October 15, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers center Nick Hardwick (61) points to defenders before a play during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Veteran Leadership: Showing Rookies The Ropes

There have been a lot of changes for the San Diego Chargers this season. There is a new GM, a new head coach, a new offensive coordinator, new players, new uniforms, new strength & conditioning… even a new practice field. This group barely resembles the team from 2012. Some of you love the recent changes, and feel that there is a refreshing new feeling in San Diego. Some of you didn’t like watching so many veteran Charger players leave during free agency. Especially, the players that left for rival teams. No matter how you feel, this year will definitely have a different feel than the last few seasons… for better, or for worse.

Despite these personnel changes, we still have some really good veteran leadership on this team. These are players that have been Chargers for more than a minute, and will be responsible for keeping this new squad focused. Tom Telesco is starting a youth movement. Whenever you go with youth, there are bound to be some growing pains. It is absolutely critical that our franchise players help these youngsters through the treacherous waters of the NFL. Rookie Symposiums are a great way to welcome new players to the league. However, no lesson is more valuable than the “hands on” training, taught by a proven team leader.

Philip Rivers: PR17 is the uncontested leader of this team. He is famous for his passion for the game, for his fiery attitude, and making young “no-name” receivers look like Pro Bowlers. His love for the game is eclipsed only by his tremendous character. When he’s on the field, he jaws with the opposing quarterback, the opposing defense… shoot.. he sometimes will take on an entire section of the opposing crowd! He has a reputation for trash-talking, but never even uses foul language. He “Gosh & Gollys” his way through press conferences, and says things like “good old fashioned rear-end whoopin”. Others would probably say MUCH worse about him. He has never had one single off the field issue that I can remember. I’d be surprised to find out that he got a parking ticket. Philip has struggled over the last two seasons, without a doubt. But, if what Mike McCoy is reporting about his work ethic during OTA’s is true, he is going to have a very good year! He leads by example, and he is EXACTLY the kind of player that these rookies should be trying to emulate.

Antonio Gates: Antonio Gates is one of my favorite Chargers! His numbers haven’t been what they used to be over the last two years, but he still commands double-teams. He has recently struggled with Plantar Fasciitis, a nagging & slow healing foot injury. He appears to be out of the woods, though, and will have the pressure taken off of him behind a re-vamped offensive line. We drafted Ladarius Green last year, and it was believed that he could possibly follow in the footsteps of Gates, with a little bit of grooming. We haven’t seen a lot from Green yet, but hopefully he is picking up some good habits from Gates. Gates is one of the classiest players in the NFL, and our “first contract” players should be paying attention to the example he is setting. He is, after all, a future Hall of Fame player.

Malcom Floyd: M80 not only has a cool nickname, but is one of the most consistent Chargers on the team. Malcom is pretty soft-spoken, and you probably won’t catch him leading the pre-game huddle up. What he does do is “stay classy”. Floyd is another player that has been around the block a few times, and knows what it means to be a Charger. He has had a ton of clutch catches, and moved those chains so many times, that I have lost count. He has never put up the exciting #1 receiver type numbers, but I wouldn’t sneeze at his stats either. Most importantly, he is there to show guys like Keenan Allen the ropes. I love me some Keenan Allen, but let’s be real. After that little Raider Hat stunt, he clearly needs somebody to steer him away from the pitfalls of social media. Most importantly, “Vine-Posting”!!! I think Malcom is the perfect player to mentor Keenan. A few analysts have even made comparisons between the two, regarding their style of play. If Keenan can keep off of the media radar, and keep his nose down, he will have a lot of success in this league. Floyd is somebody I can see being a good source of experience for Keenan, and other young players.

Eric Weddle: What can you say about Eric Weddle, except that he is the best defensive player on the team? He is arguably the best safety in the league. Weddle is a born leader. He has already “spoken” to Keenan Allen about the above mentioned Raider hat incident. I believe it was something like “Burn it, and never wear it again. You are a Charger now”. Being a leader, and teaching new guys, is nothing new to Weddle. It seems like he has had a new co-safety every year he has played here. He is already knee deep into commanding a completely new defensive backfield. Eric just radiates that type of character that younger players look up to. Even though they aren’t rookies, Marcus Gilchrist & Brandon Taylor will need plenty of guidance as they learn how to make an impact at their position. Not to mention, there is a chance that Jahleel Addae could also make the squad, and will need to draw on Weddle’s talent & experience. I’m sure players like Shareece Wright, and Derek Cox could also learn a thing or two from watching Weddle. It’s a pleasure to see our Pro-Bowl safety at work!

Nick Hardwick: We all got a little bit of a scare before the 2012 season started, when Hardwick was pondering retirement. Who can blame him? Things weren’t exactly going smoothly for the team, and he just watched two of his fellow o-line members go down with career ending injuries. Dielman was a good friend of Nick’s. I’m sure a lot of us would have had thoughts about calling it a career, after witnessing something as scary as that. Especially, when you play center… which is one of the most brutal positions in football. To our complete & utter joy, Nick Hardwick came back last year! Even better, he is still on board this year. Calling out plays & assignments on the offensive line takes a very special kind of player. It takes a leader of epic proportions. A leader of men. Hardwick has been the rock of this offensive line, in the face of major adversity. Aside from Jeromey Clary, he is the only starting lineman who wore a lightning bolt last year. Even Clary is playing a new position. First round draft pick DJ Fluker is already showing signs of being a future leader. He may not need a whole lot of help, when it comes to motivation, but he should take advantage of what Hardwick has to offer. All of the younger guys on the line should listen up, and take a page out of his book. He is the key to helping them, and the team, succeed this season… and beyond.

Donald Butler: The Butler did it… and he did it well last year. 2012 was a break-out season for the young linebacker. He doesn’t have the age, or the years of experience that these other guys do. But, he is already the captain of this defense, and rightfully so. He learned from Takeo Spikes, who is one of the best veteran leaders in the game. Takeo had lost a step last year, and will not be returning to the Bolts this year. However, what he put on the field while he was a Charger, and how he handled his leadership role, is nothing short of admirable. Donald Butler was able to soak up all of Takeo’s great habits, like a sponge. We are now left with a future leader and a future Hall of Famer. And, it couldn’t have come at a better time! When Tom Telesco drafted Manti Te’O, there was a lot of speculation from every team in the league about Te’O’s… let’s just say “off the field” problems. Donald Butler didn’t hesitate to publicly let the young man know that his position on the team would have to be earned, and not handed over on a silver platter. So far, so good. Butler has gone on record praising Te’O for his work ethic during OTA’s. On the flip-side of that coin, Te’O has made a point to let everyone know that Butler has taken him under his wing. He has thanked Butler for being there to answer questions, show him techniques, and push him to play hard on every down. He is paying it forward, like Takeo would. That’s great news for the Chargers linebacking crew! Butler, and Te’O are the next generation of Charger leadership. Short of a few tweaks here and there… Butler will be leading one of the most dominant defenses in the NFL, for years to come.

In conclusion, there have been a lot of changes this year. Some of it was hard to swallow, and is an unfortunate part of business in the NFL today. Personally, I think change is good. It’s a necessary part of the evolution of any good team. I can’t think of anybody I’d rather have showing these kids how to ball, than these Charger veterans!

Keep Bolting Toward Excellence!

Peter Thompson

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Tags: Antonio Gates DJ Fluker Donald Butler Jahleel Addae Keenan Allen Ladarius Green Malcom Floyd Manti Te'o Nick Hardwick Philip Rivers San Diego Chargers

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