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Despite lockout, Turner working hard to get Bolts back on top

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Posted May 11, 2011 @ 2:27 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

Back in the late 1980s, when Norv Turner was just starting his NFL coaching career as a tight ends/wide receivers coach for the Los Angeles Rams, there were no such things as organized team activities or contract bonuses for players attending offseason workouts. Instead there were three days of mandatory minicamp at some point during the summer, then training camp starting the second week of July leading up to the regular season. Maybe a player living locally would drop by the team facility for a day or two to meet with coaches or get some treatment on an injury, but the time between the Super Bowl and camp's kickoff was mainly spent with players and coaches working separately.

Now Turner is the head coach of the Chargers, and once again, players and coaches are working separately. Due to the lockout, OTAs and offseason minicamps have been canceled, leaving the head coach and his staff to work amongst themselves for the time being. While they can't review film with returning veterans or even hand out playbooks to incoming rookies, Turner told PFW that there is still a lot being done on a daily basis at Chargers Park.

"(The coaching staff) spends a lot of time looking at football, evaluating yourself and your players, looking at other teams and at wrinkles and what you can do to help yourself get better," Turner explained. "So, we've been making the most of the time. I think from the coaching staff, what we're doing, we're getting a lot done."

That work includes planning an expanded training-camp schedule, determining how they are going to install the playbooks of new coordinators Greg Manusky (defense) and Rich Bisaccia (special teams) and doing some early research on their 2011 opponents, which, in addition to their AFC West foes, includes teams from the AFC East and NFC North. San Diego hasn't played the latter division's teams since 2007.

While the coach calls the atmosphere "more relaxed" without the pressures of going on the field and teaching, there are some worries about the effect the lockout is having on the team's roster. Like Bolts fans around Southern California, Turner has had to rely on reading reports regarding his players' workouts to ensure they are working on their games, staying in shape and preparing as if training camp will start on time. While the articles can be informative as to who is being active, they don't exactly give detailed information on what activities are being done.

"I'm more interested in them working out with the physical part of it, the lifting and running, than I am going out and running plays," Turner said before comparing the player workouts to his golf game. "If you go out and practice the wrong things and get good at the wrong things, you have more bad habits to break. It's like me going out and hitting balls with no one helping me, then I'm just practicing and my slice is getting better."

The concerns about preparing incorrectly are especially true with young players, of which the Chargers have plenty. Contract holdouts and injuries in 2010 stretched the roster quite thin a year ago, tying an NFL-record with 74 players suiting up for the team during the season. That was a major reason San Diego finished with a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs despite having the NFL's No. 1-ranked offense and defense. However it also allowed a lot of inexperienced players to see more playing time then the staff had planned. After having added an eight-player rookie class, which included five of the first 89 picks in the draft, the coach said he is eager to see what kind of team will take the field this fall.

"We know we have to have depth at every position and then one of those things by having to play all those guys, we created some depth," Turner said about the unexpected benefits of last year's enormous injury toll. "We added some depth, because a guy like (WR Seyi) Ajirotutu, he showed he can play as a receiver, so we found a guy who can contribute and help us as a receiver in real games and play at a high level. So it's not like you're taking a second-year guy who has never been thrown in the middle of it."

As for the rookies, the coach said he wouldn't be surprised to see many of them making an instant impact.

"Last year we had so many guys play, so we're going to line them up and get them ready to play," he said. "Depending on injuries, depending on how things go, I think they are all capable of coming in and making a contribution."

Like his colleagues around the league, Turner can't do much to accelerate the process of reaching a new labor agreement between the owners and the players. What he can do is use his 25 years of NFL-coaching experience to prepare as much for the season as possible without meeting with his players, trying his best to get the Chargers back on track as a Super Bowl contender.  

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