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Evaluating the Running Backs with RB Coach Ollie Wilson
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Running Backs Coach Ollie Wilson is one of the longest tenured coaches in Chargers history. We caught up with Wilson as he enters his 13th season coaching San Diego’s tailbacks to get his thoughts on the position.
Wilson: It’s been our philosophy since Mike McCoy came in to have a lot of different backs. We play a lot of different guys, and Melvin brings a lot to what we already have here. He brings a lot of credentials, a lot of productivity and a real good background of running the ball from a really good college program at Wisconsin. Anytime you can get a guy like that who is highly touted as a really great player, and getting to add him in to what we already have, it is a plus. I remember last year a lot of people asked me how we were going to play all the guys we had. Well, you saw last year how we needed them all. It is why you have that old adage that you can never have enough running backs, and it is true. The nature of the beast of what you deal with in the NFL, it is critical to have a lot of great players at that position because there is a good chance you’ll need to use them all. And all of our guys have a little bit different strengths and weaknesses.
Wilson: It’s funny, because my last couple years when I was coaching in Atlanta the first time, we had Eric Dickerson in that last year. He’d come from Green Bay and he was about ready to retire. I was a young coach at the time, and I was picking his brain. He was a future Hall of Famer, and I wanted to know what he felt about the game and the position. I will never forget this, but he said, “Coach, the thing that I realize is that if I’m doing what I should be doing, then everybody that comes to that game is watching me.” And it is that mentality as a tailback that I think Melvin has, and it is not a cocky thing. LaDainian (Tomlinson) told me the same thing as a rookie. He said, “Coach, I want to be the best ever.” It was one of those situations where he approached it that way on a day to day basis. As a tailback, you have to have that mentality that everybody is here to watch me, and I am going to go out there and take the team where I need to take them. So that is what my thoughts were on Melvin. I talked to him at the Combine, and we spoke about a lot of different things, but when you talk football to him, his eyes open up. So I think that is him in a nutshell. And give credit to Tom (Telesco). We earmarked him as a guy we wanted to get, and he thinks this is the guy to help us, and he made sure we got him. I’m excited about it.
Wilson: That is like getting two draft choices. Danny does so many different things, and like you said, it is both on and off the field. He really is as important to us off the field as he is on it because of how he approaches the game, his work ethic, how he interacts with other players and what he does with the other guys. He basically took Branden (Oliver) under his wing and said, “This is what I do. Just follow me and we’ll be fine.” So to get him back is a major plus for us. And Tom knew it. Before we signed him Tom came up to me and said we need another playmaker in that offense, and he was exactly right (with what he brought to the table). Every time someone says Danny Woodhead is back, it’s a good feeling for me!
Wilson: He really built that trust up over last preseason. With the things we asked him to do, it never got too big for him. Now, he’d make a rookie mistake, but he never got to the point where he’d look around and say, “Oh God” or that kind of deal. So he built that up and ran real well in the preseason. Really, his battle last year was with Marion Grice because that was where the decision was going to be made. And he beat Marion out, and it was one of those situations where physically we knew Branden was there. We had to make sure mentally he was too, in the sense of pass protections and everything else we demand him to do. And he did it, so that worked out for us and we are excited for his role again this year. But there was no light that went on where one day we trusted him out of nowhere. He built that up consistently day after day. I had a lot of confidence in him because he had a lot of confidence in himself. I have a lot of faith in him moving forward, too. That was an easy decision last year, it really was.
Wilson: He is stability. He is the guy that doesn’t go up and down (emotionally). He just stays straight ahead both on the field and in the classroom. He is so smart and he has such a football intelligence. He is able to decipher things so fast. Other guys will still be deciphering through the question and he will have it right away, and then the other guys say, “Yup, he’s right. That’s it.” So he is the stability in the group, and he has a lot of experience. I loved him coming out of college. I was hoping we’d draft him when he came out, and he in my opinion is the stable veteran. He goes out and works each day.
Wilson: We looked at something we wanted to add that was a bit different than what we had. Both of those guys are bigger guys. I call them four minute guys where if we have the ball and the lead, the other team can’t get it back. That kind of guy. We looked at maybe 10 guys, but we felt those two would complement our room. And the bottom line is, on another team, they might be viewed as just guys. But really, that was Branden last year and now Branden is playing for us. That is what I told both of those guys. I said, “Hey, if you are worried about the fact that we drafted a first rounder, then you shouldn’t come. It is as simple as that. But if you worry about coming out and competing, and trying to get a job, whether here or somewhere else, and having an opportunity to do what you had to do and knowing that we’ve already done that here at running back, then you may want to think about it.” So those two guys decided to come, and we’re happy about that. They will compete like everybody else and we’ll see what happens.”
Wilson: One thing we’ve instilled in them is that we don’t have that one main guy. We have one position. We have a tailback position where all our guys are productive and all our guys are going to help us win. When one guy goes out, the other guy steps in. We’re all ready to go, and my job is to get all these guys the reps they need to get to be successful. It’s been Mike’s philosophy since he walked in here. We’ve been the poster child for next man up. So we are in a situation where everybody feels good about it, and everybody knows their role. These guys are each other’s biggest fans. When Donald is out there, Branden is rooting for him. When Branden is out there, Danny is rooting for him. So it is one of those situations where the guys know their reps are going to come, and they are each other’s biggest fans. They know they just need to do their job to help the team win.
Wilson: We have an unwritten rule where, when we get in our room and close that door, there is a big sign that says, “Commitment to Each Other.” I think because we understand what the nature of our position is, it is competition and they know it is, but it never bogs down what they are trying to do. It is funny because when you go out there, we as coaches actually create the competition. They as players go out there to play, and they root for each other. We are the ones who create the competition for playing time and judging who did better on a given day. In our room, they don’t look at it as competition with each other. They look at it as teammates. For instance, when he first came here, Branden was struggling a little bit with some protections. Well, every single day, I’d see Danny work with him. He’d say, “Branden look at this. If you see this linebacker come down, that means he is coming from the back side.” He helped with things like that, even though if Branden is in the game to do that, it means Danny is not in the game. So there is a higher power, and the higher power is the team and winning the game. So it is a credit to them because we have a great character in our room. We really do. Bringing a guy into that is a great atmosphere for a rookie, which is what I told Melvin Gordon back at the Combine. I told prospects they will have a responsibility as a Chargers running back and what that means, but they will also be entering into a family atmosphere where guys are going to help you get better.