Tuesday, July 25, 2006 | This is San Diego, home of the Heisman Trophy winner for at least another five months, so the opening of NFL and college camps in the next couple of weeks brings running backs to mind. They hang from palm trees out here, you know.

Reggie Bush, the Helix High product from USC who became San Diego’s fourth Heisman Trophy-winning running back last season, is now a rookie in New Orleans, although he’d be in Houston as the first pick of the draft if his agent had been more reasonable in contract negotiations on the eve of the draft.

LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers’ Pro Bowler and the best running back in the NFL, returns for his sixth season when training camp opens for the public Saturday at Chargers Park. As good as he’s been, don’t be surprised if he has better seasons ahead.

Marshall Faulk, who was robbed of the 1992 Heisman as a sophomore at San Diego State when that talking head Lee Corso pounded the table with the power of the ESPN cameras in his successful campaign for the forgettable Gino Torretta, may not suit up this year with the St. Louis Rams after undergoing more knee surgery, but his place in football history is secure.

Even Ricky Williams, the 1998 Heisman Trophy winner from Patrick Henry High, still has some football in him, despite his broken arm suffered last week during his one-year exile in the Canadian Football League.

Williams will return to the Miami Dolphins a more mature man in 2007 when he turns 30. Don’t forget he gained 280 yards in his final two games last year. Why do you think Dolphins head coach Nick Saban, a taskmaster, has been so accommodating in allowing Williams to return to the team in 2005 and saving a spot for him in 2007?

But the San Diego’s 2006 football season, I believe, will be the Year of the Quarterback.

Philip Rivers replaces Drew Brees as the Chargers’ starter in his third NFL season, Kevin O’Connell is essentially a third-year starter at San Diego State entering his junior year and even the University of San Diego’s quarterback is worth watching. USD’s Josh Johnson, also entering his junior year, could be joining O’Connell in an NFL training camp in a couple of summers.

Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer says he isn’t as worried about Rivers as a coach would be with most first-year starters. Rivers, the son of a high school football coach, was a four-year starter at North Carolina State.

“He’s played a considerable amount of football, although not in the NFL,” Schottenheimer said. “He has credibility with his teammates as a leader and he understands what he needs to do at that position. I like the idea that the mantel has been passed and he has stepped forward. The team will tell you he hasn’t missed a step.”

Last year O’Connell threw for 2,665 yards and 19 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. Give him a running game and offensive line, both of which he lacked last year, and watch those respectable numbers improve.

New SDSU coach Chuck Long was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma when he coached Jason White to the Heisman Trophy in 2003. Long says he likes what he sees in O’Connell’s ability to run and throw and lead the team.

“You look for what guys add to team off the field, not just in X’s and O’s,” Long said. “You look to see if they take care of their business and help other guys on the team take care of their business.”

If you don’t see Johnson play this year, you’re missing out. You know how you’ll hear a movie is so good and it’s always a letdown once you go see it? I had heard about Johnson last year and when I went to see him, he was better than advertised.

Johnson completed 70.1 percent of his passes (260 of 371) while throwing for 3,256 yards with 36 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions. He led USD to an 11-1 record and its first Pioneer Football League title. Yes, it’s Division I-AA, but a touchdown/interception ratio of 4.5-to-1 is good in any league.

“If there was an SAT for football, he would blow it away,” says USD coach Jim Harbaugh.

It’s also a good year for high school quarterbacks in San Diego. St. Augustine senior Chris Forcier has given an oral commitment to UCLA. El Capitan’s Ryan Lindley, being tutored by former SDSU quarterback Lon Sheriff, and Hilltop’s Craig Rasmussen are also Division I prospects.

Yeah, it’s a good year to watch quarterbacks. Dan Fouts and Brian Sipe will be happy to know that some San Diego quarterbacks are about to reclaim the position as the pre-eminent position in San Diego football.

(Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly referred to the Miami Dolphin heads coach Nick Saban as Nick Corso. We regret the error.)

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. Send a letter to the editor.

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