SAN DIEGO – Mention summer in San Diego and visions of scenic beaches quickly come to mind.
The hill at Chargers Park?
Not so much.
But that’s where Larry English spent his recent afternoons, going up and down while getting his left hamstring fit and ready.
“I ran about of eight of those,’’ English said of the steep climb behind the Chargers’ three practice fields.
English has missed two weeks of training camp practices and an exhibition game, slowed by a balky hamstring. It appears English’s NFL debut will be delayed again, as he’s not expected to play Saturday against the Arizona Cardinals.
But English isn’t getting his feathers ruffled.
“It’s a little bit [frustrating] but if it came down to it I feel like I could play today,’’ English said Wednesday. “It’s just one of those things where we are being cautious in the preseason and not trying to rush anything.’’
Rushing the passer is English’s game and that’s why he was drafted out of Northern Illinois with the 16th overall pick. It was a selection which raised some eyebrows, considering the Chargers employ three-time Pro Bowler linebacker Shawne Merriman and opposite him, the steady Shaun Phillips.
But English, who has impressed coaches and teammates with his dedication, just shrugged on draft day.
“I can’t say I was surprised just because I was a little bit ready for the unexpected,’’ said English, who exited as Northern Illinois all-timeá leader in sacks (31 1/2) and tackles for losses (63). “That was one thing throughout the process everybody was beating in my head that you never know what is going to happen. I was ready for something to come out of left field; I landed in the best situation and I’m happy. I couldn’t ask for anything more.’’
Except two healthy hamstrings.
Before pulling up lame, English was in the regular rotation of outside linebackers in the Chargers’ 3-4 alignment. And with Merriman being eased into practices while rebounding from his knee surgery, English often was running with the starters.
That’s why English doesn’t see his summer absence as the end-all of plans for him to contribute his rookie season.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a setback at all,’’ he said. “I think once I get back in there I’ll be fine and get back into the groove quickly.’’
His confidence comes from offseason workouts where it was obvious to observers English belonged. Even if shifting from Northern Illinois’ 4-3 scheme to the Chargers’ 3-4.
“Me having been through all the minicamps, and stuff like that, I’ve picked it up and I have learned the defense pretty well,’’ he said. “So I am pretty confident with everything.’’
But smart enough to know, he doesn’t know it all.
That’s why after nearly every play, English slides up to Merriman and starts nit-picking his brain.
And that’s something that Merriman appreciates.
“He was asking what I see and I would say something about it,’’ Merriman said. “As a player that’s hard to do sometimes because you don’t notice it, but you notice it on film. But before we get to the film if I see something I will say, “ ‘OK, you are turning your shoulders here or you are talking off like this.’ It’s just what I see out there.’’
English eyes Merriman’s impressive stats – 39 1/2 sacks in three-plus seasons – and it’s clear why he wants to learn from the best.
“I know, for one, he was in the same position as me a few years back so he knows what I am going through first-hand,’’ English said. “I just think his accomplishments speak for themselves and I want a little bit of that to rub off on me.’’
He hasn’t rubbed teammates the wrong way, showing a willingness to improve and accepting the rookie role of carrying Phillips’ helmet on and off the field.
“I like the way he gets after the ball and the way he works; the want-to make a play is there,’’ Merriman said. “That is the main thing you can ask out of a player.’’
It’s a player who can’t wait to return. Although English is taking numerous snaps between his ears.
“I’m just trying to stay sharp mentally and physically,’’ English said. “You really got to take mental reps and picture the plays that are called and what your responsibility is.’’
English is the second Northern Illinois product to arrive at Chargers Park since 2004.
Running back Michael Turner preceded English and the Chargers were thrilled how that turned out.
In some ways, English thinks what Turner did in college, with the Chargers and now with the Falcons, helped his cause.
“He was one of the first guys from our school to make the NFL and he was on that team that put Northern Illinois on the national map back in 2003,’’ English said.
“We always kept up on him when he had a big run here and there and we always paid attention to what he was doing and how he represented us. We always kept close tabs on him.’’
What’s on tap for English on a squad many predict will reach the Super Bowl? Don’t be surprised by the amount of time he’s on the field, once his hamstring heals.
“There are so many talent players on this team that I’m just looking to learn and get better and prove my worth,’’ English said. “The biggest thing I need to do right now is mentally get in the playbook and get used to it. The quicker that happens the quicker I can really be full speed and not be thinking about it. Once you don’t have to think, that is when you can shine the most.’’
There’s always plenty of sunshine in San Diego.
And one big hill English knows all too well.