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Position Preview: Safeties

Posted Jul 19, 2010

Young group lacks experience behind Weddle but hopes to convert enthusiasm into winning results.

SAN DIEGO – You’re forgiven if you wouldn’t guess Eric Weddle is the elder statesman of the defenses’ back line.

If you think he’s too young for that, you might even win a prize for guessing his age at the San Diego fair.

The 25-year-old Weddle, though, acts and talks like the most seasoned member of a five-person club.

“Competition is always good. You can never be satisfied. Never get complacent,” Weddle said. “Having young guys (behind me) and competing at other spots, it definitely keeps you on your toes.

“You have to want that. If you see other young guys working hard, it makes you want to work harder and continue to get better and be an example to the young guys.”

That would include fourth-round draft pick Darrell Stuckey, C.J. Spillman, who is approaching his second training camp after making the active roster as an undrafted free agent last year, and Steve Gregory and Paul Oliver, a pair of veterans older than Weddle but with less experience.

The scruff-faced Utah product, drafted in 2007, has a chance to become one of the most prominent names on a defense that’s gone through a leadership change at some positions. But no matter what the venue, the best way to command respect is to perform, and Weddle thinks he and his peers at safety have made progress this offseason.

“Last year we were still just leveraging angles. There were many instances where we were a step late. Our angles were off where the guy caught it and got more yards than he should’ve,” Weddle said. “So we’re just shoring that up and it’s carrying over to the field. We’re right there when the ball’s being caught. We’re either hitting them where it’s a blowup shot, we’re making plays on the ball or we’re making sure tackles.

“(We want to) eliminate the (yards after catch), eliminate the big plays. And this year we’re trying to take a step toward making more plays on the ball and making big plays and be a fierce secondary.”

Stuckey would boost that effort if he can make an early impact. He made 295 tackles during college at Kansas and has made a good first impression at Chargers Park with his professional attitude.

“Just trying to get better every single day is the best thing I can do right now,” Stuckey said. “It’s good to come into a team that’s already established when you’re in a position where you can focus on getting better. This is one of the first times I’ve been on a team that was already sustained and firm in its (success) when I first came in.”

Gregory and Oliver both churned out their most productive NFL seasons last year. They combined for 120 tackles and two interceptions and hope that trend continues this season, where the team will try for its fifth consecutive AFC West championship.

It stands to reason the more talent a team has, the more disappointed they are when they don’t win a Super Bowl. The Chargers, then, understandably were upset after they failed to advance past the divisional round last year despite an 11-game win streak.

“Even though we had a great season, we ended on a low note, and I think that’s the driving force right now,” Weddle said. “We want to finish every rep, finish every drill, inside the classroom, outside in walk-thrus, everything. Hopefully it carries over when it counts the most in the playoffs.”

SAFETIES AT A GLANCE

  

ERIC WEDDLE
Size:
5-11, 200
Exp.: 4
Career GP: 44

Started more career games, 29, than the other Chargers safeties combined … Led the secondary with 82 tackles last season … recorded 18 passes defensed during his first three NFL seasons … Produced his first multi-sack and multi-interception season last year … Registers a seven or eight handicap in golf and averages in the 170s while bowling once or twice a week.

  

STEVE GREGORY
Size: 5-11, 195
Exp.: 5
Career GP: 61

Enters training camp as the only strong safety with NFL experience … Made a career-best 71 tackles last season … Also made first two NFL sacks and first NFL interception and recorded six passes defensed … Started the nonprofit “SG Squad” with his girlfriend to promote fitness, education and healthy lifestyles for students.

  

DARRELL STUCKEY
Size:
5-11, 208
Exp.: R
Career GP: 0

Two-time first team All-Big 12 selection drafted in the fourth round out of Kansas … Named one of 12 semifinalists for the 2009 Jim Thorpe Award … Made a combined 190 tackles as a junior and senior … Forced three fumbles and made six interceptions during those years.

  

PAUL OLIVER
Size:
5-11, 210
Exp.: 4
Career GP: 28

Made 49 tackles, grabbed his second career interception and returned a Matt Cassel fumble 40 yards for a touchdown last year … One of the few NFL players to experience success out of the supplemental draft … San Diego gave up a 2008 fourth-round selection for his rights in ’07 … Entered the NFL as a corner out of the University of Georgia.

  

C.J. SPILLMAN
Size:
6-0, 199
Exp.: 2
Career GP: 5

One of two undrafted free agents that made the active roster last season … Played in five games and made seven tackles on defense … Played key role on special teams, making three tackles against Washington … Made 130 tackles as a junior at Marshall in 2007.

Week 1 starting safeties, 2000-09:

2000: SS Rodney Harrison, FS Mike Dumas.
2001: SS Rodney Harrison, FS Rogers Beckett.
2002: SS Rodney Harrison, FS Rogers Beckett.
2003: SS Kwamie Lassiter, FS Jerry Wilson.
2004: SS Terrance Kiel, FS Jerry Wilson.
2005: SS Terrance Kiel, SS Bhawoh Jue.
2006: SS Terrance Kiel, FS Marlon McCree.
2007: SS Clinton Hart, FS Marlon McCree.
2008: SS Clinton Hart, FS Eric Weddle.
2009: SS Steve Gregory, FS Eric Weddle.

Week 1 safeties on roster, 2000-09:

2000: Rodney Harrison, Mike Dumas, Rogers Beckett, Greg Jackson, Jason Perry.
2001: Rodney Harrison, Rogers Beckett, Robert Carswell, Jason Perry.
2002: Rodney Harrison, Rogers Beckett, Keith Lyle, Vernon Fox, Robert Carswell.
2003: Kwamie Lassiter, Jerry Wilson, Vernon Fox, Terrance Kiel.
2004: Terrance Kiel, Jerry Wilson, Hanik Milligan.
2005: Terrance Kiel, Bhawoh Jue, Hanik Milligan, Clinton Hart, Jerry Wilson.
2006: Terrance Kiel, Marlon McCree, Bhawoh Jue, Clinton Hart.
2007: Clinton Hart, Marlon McCree, Eric Weddle.
2008: Clinton Hart, Eric Weddle, Steve Gregory.
2009: Steve Gregory, Eric Weddle, Clinton Hart, C.J. Spillman.

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