SAN DIEGO – With Manti Te'o plus a new coach and general manager, the San Diego Chargers' training camp will have a definite theme: The Rookies.
Coach Mike McCoy, hired away from his job as offensive coordinator as the division rival Denver Broncos, opens his first camp with the Bolts with a roster revamped by new GM Tom Telesco, hired away from the Indianapolis Colts.
The pair of 40-year-olds inherited a team that went 7-9 and missed the playoffs for the third straight season. Fans can no longer moan about Norv Turner and A.J. Smith, the coach and GM who were fired the day after the 2012 season ended.
The Chargers will get plenty of attention after moving up in the second round to draft Te'o, the former Notre Dame linebacker who was duped by a hoax involving a fake girlfriend.
Five things to know as the Chargers prepare to open training camp with their first practice Thursday in San Diego.
1. TE'O TIME: Te'o is the most intriguing player on the Chargers' roster. While fans are buying lots of No. 50 replica jerseys, they're also wondering how well Te'o can play inside linebacker in the NFL after his college career ended with his poor performance in Notre Dame's blowout loss to Alabama in the BCS national championship game. Te'o is penciled into the starting lineup after veteran Takeo Spikes was cut in the offseason. And there's still that matter of the fake girlfriend hoax that embarrassed Te'o and was the talk of the sports world for a few months. McCoy says the hoax will fade away if reporters stop asking Te'o about it. Perhaps to help, the Chargers are giving Te'o his distance from reporters. The Chargers made Te'o available as little as possible during the spring and refused to allow one-on-one interviews. They apparently plan to continue the "star player" exemption during training camp. Under that exemption, players with heavy media demands must be made available to the media at least once during the practice week. Quarterback Philip Rivers is the Chargers' other "star player." Despite the Chargers' approach, Te'o has handled himself well in front of the microphones. He hasn't dodged any questions, doesn't seem nervous and looks his questioner's way when giving an answer.
2. CAMP CONCERNS: Telesco wasted no time tearing apart the roster, which meant tossing aside starters and depth in the defensive front seven. The rookie GM released Spikes and defensive tackle Antonio Garay, and let linebackers Antwan Barnes and Shaun Phillips, plus defensive linemen Vaughn Martin, leave as free agents. So the Bolts will be looking to establish depth on the defensive line and at linebacker. They'll also have to sort out their depth at wide receiver. Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd are the presumed starters at wideout. Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal return after disappointing seasons, but they'll be challenged by rookie Keenan Allen and Vincent Brown, who missed 2012 with a broken ankle.
3. OH BOY, O-LINE: Oh, what Rivers would give for a season in which he isn't under siege practically every play. That's what last season was like, when Rivers sometimes had to throw the ball into the ground to avoid onrushing defenders. McCoy and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt will have to develop cohesion in the offensive line, where there are three new starters: left tackle Max Starks, left guard Rich Ohrnberger and rookie D.J. Fluker, the team's first-round draft pick, at right tackle. Additionally, veteran Jeromey Clary is moving from right tackle to right guard. The only guy staying put is center Nick Hardwick. Rivers was sacked 49 times last year and committed 22 turnovers, giving him 49 turnovers in two seasons.
4. HE'S BIG, BUT CAN HE PASS BLOCK? — Fluker is a big man — 6-foot-5, 339 pounds — and was acclaimed for his run blocking with national champion Alabama. But there have already been questions about how well Fluker can pass block and do his part to keep Rivers upright. Fluker didn't seem to dazzle everyone during offseason workouts.
5. RUN, RYAN, RUN: One Chargers player who desperately needs a reboot is running back Ryan Mathews, who's been plagued by injuries and fumbles in his first three seasons. Once hailed as the heir apparent to LaDainian Tomlinson, Mathews had a rough 2012. He broke his right collarbone on his first carry of the exhibition season, and then broke his left collarbone in a 31-7 loss to Carolina on Dec. 16 that eliminated the Chargers from playoff contention. He finished with 707 yards and one touchdown. His three-year totals are 2,476 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. By comparison, Tomlinson had 4,564 yards and 37 touchdowns through his first three seasons.
Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org