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Position Preview: Wide Receivers
SAN DIEGO – Don’t tell the Chargers, but there’s only one position expressly reserved for players that catch passes.
The organization that recently celebrated the life of innovator and former head coach Don Coryell still employs one of his trademark philosophies. Quarterback Philip Rivers doesn’t discriminate between positions, rifling the football deep downfield to former hoops star and tight end Antonio Gates or slipping a pass to shifty back Darren Sproles behind a wall of blockers.
Gates even led the team with 1,157 receiving yards last season. As many tight ends, running backs and fullbacks caught passes as receivers (seven each), who accounted for 51.4 percent of San Diego’s 4,384 receiving yards.
But the players that manned that position in the Chargers offense defined the beauty of one of the NFL’s most entertaining downfield passing games by providing the magnificent aerial displays.
|"We've been coaching Legedu Naanee and Buster Davis for three years and they've gotten better every year." - Norv Turner|
San Diego’s offense topped the AFC with 28.4 points a game, a distinction that didn’t the Chargers couldn’t fabricate without big plays. Rivers led the NFL in passes longer than 20 yards, thanks in large part to the receivers. Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd tied for second in the NFL with 17.2 yards per reception, producing 1,943 yards on a combined 113 receptions.
That personnel creates headaches for vertically challenged corners. At 6-foot-5, the same height as Jackson, Floyd is capable of soaring above traffic to snag passes and turn them into receptions worthy of NFL Films.
Legedu Naanee, at 6-foot-2, made 24 receptions on 29 targets last year, an 83 percent catch rate. That was the best in the NFL for receivers with 25 targets or more. He has completed foot rehab and is expected to start training camp healthy.
Buster Davis, a victim of a loaded depth chart and untimely injuries, spent most of last season inactive, waiting for a shot. He’ll push for an increased role as he enters his fourth NFL season healthy.
“We’ve been coaching Legedu Naanee and Buster Davis for three years and they’ve gotten better every year. When they’ve been asked to and when they’ve had an opportunity, they’ve made great contributions,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “If Vincent Jackson isn’t with us, (Naanee and Davis) are getting the opportunity of a lifetime. Legedu believes he can be a dynamic, explosive receiver in this league.”
As the Indianapolis Colts showed last year with previously unknown receivers Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, offenses with elite quarterbacks and top-flight tight ends tend to place receivers in a position to showcase their talent.
Josh Reed, a known commodity with 3,575 career receiving yards, will give San Diego a reliable option in the slot and boost the team’s depth. Practice squad holdover Gary Banks, lauded as one of the team’s hardest workers, and a group of undrafted free agents also will compete for roster spots.
Turner explained in detail Thursday the team’s commitment to improving the running game this year to provide more balance, but it’s clear that no player is more valuable to the offense than its Pro Bowl quarterback.
“We’re going to be an exciting team to watch,” Turner said. “We have good football players that do unbelievable things.”
|WIDE RECEIVERS AT A GLANCE|
Named an alternate to last year’s Pro Bowl after he caught 68 passes for 1,167 yards and nine touchdowns … Increased his catches and receiving yards between each of his five NFL seasons … Averages 17.2 yards per reception for his career … Has topped 1,000 yards receiving in each of the last two years.
Averaged 17.2 yards per catch each of the last two seasons … Started a career-high nine games last year and caught 45 passes for 776 yards and a touchdown … Placed third on the team in receptions and receiving yards behind Jackson and Antonio Gates … Nickname is M-80.
Set career highs with 24 catches and 242 receiving yards in 2009 … Scored first career touchdown Nov. 15 against Philadelphia … Reached the end zone again the next week at Denver … Played a key role during the famous “Statue of Liberty” play that allowed Boise State to beat Oklahoma in the 2007 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Buffalo Bills … Ideal skill set to compete for time at slot receiver … Had at least 32 catches and 410 receiving yards in six of eight seasons … Broke SEC record for receiving yards in a season with 1,740 at LSU in 2001.
Called this season a “make or break” for his career … Caught 20 passes for 188 yards as a rookie in 2007 … First-round draft choice out of LSU, where he made second-team All-SEC as a senior … Spent Weeks 1-15 inactive last season.
Featured on NFL.com’s On the Fringe series this offseason … Spent previous two seasons on the Chargers practice squad .. Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the fifth round of the 2000 MLB Draft … Played minor league baseball as a right fielder through 2003.
Became the South’s MVP at the 2010 Senior Bowl after he led the team in rushing (27 yards) and receiving (six catches, 83 yards) … Took reps as a kick returner during OTAs … Caught 197 passes for 2,807 yards and 19 touchdowns at Tulane.
Didn’t get a Division I scholarship offer until after Hurricane Katrina displaced him to Texas the first week of his senior football season … Caught 73 passes for 837 yards and nine touchdowns during his career at Baylor … Expressed an eagerness to contribute on special teams.
Was Chargers running back Ryan Mathews’ roommate at Fresno State … Made second-team All-WAC as a senior … Ranks eighth all-time for the Bulldogs with 128 catches and 1,991 yards … Chose Fresno State over Boise State out of high school, the college that Naanee attended at the time.
Finished career at Florida State with 54 catches for 602 yards … Played under college football legend Bobby Bowden … Fractured fibula against Duke in 2007 after catching 11 passes for 73 yards in the game … Redshirted in ’08 to recover.
Finished fifth in the nation with 171.6 yards of total offense per game last year at Cornell … Named second-team All-Ivy League … Finished career with league records for punt return (972 yards) and kickoff return (2,790 yards) totals … Caught 144 passes for 2,032 yards for the Big Red … Prides himself on crisp routes.
Week 1 starting wide receivers, 2000-09:
2000: Jeff Graham, Curtis Conway.
2001: Curtis Conway, Tim Dwight.
2002: Curtis Conway, Tim Dwight.
2003: David Boston, Reche Caldwell.
2004: Reche Caldwell, Eric Parker.
2005: Eric Parker, Keenan McCardell.
2006: Eric Parker, Keenan McCardell.
2007: Vincent Jackson.
2008: Vincent Jackson.
2009: Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson.
Week 1 wide receivers on roster, 2000-09:
2000: Jeff Graham, Curtis Conway, Mikhael Ricks, Trevor Gaylor, Reggie Jones.
2001: Curtis Conway, Tim Dwight, Jeff Graham, Trevor Gaylor, Reggie Jones.
2002: Curtis Conway, Tim Dwight, Tamarick Vanover, Reche Caldwell.
2003: David Boston, Reche Caldwell, Kasim Osgood, Tim Dwight, Eric Parker.
2004: Reche Caldwell, Eric Parker, Wes Welker, Kassim Osgood, Micah Ross, Tim Dwight.
2005: Eric Parker, Keenan McCardell, Kassim Osgood, Reche Caldwell, Vincent Jackson.
2006: Eric Parker, Keenan McCardell, Malcom Floyd, Kassim Osgood, Vincent Jackson, Greg Camarillo.
2007: Vincent Jackson, Legedu Naanee, Malcom Floyd, Kassim Osgood, Buster Davis, Eric Parker.
2008: Vincent Jackson, Legedu Naanee, Malcom Floyd, Kassim Osgood, Chris Chambers.
2009: Chris Chambers, Vincent Jackson, Legedu Naanee, Malcom Floyd, Kassim Osgood, Buster Davis.