SAN DIEGO -- Dexter McCoil executed what he’s coached to do.
During red-zone drills for the San Diego Chargers, receiver Isaiah Burse caught a pass across the middle and McCoil lined him up, lowered his shoulder and drilled Burse, separating the ball and plowing Burse to the turf.
The hit drew some "oohs" from the crowd -- the first real hit witnessed during two days of otherwise tame practices in full pads for the Chargers. Offensive tackle Tyreek Burwell, running back Danny Woodhead and other players on offense were upset by the hit. Burwell came to the defense of his teammate.
Later in practice, Burwell tried to exact some revenge by taking out cornerback Richard Crawford on a slip screen. Chargers head coach Mike McCoy had to separate Burwell and safety Jahleel Addae, who came off of the sideline to protect his teammate.
McCoy said he liked the intensity and effort of Wednesday’s practice, but also does not want to see dangerous hits that could result in injuries. That is understandable considering his team resembled a M*A*S*H unit by the end of the last season.
"I was just reminding Dexter to be smart there," McCoy said about intervening in the scuffles. "I know instincts take over, but we don’t want that in practice. He was the first guy to go over and apologize to the receiver, but it’s going to happen from time to time.
"I love the way they’re competing. It’s going to be a physical camp, and I can’t say that enough to the players to be physical. But the most important thing is the health of our team and being smart with one another."
McCoy’s right. Players have to protect each other and not take cheap shots. But it’s also football, which is a violent, contact sport. And players also have to get prepared for the type of contact that they will face in games.
It’s a fine line between thud tempo in practice (wrapping up ball carriers and not taking them to the ground) in order to protect players, and the full-throttle, violent hits players will face in a real game.
Maybe there’s a reason the Steelers have six Lombardi trophies in their lobby and the Chargers are still looking for their first. Winning is a learned skill that is repeated over time, and San Diego is still learning the tempo in practice that it takes to create a championship atmosphere.
Injuries can happen with or without contact. Stevie Johnson suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee and no one touched him on the play.
McCoy’s also an offensive coach, and traditionally offensive coaches don’t like to see their players take big hits. Tomlin of course is a defensive coach, and likely more willing to give players on that side of the ball more leeway to deliver big blows during practice, understanding how that helps them get ready for the tempo they will see in a game.
"It’s thud," McCoy said. "If a player is in the open field running and we hit him, that’s different. But when it’s a bang-bang play, I don’t [want] a big shot like that against our guys. The same thing with Melvin’s reception today, let the guys run and then thud them up.
"We have to be smart. The same thing with offensive linemen on slip screens, we’re practicing with our own guys. I don’t want the linemen going out and blowing up a corner, that’s what I want in a game. We’ve got to be smart. And the health of our team is No. 1."