SAN DIEGO — Max Starks won two Super Bowl rings in nine years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and played every snap at left tackle last season in his comeback from blowing out his right knee.
Now with the San Diego Chargers, he's considered a big upgrade over another offseason acquisition, King Dunlap, and even bigger still over Jared Gaither, who was released due to his questionable work ethic.
Still, Starks isn't taking anything for granted with the Chargers, who desperately need better play out of their offensive line as they try to end their three-year playoff drought that got coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith fired. Starks says he's doesn't want anything handed to him and expects to compete for the job of protecting Philip Rivers' blind side.
"I played with the twos all day today," Starks said Monday as the Chargers opened their third and final week of organized team activities, which are conducted in helmets, jerseys and shorts, with no pads. "It's a process. I don't want anything given to me and I like the fact it's open competition because you want the best five out there that have the best chemistry on the field.
"I wouldn't feel right if it was me and it was just handed to me and I don't get along with the right guard or left guard or the center and we don't communicate cleanly. Or, conversely, if other individuals don't communicate and they were just given the job. It's great to have competition because it makes your room better and your offensive line stronger."
The 6-foot-8, 345-pound Starks got a crash course in the Chargers' playbook last week.
"This was actually the first live-fire drill, the first time actually seeing stuff that's written on the board and is stationary versus having something moving. We call it the board meeting — go out on the field and prove it."
Starks said the Chargers give equal amount of snaps to the first- , second- and third-teamers.
"They want the competition, but also are preparing everybody and giving everybody an equal chance and opportunity going into camp."
Starks thinks that's a good idea, based on what he went through with the Steelers.
"Starters get injured all the time," he said. "I was fortunate to play every snap last season. But I played next to five different left guards in the process. That's why I say all your guys have to have equal opportunities.
"Everybody has to be ready," he said. "We had a saying there, 'If you're not a starter, you're a starter-in-waiting.' Because opportunities are going to come. You're not a backup, you're a starter-in-waiting. Unfortunate things do happen. It's a physical game. Injuries happen as a natural part of this and guys have to be ready to step up."
Rivers was sacked 49 times last year, and being under siege so much because of the poor line play helped contribute to his 22 turnovers.
Starks goes from blocking for Ben Roethlisberger, who likes to move around, to the more immobile Rivers.
"It makes it a little bit easier. I know where he's going to be," Starks said.
Ken Whisenhunt, San Diego's new offensive coordinator, held the same position with the Steelers during Starks' first three years in the NFL.
"I think it helps, but at the same time it's about going out there and executing," Starks said. "Offensive line is a very acute position. Five guys have to think as one and communicate. So if you find the best five who have the best chemistry, that's really going to be the biggest turning point."
Some in the organization thought recently signed outside linebacker Dwight Freeney would be at Monday's practice, but he wasn't. Rookie head coach Mike McCoy said only that Freeney had a prior commitment and will report in the "near future." A team spokesman said Freeney might be at practice Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Rivers continues to experiment with wearing gloves while playing.
"I don't think it's one of those things where it's either you've got to go with gloves or nothing," Rivers said. "I do think there's a good chance I'll wear them to start out and go. But there's always that chance they get ripped off and thrown on the sideline. You don't pick one or the other but I have felt a great deal of comfort with them over this offseason and the last three or four games of the season last year."
Rivers was picked off in the end zone late in practice. A few plays later, backup Charlie Whitehurst threw an interception.
"The defense did a nice job today creating a few turnovers and that's what we want to have happen," McCoy said.
Linebacker Manti Te'o remains off-limits to the media. He's scheduled to speak at next week's minicamp.