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A 'different' energy for Chargers this spring

A 'different' energy for Chargers this spring
San Diego Chargers tackle Corey Liuget warms up during a practice. (K.C. Alfred)

The final practice of the Chargers' spring saw defensive end Corey Liuget and guard D.J. Fluker turn trash talk into a tussle, Liuget bull rushing him in a team drill with a nastiness usually seen in November, not June.

It saw safety Adrian Phillips intercept two passes and break up two more. Each play, to continue an offseason-long trend, was wildly celebrated between defensive teammates.

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Coach Mike McCoy observed it all.

The competition at the line of scrimmage. The spirit on the field. The developmental strides of young players.

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"I couldn't be happier with the energy and excitement the players have played with this year," McCoy said. "It's been different. For whatever reason, there is a different mindset. It's a new year."

Optimism is seemingly universal around the NFL this time of year. San Diego is no exception, as the Chargers concluded a two-month workout program they consider to have been highly productive.

Take some of the optimism for what it's worth.

It is, after all, in season.

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McCoy knows this. He is first to acknowledge that the spring was just the beginning, eager to see where things stand after players report to training camp on July 29, hold their first camp practice on the 30th and, in the days that follow, suit up in pads for the first time since their 4-12 campaign expired.

The upcoming preseason and two joint practices with the Cardinals will provide him a better sense where his team stands.

But today, he is allowed to be encouraged.

McCoy cited how veteran acquisitions and rookie arrivals jelled with the roster holdovers. The defensive and offensive lines both embraced their new nucleus; center Matt Slauson and nose tackle Brandon Mebane signed in free agency and quickly asserted themselves as leaders.

Mebane, rookie end Joey Bosa and a healthy Liuget, the team hopes, will help make for an improved defensive line. A young group of reserves that include Darius Philon, Tenny Palepoi and Ryan Carrethers look to push Sean Lissemore this summer for opportunity.

Rose-colored glasses see no thorns.

It is easy in June to get carried away.

It is easy to be encouraged how a linebacker unit that features Melvin Ingram and seven picks from the past four drafts is coming together, how improved cornerback Brandon Flowers is, how the whole secondary seems to be developing a knack for tipping and intercepting passes.

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It is easy to identify wide receiver Tyrell Williams as among the most improved players on offense, having taken a leap as a route-runner from his rookie year. Running backs Melvin Gordon (knee) and Branden Oliver (toe) are where the Chargers hoped they'd be after injuries ended their season last year. Wide receiver Keenan Allen versus cornerback Jason Verrett continues to be a main attraction at each practice.

The Chargers believe they are better than a year ago.

Just how supported their optimism is won't be known for months. Until then, they have to trust not only what they see but feel.

"I think the attitude and energy to me is what I think would stand out over the last 10 weeks," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "There has been a real positive attitude and energy to our approach. From lifting weights in the weight room to the days we were doing things with the obstacle courses out here that created some team bonding and camaraderie, it was more than just the football.

"I think we got better in the football part, but I think it was renewed energy and attitude that we needed. I think we got that accomplished. There was a togetherness that has grown that we will need to continue to grow."

That 4-12 record seems like a long time ago.

If nothing else, a barrier between last year and this year was built this spring.

"I'm very optimistic," McCoy said. "I think every football team at this point and time is excited about what the next season holds, but I've said it a number of times. Walking off the field a couple weeks ago, (secondary coach) Ron Milus said it was the best defensive back work he's seen since we've been here. There certainly are positives going on right now with the way the players are working. …

"We understand we've got a long ways to go. We've got to put the pads on in a couple months. We've got to take the next step."

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