By BERNIE WILSON, AP Sports Writer
SAN DIEGO (AP) — With all the offseason changes — and the urgency of getting back to the playoffs —Norv Turner thinks the competition to make the 53-man roster will be the hardest since he took over the San Diego Chargers in 2007.
The Chargers opened minicamp on Tuesday with a walkthrough in the morning and a regular practice in the afternoon.
Turner said he's stressed to his players that the offseason program has been geared toward preparing players to win jobs during training camp.
"We have some really great competition on this team. No. 1, I think we'll have the best competition we've had to make the 53-man roster," Turner said. "I think it's going to be a hard team to make. It's going to be a real hard team to make the 46-man roster, the guys that dress on game day.
"Then when you go through every situation, whether it be kickoff coverage or punt return or third-down defense or short-yardage offense, it's going to be hard to be one of the 11 guys on the field. That competition is great in terms of helping guys improve, but the other thing it certainly gives us is some added depth, so if we're in the situation we've been in the last couple years, if we have an unusual amount of injuries, hopefully we have guys who have been here, who have practiced. Those are the guys that will be playing instead of having to go to the waiver wire and get a guy ready in three or four days."
San Diego was 8-8 last year and 9-7 in 2010, missing the playoffs both seasons after winning four straight AFC West titles. San Diego has only one playoff win in the last four seasons.
Looking to reverse the slide, the Chargers had a big haul in free agency. They signed two of their own free agents, center Nick Hardwick and left tackle Jared Gaither, and brought in several other free agents, including linebacker Jarret Johnson, fullback Le'Ron McClain, wide receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson left for a big deal with Tampa Bay.
San Diego used its first three draft picks on outside linebacker Melvin Ingram of South Carolina, defensive end Kendall Reyes of Connecticut and LSU strong safety Brandon Taylor. They are expected to add some impact to a defense that was the NFL's worst on third down. The Chargers used the rest of their picks on players expected to bolster their depth.
Quarterback Philip Rivers, looking to bounce back from a season in which he committed an NFL-high 25 turnovers, including 20 interceptions, is excited to be talking about all the newcomers.
"This has been as crucial as an offseason that we've had," Rivers said. "We've added more pieces that are going to play significant roles, and we didn't have one last year."
Rivers said missing the playoffs is a big motivating factor.
"I think to make it a little more specific, not winning the division the last two years. Obviously that includes not making the playoffs, but it starts in the division. We've always said that, we've always driven that home. But we've been 3-3 in the division the last two years. There's coincidence that's why we're not in. Yeah, we want to win them all. If you win your division games, you're going to get in. We know how important division games are, and all games, but we've got to focus on the AFC West. If we do that, we'll give ourselves a chance to play in the postseason," he said.
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