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Chargers camp starts without first-round pick

SAN DIEGO -- In what's becoming a tradition, the
San Diego Chargers opened training camp without their first-round draft pick.

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie missed both practices on Tuesday,
but he did agree in principle to a five-year deal that could be
worth $12.75 million. The deal contains guarantees of $7.35
million.

The two sides couldn't reach an agreement by 9 p.m. Monday, the
deadline for rookies to report to camp. They continued to talk
while San Diego's other rookies and selected veterans practiced.

Agent Jason Fletcher said he and Cromartie were reviewing the
contract and that the player would probably sign it Tuesday night.
Cromartie didn't return a call seeking comment.

The Chargers practice twice on Wednesday and finish the first
portion of camp with one practice Thursday. Veterans report on
Friday, and the first full-squad workout is Saturday.

Cromartie was the last rookie to agree to a deal.

"I'm just excited that they're all here," general manager A.J.
Smith said. "You never know until the process begins. I don't
think one day missing practice is going to mean anything."

Earlier, when discussing how close the talks were, Smith said:
"I remember back in Buffalo, Scott Norwood was close on a field
goal, too."

Smith, who was in Buffalo's front office at the time, was
referring to Norwood missing a 47-yard field goal on the last play
of Buffalo's 20-19 loss to the Giants in the 1991 Super Bowl.

San Diego's second-round pick, tackle Marcus McNeill, made it to
town in time to join his teammates in stretching after the first
practice, then participated in the second workout.

This is the fifth time in six years that the Chargers'
first-round pick wasn't on the field for the start of camp. The
last Chargers' first-rounder to come in on time was cornerback
Sammy Davis in 2003. The Chargers traded Davis to the
San Francisco 49ers in the offseason for another former first-round bust, wide
receiver Rashaun Woods.

Cromartie will be trying to win a starting spot in a secondary
that had only seven interceptions last season. San Diego's pass
defense was ranked No. 28.

By comparison, cornerback Ty Law, now with the division rival
Kansas City Chiefs, tied for the NFL lead with 10 pickoffs last
year for the New York Jets.

Cromartie missed all of last season at Florida State with a knee
injury. He made just one start in college, but the Chargers took
him with the No. 19 pick because they liked his work ethic and
potential.

McNeill made it from the airport in time to join his new
teammates as they cooled down after the morning practice.

"I don't think he made any mistakes today -- yet," coach Marty
Schottenheimer said.

McNeill agreed Monday night to a four-year contract. He was at a
movie in Atlanta with his niece and nephew when he got a call from
his agent that the deal was done, and flew to San Diego on Tuesday
morning.

"Everybody around here knew I wasn't really trying to miss any
camp and I really wanted to come here because I really can't
compete for any job if I'm at home doing nothing," he said.

Left tackle is a huge concern for the Chargers, especially with
untested Philip Rivers taking over at quarterback. Roman Oben
missed the second half of the season with a foot injury that
required two operations and the Chargers plan to be conservative
with him this camp. Leander Jordan started the last eight games
last season for the Chargers, who finished 9-7 and out of the
playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons.

McNeill has a medical issue, too, a narrowing of the spine.

"A lot of question marks have been put around me from workouts
and my back situation and everything," he said. "That's one asset
that I do have is being on the field. When I am on the field I do
feel like I'm a pretty decent player, so I'm really looking forward
to getting out there and playing football."