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Full circle

Posted Sep 6, 2011

C.J. Wallace scrapped for an NFL roster spot as an undrafted rookie in ’07, then lost his place by ’09. A one-year stint in the UFL last season preceded another training camp proving ground, and Wallace could play a key special teams role in San Diego.

SAN DIEGO – Bryan Walters and Darryl Gamble have compelling stories.

Each created a preseason buzz among Chargers fans with standout plays.

Perhaps because he didn’t score a touchdown or nab an interception, C.J. Wallace slipped onto the 53-man roster with less fanfare. But he could play a vital special teams role this season and has an interesting background as well.

“My reaction was like a monkey’s been lifted off my back,” Wallace said of returning to work at Chargers Park this week. “I’m confident, but anything could’ve happened. Saturday, it was official. It’s a sigh of relief.”

Wallace clawed his way into the NFL as an undrafted safety in ’07. At 6-0, 205 pounds, the hard hitter with dreadlocks is in many ways the special teams version of Bob Sanders. He made 14 tackles covering kicks in just 12 games for Seattle in ’08.

Wallace stonewalled the St. Louis return game with four special teams tackles Sept. 21, 2008, stopping renowned returner Dante Hall (nicknamed “The Human Joystick”) in his tracks for no gain after a punt.

Two years later he found himself starting on defense – but for the Las Vegas Locomotives of the UFL.

“You kind of forget the little things and how big the NFL is. I didn’t realize it was that much bigger than the UFL until I was out of the league for a year and a half,” Wallace said.

A great training camp launched his career in ’07, but Wallace would need a duplicate performance four years later if he wanted another NFL gig.

He didn’t disappoint. Wallace made one special teams tackle, tied for the team lead with 15 tackles on defense and delivered several physical collisions in practice.

“He’s been impressive,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “I like his instincts.”

Like Sanders, Wallace credits his dad for shaping him into a hard-nosed football player who can knock opponents into the air. His dad made certain Wallace and the Sacramento Raiders, a Pop Warner team, were tough and mean above all.

“I got that instilled in me as a kid. My father raised me pretty hard. ‘If you don’t do anything else, go hit somebody and be physical,’” Wallace said. “That’s probably the hardest team I ever played for as far as hitting. It stuck with me. I’ve always liked to be the toughest on the field.”

McNEILL BACK: Starting left tackle Marcus McNeill (knee) didn’t play in any of the four preseason games but returned to practice Monday.

McNeill has missed full-speed, continual practices and fatigue could be an issue, Head Coach Norv Turner said. Should he start against the Vikings, McNeill may also have to contend with rust.

“We’re trying to minimize those challenges by giving him as many different looks as we can (in practice),” Turner said, adding McNeill’s 73 games of NFL experience will help as well.

COUNTDOWN TO KICKOFF: The Chargers players didn’t take the field Tuesday, a sure sign the regular season is close.

San Diego held practice on Tuesday every week since players reported to training camp. During the season, it’s reserved for independent study, watching film, treatment and recovery.

The Bolts open the regular season 1:15 p.m. Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at Qualcomm Stadium, less than five days from now.

TICKETS REMAIN: About 1,800 general tickets and 1,500 Club seats were available for the Vikings game as of Tuesday afternoon.

San Diego has until 1:15 p.m. Thursday to sell the remaining general tickets and lift the local TV blackout required by the NFL for games with unsold tickets.

Seats remain available for all eight regular-season home games, including the sought-after Chargers-Packers matchup Nov. 6. It can only be purchased in a two-game package with the Chargers-Chiefs game Sept. 25. Prices start as low as $108.

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