Chargers open camp amid uncertainty over franchise's future
SAN DIEGO (AP) The Chargers are still in San Diego, at least for this season.
Beyond that is anyone's guess as the team opens training camp in preparation for what could be the most pivotal season in its history.
After getting rebuffed by fellow NFL owners on moving to an industrial suburb of Los Angeles along with the Rams, chairman Dean Spanos committed to San Diego at least for 2016. Spanos is trying to get voters to approve a new downtown stadium and convention center annex not far from Petco Park, home to baseball's Padres.
''I was always pretty skeptical about moving, just because I've been here for so long,'' said star tight end Antonio Gates, who signed a two-year contract extension to assure he'll retire as a Charger. ''The fans have been phenomenal over the 13 years I've been here. It's one of those things where, to me, this is home. This is where the Chargers belong. I understand the business side of it. I understand that decisions had to be made. But I'm a Charger. I'm a San Diego Charger.''
Last season was bruising on the field, where the Chargers went 4-12, and off it, where ownership waged a scorched-earth battle with City Hall as it tried to leave.
The drama's far from over, though.
The Chargers have placed a citizens' initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot seeking to raise the hotel tax to heavily subsidize a downtown ''convadium'' to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley. Polls show the Chargers are way behind in convincing the voters, not to mention the powerful tourism industry that doesn't like the Chargers' plans for a non-contiguous expansion of the waterfront convention center. If things don't work out in San Diego, the Chargers have the right to join the Rams, who won the race to L.A., in a stadium in Inglewood set to open in 2019.
Here are some things to look for as the Chargers open training camp on July 30:
BOSA: Ohio State star defensive end Joey Bosa, the third overall pick in the draft, skipped mandatory minicamp in June in a contract dispute and it's unclear how long he might sit out. One of his agents, Tom Condon, famously told the Chargers before the 2004 draft not to take Eli Manning. They did anyway, and then swapped him for Philip Rivers. Condon also had high-profile spats with the Chargers in the past involving clients LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees. When he shows up, Bosa will add some punch to a defense that came on during the second half of last season.
WOE LINE: The Chargers have to improve on the offensive line. Too many injuries and too much subpar play did then in last year, whether it was trying to open holes for rookie Melvin Gordon or protecting Rivers. The Chargers upgraded at center by signing free agent center Matt Slauson, and signed right tackle Joe Barksdale to a long-term deal. Whether it's conditioning or technique, the Chargers need to figure out why so many of their linemen get hurt.
MELVIN GORDON: The running back anticipates being close to 100 percent by the start of camp after having microfracture surgery on his left knee in January. His rookie season was nothing short of miserable, as he failed to score a touchdown or manage a 100-yard game before injuring his knee late in the season. He also fumbled six times, losing four, and was benched twice. The Chargers drafted his college teammate, fullback Derek Watt, the younger brother of Texans star defensive end J.J. Watt.
AGELESS GATES: The 36-year-old signed a $12 million, two-year deal to avoid free agency. The 2016 season will be Gates' 14th with the Chargers. He signed as a rookie free agent in 2003 after starring in basketball at Kent State. Gates was suspended for the first four games of 2015 after testing positive for a banned substance. Upon returning, he had 56 catches for 630 yards and five touchdowns. Gates is the franchise leader with 844 catches, 10,644 yards receiving and 104 touchdown catches. Rivers and Gates have connected for 77 touchdown passes, making them the most prolific quarterback-tight end combo in league history.
OTHER GUYS: Two other draft picks expected to help right away are inside linebacker Joshua Perry from Ohio State and sure-handed tight end Hunter Henry from Arkansas. General manager Tom Telesco had a decent haul in free agency, adding defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, free safety Dwight Lowery, cornerback Casey Hayward and wide receiver Travis Benjamin.
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