It seemed like whenever you read a story about the San Diego Chargers’ offense last year, it would have a lot of praise for the massive talents of wide receiver Vincent Jackson—and a lot of speculation about where he’d be playing in 2012.
There was never doubting the two-time Pro Bowler’s abilities to catch the ball and do some damage when he did. But continuing personality issues, such as two drunken driving convictions, another arrest for expired tags and a contract dispute that inspired a ten-game holdout in 2010 always seemed to overshadow V.J.’s game-breaking abilities. Finally, after being tagged as the franchise player in 2011, Jackson and his season totals of 60 catches,1,106 yards and nine touchdowns finally hit the road for good, signing a five-year, 55.55 million dollar contract with Tampa Bay.
Jackson’s leaving could have been a major blow to a Charger team which had missed the playoffs for two straight years. However, GM A.J. Smith went out and persuaded former Denver Bronco Eddie Royal to sign a three-year, $13.5-million contract, with a six million dollar singing bonus.
Despite losing the talented Jackson, Quarterback Philip Rivers feels the team became deeper at receiver than they’ve been in a while, Royal joining fellow free agent Robert Meachem, Vincent Brown and Malcom Floyd to give Rivers quite a quartet to throw to.
“All the additions we’ve made have fit in very well,” observed Rivers. “It’s been real positive.
“(Eddie) is real smooth in his route-running. A lot of guys who are his size (5-10, 185) with his quickness, can be a little bit herky-jerky with their movements. He’s really smooth, so he’s a (prime) target to throw to because he’s so smooth.
“We have (already developed chemistry), which is good when you have timing things come up, when you might have to throw it early. You hope you’re right in reading what he’s supposed to do, where he’s supposed to be; the kinds of things you develop over time. We’ve already got that. When he’s thinking what I’m thinking, that’s real positive. I’ve thrown it where I hope he’s going and he does go there, and that’s what this time of year is all about. But it’s come along more quickly that you might expect. And we’ll have five, six weeks of training camp to (perfect) it before we open the season.”
When the Chargers head to Oakland for one of the Monday night opening games on September 10th ,Royal—who had 206 catches for 2,107 yards and nine touchdowns in 57 games with Denver—will ideally have earned one of the starting slots. The four-year vet out of Virginia Tech can rip up defenses underneath, catching the ball and running past the secondary. That’s something the Chargers will need immediately if their quest to get back to post-season play is to become a reality with Jackson in Tampa. Brown and Royal could be the top two receivers, which would suit Rivers just fine.
“All our (receivers) will be important,” Rivers said, “and Vincent is going to be a big part of this, too. He’s already (on the team) so he isn’t getting as much attention as some of the other guys, which is sort of funny. You always get excited about the new guys that are signed, but Vincent is going to play…big. (He and Eddie) are going to be part of a good group at wide receiver.
“It’s going to be great for me, too. All of I have to do is get one of them the ball and let them run. I’m really optimistic about how high-powered our offense can be with the wide-outs, (tight end Antonio) Gates healthy and Ryan Matthews coming into his own at running back.”
Royal is ecstatic about heading south to play in San Diego and the complimentary comments made by his new coaches and teammates. But he knows he still has a lot to prove as Jackson’s possible replacement.
“It’s always good to hear good things coming from your teammates,” Royal said. “But at the end of the day, I have a lot of work to do, learning the playbook and getting the timing down perfectly with Philip.
“Just jelling with the team is important to me, because pretty much everyone here is a new face to me. I’ve played against them before, but being around them, getting to know them and building that chemistry is something I’m working on, too.”
So far, Royal says he’s comfortable in Norv Turner’s multi-faceted offense.
“Things are going well right now,” Royal said after the final mini-camp practice. “Like I said, we’ve got some work to do, but we’re clicking pretty well as an offense. The mini-camps and OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) have been a good start to the season for us, and I’m excited about what we can do as an offense. We just have to buckle down and iron out the details.”
As a free agent moving to another city, not all the details Royal is dealing with are on the lush green grass at the Chargers’ practice facility.
“There’s an overall adjustment process I’m going through right now,” Royal said, “and I’m trying to make it as easy as possible, on and off the field.
“I’m just trying to learn the city, driving around and getting familiar with places outside the facility. I’m trying to get comfortable and make this my home now.
“You’re not just changing football teams, you’re changing your entire life. It’s (a change) my family has to make also, because they’re going to be traveling out here to see games. There’s a lot that goes into it; not just learning new teammates and a new playbook. And the Chargers have been great, helping me find a place to live, places to eat, just making things a lot easier for me here.”
And for Royal, being comfortable in your surroundings and happy with what you’re doing play a big part in how well a team plays.
“Oh definitely,” he said. “You have to love what you’re doing; I think that’s very important. And from what I’ve seen so far, the guys love playing football and love playing together. It’s been a great experience for me so far.”