SAN DIEGO (AP) — The San Diego Chargers aren’t media darlings anymore, and Antonio Gates says that may be a good thing.

“It’s definitely humbling,” said the eight-time Pro Bowl tight end. “Because we haven’t gotten that exposure, it’s humbling to our team.”

For the first time in years, the Chargers (No. 16 in the AP Pro32) aren’t the pundits’ pick to win the AFC West, let alone a trendy choice to reach the Super Bowl. Not after having missed the playoffs the last two years.

Peyton Manning’s arrival in Denver has made the Broncos the talk of the division, and Chargers fullback Jacob Hester, like Gates, sees potential in San Diego’s reduced media profile.

“It’s kind of good this year to not have people talking about you,” said Hester, who joined the team in 2008. “I hope it stays that way and we go out and have a workman’s mentality and do what we need to do.”

The Chargers won the AFC West from 2006-09 but have missed the postseason for two straight seasons and have one playoff win in the last four years. For all the chatter about their abundant talent, they didn’t claim the Super Bowl berth many experts began predicting for them years ago.

Gates figures the Chargers should take advantage of any slights by the prognosticators now, whether real or perceived. “Knowing they didn’t pick us to win, you can use that as fuel going into the season and say, `I’ve got a chip on my shoulder, they picked Kansas City to win the division,’ ” he said.

Chargers coach Norv Turner said he’s encouraged by the team’s offseason workouts and what he’s seen over the first week of full-squad practices in training camp. Turner cited the addition of 18 free agents and a rookie class headlined by pass rusher Melvin Ingram, the No. 18 selection.

“We’re much more athletic,” Turner said. “We’re much faster. And I believe we’re going to be much more physical. Again, we have a lot of work to do to get everyone on the same page and get everyone understanding what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Several players commended the front office for importing a large group of NFL veterans, among them former Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson and former Saints wide receiver Robert Meachem.

Typically, the Chargers don’t bring in so many outside players.

“Every practice, every rep is a contested rep as far as the ball, the routes,” said quarterback Philip Rivers. “There’s a lot of good players out there. It’s going to make each guy better.”

Hester said each veteran newcomer is “a high-character guy” who “gelled as soon as he got here.”

Gates said he’s discerned a stronger commitment to offseason workouts and conditioning, throughout the team. “It doesn’t guarantee anything but it’s a start for us,” he said.


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