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Stuckey to get chance on defense
SAN DIEGO – Darrell Stuckey’s 5-foot-11, 208-pound frame, replete with enough muscle to rival Quentin Jammer as the most shredded Chargers defensive back, is one thing.
Stuckey’s beast-mode special teams performance in the fourth quarter against Green Bay is another.
The 2010 fourth-round pick proved his speed and size are functional on the field last season, tying for the team lead with 12 special teams tackles.
More than one observer wondered aloud while watching him blossom: will Stuckey develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber specialist in 2012 or parlay his athleticism into a role on defense?
The Chargers hope the answer is both.
“The thing he has which is just paramount to special teams is he’s got great speed,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “He’s got great acceleration and he showed this year he’s very competitive as a player.
“I would love to see him be a guy that evolves into a Pro Bowl special teams player, but I do believe he’s a guy that’s going to be a very good player for us in the secondary and I’m anxious for him to take the next step.”
Stuckey practiced at strong safety with the starting defense during training camp of his rookie season. Then he injured his groin and appeared in just one game in 2010 – on special teams.
Stuckey’s impact special teams plays made him significant in 2011. He did not register a tackle on defense after converting to free safety behind Eric Weddle, who played almost every snap.
With only one NFL game to his credit prior to 2011, labor negotiations deprived Stuckey of OTAs and mini camp (huge for young, developing players). Stuckey wasn’t far enough along to have the impact on defense of which he’s capable this season with the right progression.
Special teams coach Rich Bisaccia noticed Stuckey on film soon after accepting the position with the Chargers last offseason and postulated Stuckey would be one of his best players in the kicking game, identifying No. 25’s speed as an asset.
Entering last season, Weddle and Bob Sanders were expected to start at safety and Steve Gregory was a proven backup. With Stuckey’s expected special teams responsibilities in his first full-fledged season, it didn’t make sense to rush the Kansas product’s defensive development for what would’ve been a spot role at best.
“His rookie year he was hurt an awful lot. Not having the offseason last year certainly limited him,” Turner said. “Now it’s time with all these young guys to take advantage of the opportunities they’re going to have when we start our offseason work in late April, May and June.
“It’s time for (Stuckey) to really get a grasp of what we’re doing defensively and then when we go to camp, be in position to compete for a job and compete for playing time.”
San Diego has a need at strong safety, a position that’s been a carousel for the Chargers in recent seasons.
Five different players started there for San Diego from 2009-11. Gregory leads the Chargers in starts at strong safety since ’09 with 26, half of which came last season. But he’s set to become a free agent along with Paul Oliver (10 starts in the last two years). Sanders isn’t expected to return after playing just two games for San Diego.
Weddle will continue to play almost every snap at free safety in 2012 as long as he’s healthy. Turner didn’t give an indication, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see Stuckey again compete at strong safety.
The Chargers could draft, sign or re-sign a safety and still have room for Stuckey to expand his role. Don’t expect him to vacate special teams, though.
The end of the Packers game Week 9 of last season may be the defining moment of Stuckey’s young career.
Stuckey combined with punter Mike Scifres to achieve a 49-yard net gain when Stuckey stopped Green Bay punt returner Randall Cobb. One series later, the Packers led 45-24 midway through the fourth quarter after Philip Rivers found Vincent Jackson for a touchdown.
Stuckey then recovered an onside kick and Jackson scored again. On the ensuing kickoff, Stuckey crumpled Charles Woodson at the 8-yard line. Green Bay punted from its own goal line three plays later and the Chargers had two potential game-tying drives reach Packers territory. San Diego lost, 45-38, but Stuckey earned some recognition for his efforts.
“I haven’t looked at all that yet,” Stuckey said of the possibility of a role on defense. “Hopefully I’ll be a contender for the Pro Bowl on special teams next year. I’m definitely just trying to do whatever the team needs me to do.
“If I can get in (on defense) every now and then, that’s fine. But hey, I’m going to be the best special teamer that I can be.”