Clay Missing From Action for Chargers

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

The sad, confusing and continuing saga of tackle John Clay and the Chargers took another unexpected turn Sunday on the first day of training camp when Coach Dan Henning said he didn’t know where Clay was.

Worse for Clay, Henning said Clay was supposed to be at the team’s UC San Diego training site even though most veterans won’t report until later this week.

Even worse was the look on Henning’s face when asked if he was disappointed over Clay’s absence.

“Yes,” Henning said. “But it’s down the list of things I’m worried about.”


Clay joined the Chargers last July in a controversial deal that sent tackle Jim Lachey to the Raiders. Lachey wound up in Washington when the Raiders traded for Redskin quarterback Jay Schroeder. And the Raiders subsequently completed the deal with the Chargers by throwing in running back Napoleon McCallum.

But Clay reported to the Chargers overweight and soon complained of back and hip injuries. He started one game in 1988 (the third), injured his neck and spent the remainder of the season on injured reserve.

Even if Clay had shown up for the summer’s first official practice, he would not have been able to practice. He still is rehabilitating the neck injury and has been placed on the “physically unable to perform” list.

Steve Ortmayer, the Chargers’ director of football operations and the man who has taken most of the public criticism for the Clay-Lachey deal, said he has not given up hope that Clay will play for the Chargers this year.


Late Sunday a team spokesman said club officials were still trying to determine whether Clay’s absence was the result of missed communications or simply a decision by Clay not to report.

But when asked if he knew where Clay was, Henning said, “I have an idea.” He chose not to share it with reporters.

Meanwhile, the Chargers waived five players, two of whom started for them last year. The 1988 starters released were linebacker Chuck Faucette, the team’s leading tackler until he injured his neck at midseason, and tackle Gary Kowalski, who also injured his neck last year and missed the last 13 games.

Neither had sufficiently recovered from their injuries to merit a spot on the roster because of the new 80-man limit the NFL has imposed this year. The other waived players were cornerback Kevin Biggers, tight end Michael Scott and running back Cedric Hosea.


None of the the Chargers’ top three draft picks--defensive lineman Burt Grossman, center Courtney Hall and quarterback Billy Joe Tolliver--practiced Sunday. The rest of the drafted rookies did.

Henning said he already has started considering alternatives at quarterback if Tolliver’s absence continues. He said the name of former Kansas City quarterback Bill Kenney has come up in discussions with his assistants. But, he said, the Chargers haven’t contacted Kenney, 34, who is a free agent.

Tolliver’s agent, Vic Vines, said Sunday that “structure,” not length of contract, is the hang-up in negotiations with the Chargers. He said there has been progress. But, “We’re still far apart.”