Training camp is right around the corner, and as always, there are several key storylines to keep an eye on at this point in the offseason.
Over the coming weeks, we’ll highlight some of the more noteworthy ones set to play out at Jack Hammett Sports Complex as well as during the preseason.
Which Undrafted Free Agent Will Defy the Odds?
The Chargers’ tradition of unearthing hidden gems as undrafted free agents is unparalleled.
We’re talking about the likes of Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Kris Dielman to the more recent examples of Austin Ekeler, Trevor Williams and Adrian Phillips.
In fact, at least one undrafted free agent has made the opening day 53-man roster for 22 straight seasons, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. Not only that, last year saw three make the active roster out of training camp for the fourth-straight year.
Watching an undrafted free agent go from the longest of longshots to making the team is always one of the feel-good stories of the summer. While each has made an impression leading up to camp, it’s what they do at Jack Hammett Sports Complex and in preseason play that will truly win over the Bolts’ brass.
One player who has already turned heads is Tulane safety Roderic Teamer.
Like any undrafted player, he has a long way to go before earning a spot on the team. There are plenty of examples of guys who showed out in the spring but were beat out by others who proved better fits in the summer. Nonetheless, Teamer did enough during the offseason program for Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley to single him out.
“We have (an undrafted) free agent that's making a lot of plays right now out there,” Bradley said. “He seems to be around the ball quite a bit. That's what you hope to see; the guys that understand the defense so that you can see their instincts.”
“We’ve got a young safety right now, … he’s got three picks in two days,” added Adrian Phillips. “Three picks in two days. He’s turning himself into a Jack Boy. So, it’s coming."
Each coach and scout has his own set of criteria for evaluating players. It varies by position, experience and many other factors.
When pressed for what he looks for when eyeing undrafted rookies, Bradley provided insight into what he values most.
“It starts off in OTAs and how fast they pick things up,” he explained. “The faster they pick things up, the faster they can play. I think that's our whole objective — to install enough to where (during) training camp, it's the second or third time they hear it. The whole objective is that they understand it so that we can see their true speed and how fast they can play.”
Meanwhile, with so many former undrafted Chargers now playing valuable roles, the incoming rookies would be wise to pick their brains as they aim to follow in their footsteps.
“I come in (every day) and see the rookies coming in,” Ekeler recalled. “I remember that. I talked to these guys. I said, 'Hey, your whole life right now is just studying because I know. I've been there. I was the sixth-string running back coming in and undrafted.' I wore No. 3. You can't even wear No. 3 as a running back in the league. I've been there. Now, looking back, it's a great journey to watch. I've had success with it, obviously, so that makes it even better. Just as far as seeing these young guys out here, messing up, (I tell them), 'Don't get discouraged.' You have time to go through."
The good news is that so far, the incoming class of rookie free agents appears eager to soak up the vets’ knowledge.
"100 percent,” Ekeler said, “(Jason) ‘Smoove’ (Moore), he came from Division-II. I'm glad. He was asking me questions and said, 'Can I get your number?' Yeah, let's link up. Whatever you want to know, I'm here to help you out because I was the same way. I was looking for any advice from anybody — please help me — because I was the only running back, too, so that was a different thing. It was all older guys. I didn't have another rookie to bounce stuff off with."
So, which undrafted free agent will defy the odds and carry on the Bolts’ illustrious tradition?
We’ll all find out together over the coming weeks.