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Chargers look to continue December success

Posted Dec 2, 2009

December has officially arrived, and that’s been a good thing for the Chargers over the last three years. A few unique challenges make this final month different, though.

December arrived this week and the Chargers find themselves in a slightly different situation than at this time the last two seasons, but their objective remains the same: start and finish the month strong.

“You want to be peaking in December,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We’ve been on a roll. Now that we’ve gotten here we need to keep it going. We’ve got the right mindset, that’s to just worry about Cleveland.”

Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner has followed the one-game-at-a-time message, one that his players believe is such a big reason for their success late in the year. Under Turner’s watch, the Chargers are 9-0 in December.

“We don’t really get caught up in the number,” linebacker Stephen Cooper said. “It’s great that we’ve finished the seasons off strong, but we have to have our focus on the Browns because that’s the first step in having a good December and really they’re the only thing that matters at this point.”

Turner cited the team’s high level of talent and focus for the reason why they’ve been successful in December. He points out that this month has some unique challenges, such as traveling to the East Coast to play in potentially bad weather Sunday in Cleveland.

But he likes his team’s mentality, and he’s doing some things to help them stay fresh. On Thursday, Turner moved the team’s practice up two hours and is dismissing the team early.

“If you want to get their attention, do something a little different,” Turner said. “Make it a little less methodical. We come in Friday at 7:00 a.m. and start the day so we can travel at 2:30. I think it just changes it up a little bit and gives them a little bit of a break on Thursday afternoon. I think those things help.”

Injury update

Defensive end Luis Castillo (calf), safety Eric Weddle (knee), defensive end Travis Johnson (groin), linebacker Shaun Phillips (ankle), defensive tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo (ankle) and linebacker Shawne Merriman (foot) all missed Wednesday’s practice.

Linebacker Kevin Burnett (concussion) fully participated, as did center Nick Hardwick (ankle). Fullback Jacob Hester was limited after injuring his knee in practice.

The Browns placed two starters on “Reserve-Injured” Wednesday. Running back Jamal Lewis and safety Brodney Pool are out for the season, while linebacker Kamerion Wimbley (knee), the team’s leader in sacks, and defensive lineman Kenyon Coleman (knee) did not participate.

Mr. Brown’s House

Running back LaDainian Tomlinson cracked the top 10 on the NFL’s all-time rushing list Sunday, and he’s got a future Hall of Famer and a legend within striking distance this week. LT heads to Cleveland with 12,257 career yards, just 22 behind Marshall Faulk for ninth place and 55 behind Jim Brown for eighth.

Brown, who is a consultant for the team with which he played, will likely be in attendance Sunday.

“I think it will be special if we’re able to do that, but I haven’t really thought about it too much,” Tomlinson said of possibly passing Brown. “Hopefully it happens. That would be a special place to do it.”

Tomlinson also enters Sunday’s game with 134 career rushing touchdowns. Three more will give him 137 in the 2000’s, breaking Emmitt Smith’s mark for most rushing touchdowns in a single decade.

Cleveland is one of four teams that passed on LT in the 2001 NFL Draft. The Browns took defensive tackle Gerard Warren third overall, and Tomlinson landed with the Chargers fifth overall.

Back flip is back

Turner said that he hopes he gets to see Marques Harris’s trademark standing back flip. The unique celebration comes after Harris makes a big play, which he’ll get some opportunities to do after rejoining the Chargers Tuesday.

Harris spent the first four years of his career in San Diego before signing with San Francisco this spring. With the Chargers seeking depth at linebacker and on special teams, Turner called it a nice fit to find a familiar face.

“We know what he can bring,” Turner said. “We want to continue to get better on special teams. Marques is a good outside rusher. We think he can give us some snaps at outside linebacker. We’re lucky. He’s familiar with our system. John Pagano has coached him for a long time so it’s not a shock mentally.”

Harris feels blessed to join an 8-3 team late in the season, one that he thoroughly enjoyed playing with throughout his first four years.

“It’s a great situation,” Harris said. “It’s like being home. It kind of feels like I never left. It’s such a great atmosphere and I’m very excited to be a part of everything that’s going on here again.”

Runyan’s status

Turner said earlier this week that Brandyn Dombrowski will start at right tackle again this week, but Jon Runyan could see his first action as a Charger.

“I thought he had a good day today,” Turner said of the 14-year veteran. “If we’re in the same position in terms of feeling good about where he’s at Friday, he could play some on Sunday.”

Runyan was inactive last week against the Chiefs after joining the Chargers last Tuesday. While physically ready, Runyan is learning a new offense for the first time in 10 years.

In the rotation

With Castillo inactive last week, defensive end Vaughn Martin dressed for the first time in six weeks. Turner believes the rookie grew a lot during that time.

“I think just having seen what it was like to play and then getting back and going through the practices like he has, it’s been good for him,” Turner said. “He goes against our offensive line every day in practice. He’s either going against Marcus or Dielman or Vasquez depending on where we put him. I think he’s learned a lot about playing and I think he’s a lot better.”

When the Chargers selected the former Canadian college star in the fourth round of April’s draft, their initial plan was to bring Martin along slowly. Injuries along the defensive line forced him to action early in the season, but a healthy rotation up front has allowed Martin to take a step back. He sees how he’s benefitted from that.

“I just feel like I’ve had a chance to watch these guys, what they do and how they prepare,” Martin said. “I really just want to contribute to a win and help my team where they need me and when they need me.”

A matter of time

The Chargers will kickoff at 1:05 p.m. Pacific Sunday, a bit of a change from the past when they regularly began East Coast games at 10 a.m. San Diego time. Although the Chargers often travel two days in advance, players’ bodies still weren’t quite adjusted to the early wakeup. The later kickoff evens the playing field for visitors, Turner said.

“I think it’s great,” Turner said. “The worst part about it is you get home a lot later than you normally would, but playing at (1 pm Pacific), I think does help the traveling team.”

Four weeks ago, the Chargers won a late kickoff in New York. They’ll also start at 1:15 Pacific next week in Dallas.

Good memory

The Chargers haven’t played in Cleveland in five years, but there last trip to Northeast Ohio was a memorable one. On that snowy day in 2004, San Diego clinched its first AFC West title in 10 years.

“It was a very cold day,” Tomlinson recalled. “But there was a big celebration in the locker room.”

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