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Time to See What Bobby Has Built : Chargers: Mini-camp begins today, giving Coach Dan Henning and his staff a chance to evaluate a team that has been changed a bit since last season.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

About 90 faces will greet Charger Coach Dan Henning and his staff today when the team opens its six-day mini-camp. Some of them, he will even recognize.

Twenty players have been traded, been released, retired or left the team through free agency since the end of last season. Only 39 players eligible to attend the camp were on the team’s active or reserve lists at the end of last season.

Player turnover is a natural part of NFL life. But it is a particularly active element when a team finishes 6-10, fires its general manager and replaces him with one generally acknowledged as among the most innovative in the NFL. Bobby Beathard has brought much of the change.

Most of those who have left were far from household names. But some should sound familiar: running back Gary Anderson and wide receiver Jamie Holland (traded), offensive tackle Jim FitzPatrick (Plan B free agent), center Don Macek (retired) and quarterback Jim McMahon (released).

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They and the others have been replaced from a variety of sources by Beathard. These include 17 via the team’s largest draft class since 1986, nine through Plan B free agency and at least 22 through other free agency.

Almost all are expected to participate when the team holds its first of 11 mini-camp workouts at 4 p.m. today at its practice facility at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. The workouts will continue with double sessions Monday through Friday beginning at 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. each day.

“This is our chance to get a better look at the rookies and some of the other new players,” Beathard said Friday. “It’s just the next step in the evaluation process.”

Beathard said that only a handful of players have been excused for medical or personal reasons. These included linebacker Cedric Figaro and wide receiver Walter Wilson, both of whom are attending to college commitments, and offensive linemen Mike Simmonds (knee) and Larry Williams (shoulder), who are recovering from injuries.

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Beathard said he was not aware of any player who would not attend the sessions because of contract troubles as the agent for McMahon, Steve Zucker, said his client would have done before he was released last week.

With McMahon gone, the quarterback role rests solidly with Billy Joe Tolliver, who started the final four games of his rookie season last year. But other offensive questions remain to be answered, starting with the offensive line and running backs.

The Chargers have added three Plan B free agents--Ronnie Harmon from Buffalo, Joe Mickles from Washington and Thomas Sanders from Chicago--to go along with three holdover running backs. Chief among the returners is Marion Butts, who led the Chargers as a rookie last season with 683 yards on 170 carries.

The offensive line situation could be just as unsettled. Almost no one outside of center Courtney Hall and likely left tackle Joel Patton appears assured of starting or playing the same position as last year. Guards David Richards and Broderick Thomas both might be tried at tackle. Dennis McKnight, after experimenting at center before a preseason knee injury ended his season before the first game last year, will be tried at left guard.

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“This is just a checkpoint for us,” Beathard said. “The work we do now will make it easier for us to get started when training camp opens in July.”


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