up this morning and you kind of had that feeling again that football is here and rolling…it’s good to get back out there.”
With the Seahawks winning the coin toss and electing to receive, the Charger defense showed some good mobility under new coordinator Greg Manusky, who replaces Ron Rivera, now the head coach of the Carolina Panthers.
Takeo Spikes, one of the offseason additions to the defense said “it was nice to gel and feel like we did some things pretty good.”
Spikes helped corral Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch, while the rest of the defense slowed any advance led by QB Tavaris Jackson, resulting in Seattle punting away their first series.
What the Chargers showed offensively in their first series was enough to whet the appetites of the 55,318 in attendance, taking only 10 plays to cover 89 yards in 5 minutes 33 seconds.
“Something that we’ve been emphasizing and talking a lot about working on and doing the things in practice is trying to come out in the first quarter and start the game fast, start in an upbeat tempo,” said Head Coach Norv Turner. “And I think we got off to a good start in that area.”
Rivers began play with a handoff to RB Mike Tolbert for a 2-yard loss. After that, Rivers took to the air, launching an assault on the Seahawks porous secondary, going twice to WR Vincent Jackson for a total of 54 yards.
“Our scoring drive was efficient and we stuck to the script,” Jackson said. “We called the plays we wanted to call…that’s the way we got to play all year.”
On first and ten on the Seahawk’s 37-yard line, Rivers hit TE Kory Sperry for a 16-yard-gain; RB Ryan Mathews made his first of two rushing attempts, picking up 4 yards. He finished the night with 5 rushing yards and a reception for 9 yards to set up a first and goal on the 9-yard line.
Rivers connected with Tolbert for an 8-yard touchdown pass.
“It was nice to drive and score, that’s kind of what we wanted to accomplish,” Rivers said. “I could give you a false impression that it looked easy, but we still have a long way to go; that’s one drive of a game, so we have a lot of work to do.”
Still, Rivers was pleased to have Jackson and all of their guys in there from the start of training camp, he said.
“It was nice to not have any penalties that first drive, be crisp; we converted two third downs and a handful of guys were able to touch the ball,” Rivers said.
Turner said that he liked what he saw from the young guys, too.
Bryan Walters, a wide receiver out of Cornell competing for a roster spot, scored on a kickoff return, going 103-yards in the third quarter.
“You have to take advantage of all the opportunities you get,” Walters said after the game. “You only get a few of them, so you got to go out there and show them what you can do.”
The run didn’t go unnoticed by the Chargers players or Turner, who said Walters is a good football player and will be getting more opportunities.
“It’s fun just to watch guys that love to play,” Rivers said. “We have a lot of guys that really love to play, and obviously the highlight was Bryan Walters running the kick back,” he said.
During preseason games, Rivers said they are using this time to develop that camaraderie and that gel and togetherness, especially since they haven’t been around each other for too long.
The Chargers started camp three weeks ago and Turner reiterated that they are still way behind.
“Our young guys are way behind; they’ve had about 14 days of practice. They have a lot of work to do to catch up, where they can contribute and be a part of this team.”
“The next eight or nine days leading up to the Dallas game are going to be critical,” Turner said, adding that it is essentially the second phase of their training camp. “It will be critical in terms of our development, not only our young guys, but certainly our starters. When you look at us defensively we could have as many as six new starters on defense and getting all those guys on the same page where they could play an entire game will be critical.
“We’re a new football team, with a lot of different players, with a lot of different coaches,” Turner said.
Ultimately, the Chargers lost the first preseason game 24-17.
The Chargers next home game is Sept. 1 against the 49ers. Preseason game tickets are available now with single game regular season tickets going on sale Aug. 13. Tickets to the Packers game Nov. 6 may only be purchased as part of a 4-ticket package deal. Visit chargers.com for full schedule and ticket information.

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