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Pair of ILBs Prepared to Step Up
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With less than 48 hours to go before the Chargers kickoff Sunday in Baltimore, the status of two of their top inside linebackers remains uncertain.
After playing nearly every snap and leading the team in tackles through Week 5, Manti Te’o has missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Rookie Denzel Perryman stepped up in his absence, but he departed in the first half against the Raiders with a biceps injury and has not practice all week.
While the Chargers have two reliable veterans in Donald Butler and Kavell Conner, a pair of relative newcomers could be relied upon in some capacity against the Ravens.
Nick Dzubnar, an undrafted free agent, played the first defensive snaps of his career last week, while Joe Mays, an eight-year veteran in the midst of a crash course to learn the Chargers defense, was signed on Tuesday.
If their numbers are called on Sunday, the Bolts will look confidently to each player to step up.
Defensive Coordinator John Pagano sees a young player developing each week in Dzubnar who impressed given his first opportunity last week.
“Nick’s a guy that’s learning (and) growing. (He’) somebody that has the ability to do a lot of things for you, and he’s getting better on special teams. It (gave) him an opportunity when some guys got nicked up to go in there (and) get his feet wet a little bit.”
Dzubnar made quite the impression this summer through training camp and the preseason to earn his spot on the Bolts. The 6-1, 240-pound product out of Mission Viejo has been a solid special teams contributor over the early part of the season, and has bided his time for his chance to step in on defense.
“It’s been hard, but at the end of the day I am going to help the team by contributing any way I can,” he said. “Whether that is on special teams and scout look at practice, or in the games, I am going to do that. When I get my chance, I want to earn my stripes and prove that I can be a valuable player. I have a huge comfortability factor out there with my teammates, and I rely on their advice and tidbits that they’ve learned through experience. It’s a huge relief for me when I am out there with them.”
Dzubnar can’t pinpoint an exact moment he realized he could be successful at this level, instead saying his confidence grew over time as he made plays in minicamp, training camp and eventually the preseason. Overall, he is fully aware of what his strengths are as a player.
“I like to think mentally I am pretty savvy, but also my quickness and downhill physicality I think for sure. I am pretty solid in the run game, and I am very quick within those ten yards I need to get to places.”
Meanwhile, Mays signed with the Bolts on Tuesday after a seven year career mainly in the AFC West with stops in Denver and Kansas City. While it is a process to learn an entire defense, Pagano explained the way they are teaching it to the 30-year old linebacker.
“You just give him certain packages to learn number one. You can’t learn it all. He’s had some familiar terminology of the systems that he’s been in where we use the same type of terminology, so I think that’s a plus for him. Any time you get a guy that’s been in the same type of system (with) the same type of verbiage, it makes him play faster when he gets in that opportunity. So we threw him right out there and he’s getting reps. You learn on the run. I told him when the ball’s snapped, go find the guy with the football and make a big hit for us.”
With 69 games under his belt with 38 starts, Mays is ready to contribute in whatever capacity asked of him on Sunday.
“It’s not hard to adjust this quickly. If I have any questions with the playbook, guys are helping me. But I have no problem going out there and playing football. That’s what we grew up to do. It’s what we love to do. Put a ball in front of me and I’ll make a play.”
While he was with the Broncos while Head Coach Mike McCoy was Denver’s Offensive Coordinator, Mays said reuniting with Assistant Linebackers Coach Bobby King has especially aided his transition since he suited up for him for one season while both were with the Houston Texans.
“That’s helped me. Just knowing him from my time in Houston, he is familiar with me and knows the things I can do well. He knows that I can pick up this playbook, and the way he’s helped me as much as he has has been great. So it’s great to have some familiar faces here in the organization, and I just look forward to doing whatever I can. Waiting for this chance has been rough, but I think the thing for me is I’ve been working on my patience. I trusted that the best possible position would work out for me, and it has. I’m excited and happy to be a part of this organization.”