SAN DIEGO – The Chargers held their last practice with an 87-man roster Saturday before head coach Norv Turner and staff had to cut 28 players for the final 53-player roster to begin the regular season.
The Chargers had to cut one extra player to accommodate the signing of veteran LB Na’il Diggs, 33, to a one-year contract. Diggs, who has played in the league for 12 seasons, was released by the St. Louis Rams prior to the end of the preseason.
After the team’s practice, the Chargers announced the 28 cuts, which included preseason favorites WR Seyi Ajirotutu and third-string QB Scott Tolzien.
“This is a tough day. You know that these guys, a lot of them are going to get an opportunity somewhere else, but you spend the morning with 25 or so guys, explaining to then why you’re doing things and how you’re doing it; it’s disappointing for all of them, and it probably takes a little toll on the coach,” Turner said.
“I think we picked the best players for our football team right now,” Turner said.
As for the shortened preseason due to a players’ lockout and contract negotiations, Turner felt bad for the young players.
“They didn’t have May; they didn’t have June. They didn’t have the opportunities that normal guys had to get ready. I always think that May and June gets them ready to go compete for a job in training camp.”
He added that this year, for all 32 teams, there are going to be players who got away.
“You’re going to have some guys who got cut who end up on a practice squad at their team or on another team, that end up being real good players, and you’ll have one of those stories five years from now and say, ‘Hey, so-and-so cut him and now he’s a starter and a real good player.’”
Turner said the players to be named to the practice squad will be decided starting Sunday, and depending on who gets claimed. But Turner said Tolzien is a guy they would consider for a spot. Ajirotutu isn’t eligible for a spot on the practice squad. Tolzien and Ajirotutu can be claimed by 9 a.m. Sunday, after that, they become free agents.
Tolzien was later claimed by the San Francisco 49ers.
Rookie LB Darryl Gamble and fan favorite WR Bryan Walters, who had a standout preseason, both made the team.
Gamble’s goal was to make the team his first year out of college. Coming from Georgia University, who grew up in Bainbridge, Ga., Gamble received a lot of motivation and focus from fellow Georgian and new Charger ILB Takeo Spikes.
“Just having those guys being able to come in and pep-talk you, ‘Darryl, this is your time. Do what you got to do to try and make the squad.’ And Takeo, he always gave me a little pep-talk everyday just to keep my mind focused on my agenda,” Gamble said.
“(Takeo) always said ‘C’mon Georgia boy, you got to do it for the home team.’ I mean, not the university, but the state,” he added.
Walters, from Kirkland, Wash. and graduate of Cornell University, was cut from the team last year, but was added to the team’s practice squad where he was able to prepare himself for another chance at making the team.
“Being able to go against the number one defense in the NFL last year, every day, going against the starters, I couldn’t ask for a better way to get better and improve as a player,” Walters said.
As for advice to the players cut and who may be heading to the practice squad, Walters gave this: “Bust your butt every day…the coaches look at everything, they’re noticing you out there on the practice squad, if you’re doing well; just because you’re on the practice squad doesn’t mean you don’t have a shot, because you definitely do.”
During the six weeks the players and the coaches work together, they get to know each other pretty well.
“We spend a lot of time on non-football stuff with these young guys,” said Turner. “It was a rush job this year because the way we got them here, but the transition from college to NFL is a big transition, and the football part is probably the easiest part.”
Turner said that the position coaches probably got to know the players more than he did, but that he tried to have involvement with each player.
“I sat down with the guys we released today and tried to get a sense of where they’re at and where they’re headed and what we can do for them to help. So it’s a whole process.”
The Chargers regular season practices begin Wednesday. They open the season at Qualcomm Stadium Sept. 11 against the Minnesota Vikings.
On Monday, the Chargers rounded out their eight-man practice squad, which included LB Bront Bird, DT Charlie Bryant, T Steve Schilling, CB Traye Simmons, FB Frank Summers, TE Brad Taylor, T Eric Young and QB Drew Willy.
Players released Sept. 3, 2011
Players immediately becoming free agents:
LB Kevin Bentley
WR Laurent Robinson
S Quinton Teal
WR Kelley Washington
Players available to be claimed:
WR Seyi Ajirotutu
C Colin Baxter
LB Bront Bird
DE Mike Blanc
RB Curtis Brinkley
CB Ramon Broadway
DE Charlie Bryant
TE Charles Davis
T Hutch Eckerson
DE Carl Ihenacho
DE Ogemdi Nwagbuo
RB Isaac Odim
FB Dean Rogers
T Stephen Schilling
P Ricky Schmitt
CB Traye Simmons
RB Frank Summers
TE Brad Taylor
T Bo Thran
QB Brian Tolzien
LB Kion Wilson
T Eric Young
Players placed on Reserve-Injured:
S Nick Polk (hand)
DT Damik Scafe (leg)