SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Five weeks before the beginning of training camp, the San Diego Chargers wrapped up their final mini-camp workouts Thursday. Players showered, dressed and headed to their cars with hands full of playbooks and iPads, looking forward to the last week in July and the start of their atonement for two sub-par seasons. Along with their homework and whatever they’ve loaded onto their tablets, the majority of players were also wearing something — big and bright: smiles.
Everywhere you looked, there was a happy Charger walking around the facility; but the biggest and brightest grin was on the face of Ronnie Brown.
Less than two weeks ago, Brown was looking for a team to play with following a season in Philadelphia that can only be described as terrible for the second overall pick by Miami in the 2005 NFL Draft.
After spending his first six seasons with the Dolphins as a multi-dimensional running back who caused consternation among many defenses trying to stop him, he accomplished little as an Eagle. Brown played in all 16 games last season, but carried the ball just 42 times and gained a miniscule 136 yards. He scored just one touchdown and for the first time in his career, the player who averaged 31 catches a season had none.
Early in 2012, Brown intimated on his website that he felt he might still have a place with the Eagles, but that wasn’t the case. And there weren’t many teams at all interested in signing him, until the Chargers came along with a 1-year, $900,000 offer. And now Brown couldn’t be happier to be with the Bolts.
“At least I cut down on the wear and tear on my body last year, so I’m fresh and ready to go,” Brown joked. “But yeah, it’s great to be here in San Diego.
“Last year was the toughest of my career; it didn’t seem like much went right. I went (to Philadelphia) with high expectations for myself and the team, but it obviously didn’t work that way.
“Being (with the Chargers) is a great opportunity and I’m looking forward to coming in and putting in the work. Last year wasn’t anywhere near what I wanted it to be, to be able to come in and contribute, do my part.”
If he makes the team, he’ll be backing up running back Ryan Mathews, who had a breakout season with the Chargers in 2011. Mathews gained 1.091 yards and caught 50 passes for 455 yards. But Brown says starting doesn’t matter, because it’s all about the team.
“I’m coming in here to help the team win,” said Brown, who played collegiately at Auburn. It’s not about individual stuff because I think we’ve got a team that has a real chance to get to (the Super Bowl). There’s a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and it’s great that they brought me in to be a part of this.
“It’s a great (place) for me to be right now. They have a great starting quarterback (in Philip Rivers), veteran guys to provide leadership and the work ethic around here is pretty good.
“The expectations here are high about wanting to win, and that’s what I wanted to be part of. I felt that (head coach) Norv (Turner) is a great guy and that this is a great fit.”
Turner, who survived an offseason full of speculation about his firing, sees Brown as the type of contributor the Chargers need when they’re trying to get the ball in the end zone. “I see Ronnie Brown having a real impact on our team in special situations,” Turner said Thursday. “Red zone, third downs, two-minute (drills) — those are areas that if you want to be a team to make the playoffs and have success, you have to be outstanding.
“I think with him and Ryan in those situations, it will make us a dangerous team. It gives us something we really haven’t had since Darren Sproles was here, an ability to make more big plays out of that position.”
Rivers says that all the offseason additions the Chargers have made on offense—players like Brown, WR’s Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem and fullback Le’Ron McClain—are excellent pick-ups. And they have the type of attitude that makes them even more valuable.
“For the guys who’ve been around here for a while and know how to win, we’ve added guys who put the team first,” Rivers reflected. “We’ve always had a close group around here, and for us to be effective, you have to be able to depend on the guy lining up next to you. And all our guys are football players; guys who love to play the game. All the new guys are meshing in well.
“One of the things (Ronnie) does — along with the other guys — is make us more dynamic than we have been in a while. I’m always optimistic going into a season, but this year I feel the sky’s really the limit for us (offensively). Ronnie’s going to contribute quite a bit and play a significant role.”
There’s been talk that Turner will go to a version of the Wildcat offense more with the versatility Brown brings to the team.
“Things have been talked about a little,” Brown said, “but nothing’s been set in stone. I’ve still got to learn the plays, learn the terminology and come back in a few weeks and hit the ground running. Once that happens, then we’ll figure out where I fit in.”
“I really want to show that I’m still the same player I was a few years ago. I really believe I have the same skill set I’ve always had. Now I just have to go out and prove it again and help this team however I can.