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SAN DIEGO – Some words seem out of place when applied to dissimilar categories.
The assertion that tomatoes are fruit, for example.
Labeling three NFL players with 31 combined years of experience in the league as rookies fits as well.
But that’s just what tight end Randy McMichael, receiver Josh Reed and left tackle Tra Thomas compared themselves to.
“I’m learning like a rookie,” McMichael said.
“Right now I’m like a rookie,” Reed said.
“You’ve got to approach it like a rookie does,” Thomas said.
They gave their answers independently and out of each other’s earshot. The three veteran players, signed during an eight-day period in June, all became respected names around the league with their original teams, Miami (McMichael), Philadelphia (Thomas) and Buffalo (Reed). McMichael (St. Louis) and Thomas (Jacksonville) made subsequent stops elsewhere, but all arrived in Southern California as proven names.
“You can tell right away they’ve played in this league before,” Philip Rivers said. “They’ve played at a high level, and they bring not only a veteran presence on the field but also off the field. They know how to be pros.”
Part of that, apparently, involves channeling their youth.
“There’s so many things you learn over the years, but I’m still learning a lot, even for the rookie guys. As far as the knowledge of the playbook and what to do, they’re ahead of me,” Reed said. “I’ve got to give (the coaching staff) the confidence that if they do put me in there with those guys that I’ll know what to do. It’s a different offense. Some things are really familiar, but it’s coming along, man. They’re working with me.”
Said Thomas: “You’ve got to approach it like a rookie does, because we’re learning. There’s a lot going on right now. You just want to come in and make a good impression on the team and fit in real good with the guys.
“You just try to go out there and play hard. Especially with me being as old as I am now, (having) been around a lot, the young cats are gunning for me. I’ve got to come out and try to perform well.”
As he talked, Thomas hoisted a stool to a table in the middle of the locker room to start a game of dominos with Antonio Gates. McMichael, meanwhile, joked with the linebackers, his locker neighbors. Many of them covered him while he played for the Dolphins and Rams.
“It’s fun being the new guy sometimes. You bring a new personality into the locker room,” McMichael said. “Sitting over there with these linebackers, they are so funny, man. You get to play against them a lot. I played against (Stephen) Cooper and Shaun (Phillips) so many times. But now I’m getting to sit beside them and have fun and joke with them. It’s completely different.”
The faces may be familiar but the daily routine isn’t. Training camp can get redundant when it requires the same schedule and same structure each year, and playing for a different organization alters it enough to make it fresh.
But all three voiced satisfaction with San Diego and their place on the roster.
“I really like this team. I like this organization,” Thomas said. “It reminds me a lot of how Philly was with the preparation and how the guys are. It seems like it’s a close-knit family here.”
Said Reed: “Buffalo was always exciting and things didn’t always go the way we wanted. With the history they have here, it’s exciting. It feels like there’s more of a purpose.”
Naturally, McMichael concurred.
“So relaxed and laid back. You can tell there’s a lot of older guys and a lot of guys that have been here a long time,” he said. “A lot of the core guys have been here a long time, so they make the transition easier.” Read