Two starting offensive lineman fail to show at camp
SAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers welcomed new left tackle Roman Oben on Friday, only to have two other projected starters from their shaky offensive line stay away from the opening day of mini-camp.
Center Jason Ball was a no-show because he wants to be traded, and guard Toniu Fonoti, who missed all of last year with injuries, was absent without an excuse. Star running back LaDainian Tomlinson wasn't particularly pleased, since the Chargers' biggest rebuilding project is the line.
"Both of those guys, we absolutely need them here because they're starters on the offensive line," said Tomlinson, who rushed for 1,645 yards last year despite San Diego's nondescript line.
Ball had been asking for a new contract, and now he's demanding a trade. The Chargers, an NFL-worst 4-12 last year, declined the request.
"I think he should be here," Tomlinson said. "In my opinion, that's no way to handle a problem, really. If you're not here, you're not able to talk to people. You're not able to get things done. If he were holding out and still communicating, that's a different story. When you're holding out and you don't say anything to anybody, it's hard to get things done."
Ball has started 21 games in his first two NFL seasons. An undrafted free agent, he started the last 13 games of his rookie season in 2002 after Cory Raymer was hurt. Ball made eight starts last year but missed eight others with an ankle injury.
"He instructed me to ask for a trade," said his agent, Peter Schaffer. "I did, and they declined. Jason feels pretty strongly about his position."
Ball is an exclusive-rights free agent who was tendered a $380,000 contract for next season, which he didn't sign.
General manager A.J. Smith said Ball needs to show up before he'll talk about a new deal.
"Jason Ball's pretty much established he'd like some more money. We're not going to do that right now. Just come back to work and we'll discuss it. His position is, 'Give me a contract first, then I'll show up.' No, that's not going to happen."
Fonoti was at the Chargers' complex earlier in the week.
"We're expecting him to be here, and he's not right now," Smith said.
Coach Marty Schottenheimer said all he knew was that Fonoti was in Houston. "He's supposed to be here," Schottenheimer said.
Fonoti was a second-round pick out of Nebraska in 2002 and started 14 games as a rookie. He missed all of last season with a foot injury. Listed at 350 pounds, he's battled his weight in his two pro seasons.
Fonoti was absent from some voluntary workouts earlier this year due to an illness in the family.
Oben was acquired from Tampa Bay on Wednesday for a fifth-round draft pick in 2005.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press