CHARGER NOTEBOOK : Second Draft Choice Mills Trying to Bridge the Experience Gap

The Chargers' top draft selection?

Easy. Junior Seau.

The second guy?

Take a few minutes to think, but don't knock yourself out. You won't find this guy on the front of any cereal boxes.

His name is Jeff Mills, he played outside linebacker for Nebraska and he was the draft's 57th pick overall in the third round. At 6-3 1/2, 238 pounds, he is built perfectly for this position, and he is quick and strong. But there's one problem. Billy Ray Smith plays the same position. And so does Henry Rolling, a plan B free agent from Tampa Bay who has performed nicely in the preseason.

So far, Mills has gotten a bit of work on special teams and played a lot of practice downs on the scout team. That's about it. During the games he does a lot of observing.

Whether that will change depends on whether he can make a few plays that catch the coach's eye in practice.

"He needs to be more productive in practice to get more work in the games," Charger Coach Dan Henning said. "He's at a disadvantage because there are two guys who are there at that spot that have been playing there longer than he has. And he just has to make up ground."

Can he do that in time to survive the final two cuts?

"That's what we're here for," Henning said.

Not exactly a vote of confidence, but then again, confidence isn't something that Mills is lacking. Asked if he thinks he'll make the team, he responded: "Yes, I think I'll make the team. There's no reason I can't make the team. As far as talent goes, I've got it. If they have something else in mind, I can play on some other team. I'm not worried about that."

Still, this role of watching rather than participating can get old fast. We're talking about a guy who made 108 total tackles in starting his junior and senior seasons as a Cornhusker. He's not used to standing on the sideline.

"I have yet to feel comfortable with what I'm doing," he said. "Up until that point, I can't show everybody what I really can do."

Seau, the Charger's first-round draft selection from USC, has taken a short leave of absence from San Diego. Steve Feldman, his agent, says Seau is working out twice a day but he won't say where.

As for contract negotiations, Feldman and Charger General Manager Bobby Beathard are scheduled to meet this morning. The Chargers will make what Beathard said may be their final offer. Because Seau has already missed a month of training camp, Beathard feels a sense of urgency to wrap up the negotiations and get Seau on the practice field.

"I think something's got to happen now," Beathard said. "A decision has to be made. I hope that (today) we can get something together that will encourage him to make a decision."

The Chargers plan to move Seau from outside to inside linebacker, which will take time for him to master. Even if Seau signs this week, Beathard said he won't be ready for the regular season opener at Dallas on Sept. 9.

"I think that would be expecting too much," Beathard said. "You lose him for the first part of the season, but I don't know how long."

Feldman says Seau's position hasn't changed; he wants a fair contract, and he wants to play. But Feldman said Seau has decided he will keep a low profile until the deal is done.

Since defensive end Lee Williams walked out of camp for a week at the end of July to protest the Chargers' refusal to renegotiate his contract, the Chargers have renegotiated running back Marion Butts' contract and have reportedly agreed to do so with wide receiver Anthony Miller.

Williams, who has three years remaining on a five-year contract sources say will pay him about $725,000 this season, said he isn't bothered by Butts' or Miller's new contracts.

"I think both those players deserve what they get," he said. "It's a totally different situation. I don't concern myself with the finances of other players."

Beathard reiterated the Chargers' position on Williams' contract, saying it would not be rewritten and that it was a completely different situation.

"Lee Williams signed his contract after he had gotten to a point in his career where he was doing well," Beathard said. "These guys (Butts and Miller) are playing up here and being paid down here. It's not as if Lee's in the poor house.

"You can't satisfy everybody. Every time you (rewrite a contract) other players think 'Well, I deserve it too.' That's a matter of evaluation by a player. We have to do things by our own evaluation and not by the agent's. That's the system. I don't think it's fair, but that's the way it is right now."

Tight end Arthur Cox, who sustained a back injury two weeks ago, had a cortisone shot Tuesday. Henning said Cox has an arthritic condition and that it is unknown how long he will be out. He will miss Saturday's game against the 49ers at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

Beathard said the Chargers will consider picking up another tight end if Cox's injury continues to prevent him from practicing.

Cornerback Gill Byrd suffered a groin strain in practice Tuesday but is not expected to miss any practice.

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