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Evaluating the Running Backs with RB Coach Ollie Wilson

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be checking in with the Chargers’ position coaches and coordinators to get the inside scoop. We continue with Running Backs Coach Ollie Wilson.

Chargers.com:I don’t want to spend too much time on last season, but the running game is one area everyone knows must improve. What went wrong in 2015?

Wilson:To win, you have to be able to run the football.  Obviously we didn’t do as well as we wanted to last year, so we became too one dimensional.  We just didn’t run the ball the way we wanted to, and we weren’t consistent. Everybody has to do a better job working as one.  (Head Coach) Mike (McCoy’s) offseason message to us is we need to fix this. In order to get where we want to go, we have to get better in the running game. We’re attempting to do that, and this is the time to start fixing it.  Right now (during OTAs) is when we have the time to work on all the little things that carry over into the game and become automatic.  I’m excited because I think we have the talent to do that and be a good running team.  Obviously we didn’t do it last year, but I’m excited to see guys starting to get it.

Chargers.com:Melvin Gordon admitted his rookie year didn’t go as he imagined, and there is a lot of attention on him.  Do you feel like there is too much pressure being placed on him?

Wilson:There is always going to be pressure when you draft someone in the first round, but there is pressure on everybody.  There is pressure on Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead, too.  It is one of those scenarios where I always believe, and I may be biased since I coach this position, but there will always be added attention on running backs.  There will be people saying you are as good or not as good as billed.  The bottom line is you can’t worry about those things, and I’ve told Melvin and all the running backs that a million times.  He just has to go out and be one of 11 guys on the field, and do his job.

Chargers.com:What really has you encouraged about Gordon heading into his second year? What does he need to improve?

Wilson:One thing I really like about Melvin is from day one, he’s always worked hard.  He works hard on the field and he works hard in the meeting room.  That will pay off. In my mind, that will always give him a chance to be successful.  Now, what he needs to work on is just getting more of an understanding of the run game in the NFL.  And that takes time for a lot of guys.  This is a very different situation than where he came from in Wisconsin.  He needs to be productive in all our phases, and not worry about what he can’t control. Every year I’ve been in the league, I’ve seen a major jump from the first year to the second year.  Ryan (Mathews) made a major jump, and even with LaDainian Tomlinson, for as good as he was as a rookie, he took a major jump his second year.  We need that from Melvin now, too, so I expect him to do a lot of great things.

Chargers.com:What does Danny Woodhead mean to this group?

Wilson:He’s the leader.  He sets an example for everyone, and the rest of the group buys in. If I was a young guy coming into this league, and I saw how Danny Woodhead acts, and how he has been so successful in this league and played as long as he has, I would follow as close as I could to him and follow everything he does.  So it’s a situation where with Danny, I don’t even need to say some things to him.  He already knows.  His leadership qualities on the field and off the field are as good as I’ve ever seen as long as I’ve been around. And I’ll tell you what – the one year we lost him for the year; that was hard.  Not only for on the field, but just having him in the room and in those meetings.

Chargers.com:Where does Branden Oliver fit in?

Wilson:We missed Branden because he is a consistent player.  He wears (defenses) down.  He is strong.  You see a pile and think the ball is stopped, and then you see him come out of it and drive it back for a few more yards.  His lower body is really strong, and he has great balance.  When guys hit him, they think he’s down, but he’s not because he’s so strong and plays with a lot of leverage.  We missed him last year, and it’s been good to have him back out there.  He’s smart, and he’s still learning the game. He is going to have a big role for us this year.

Chargers.com:So is it fair to say you expect all three of those guys to play a big role this year?

Wilson:If you take what all three of those guys can do, it is like molding one perfect running back.  So we will use them to their strengths, and we will count on all of them.  The good thing about that is when you roll those guys in and out of games, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.  You better stop Danny in the pass game.  You better stop Melvin in the inside run game.  You better stop Branden from grinding you down and doing great in the screen game.  But they are also more than just that.  Those guys can do a lot of different things, and they have all bought in to working together and having their own role instead of being (angry) not getting all the touches.  They understand we don’t have just one starter here.  They are all part of our scheme and system.

Chargers.com:This is your first time since 2013 that you have a true fullback to coach.  What has that been like to have Derek Watt and also Chris Swain to work with, and what is the advantage to having them on the roster?

Wilson:When we were thinking of drafting a fullback, I told everyone the difference between having a fullback and not just a tight end is that the fullback spends day in and day out in our room with the tailback.  He hears what the tailback is looking at and what he is seeing. When you are running two-back sets, they have to be on the same page and see the same things.  It’s not the tight end’s fault.  They have other responsibilities, so they are not in there every second of the day listening to all that stuff. So it’s really important for them to understand what the tailback is thinking. It gives us another phase and aspect to our offense where we can get into more two-back sets which we haven’t had since Le’Ron McClain.  I think it will help us in our four minute offense when we have a lead and don’t give the ball back.  Now we can get into a run mode. In short yardage and goal line it will help us, and the same in coming-out so we don’t have to use the tight end in that situation.  There are a lot of advantages to it. But more than anything, I think having the fullback and tailback in the same room so much is invaluable.

Chargers.com:What did you like about Derek Watt that he was a target to draft?

Wilson:I like his athleticism. He moves well, and he has really good instincts as far as entry points are concerned.  I’m talking about on lead plays where he understands defenses’ schemes of whether they are trying to slant, pinch or roll over the top.  He also has a lot of value in the pass game.  It looks like he has really good hands, and he is mobile enough to be able to release and get in the open to pull away.  He is part of that new generation of fullbacks who can really move.  We will see how he does in training camp when the pads go on.  But he is going to have to have a role on special teams, too. I tell every fullback that comes in that if you don’t play special teams, you won’t be here.  I don’t care how many snaps you play on offense; you have to play special teams, too.

Chargers.com:What about Chris Swain?

Wilson:He is powerful. He has great quickness, but he is raw. He comes from a whole different offense at Navy than what we’ve been used to.  He is learning a different position than what he’s been used to.  But he is smart and disciplined, as you’d expect.  I like his power and explosiveness.  We are going to work with him, and get him into a position where he will feel comfortable.

Chargers.com:Dreamius Smith spent time on the practice squad and then on the 53-man roster although he wasn’t active.  What do you see in Dreamius?

Wilson:He has matured and is now settled into his body.  For the size that he is, he is really quick and explosive.  He has got a chance. He is in a situation where he will compete, and like I mentioned with Derek, he is going to have to be a big time contributor on special teams.  When you have three guys like we have in Melvin, Danny and Branden, that fourth or fifth guy has to (produce) on special teams.

Chargers.com:Finally, we signed Kenneth Farrow as an undrafted free agent.  What kind of player is he?

Wilson:He is as good of a free agent pick up as I’ve seen.  I like him.  He is a downhill, physical runner but he is going to have to adjust to the speed of the game.   But he will have a chance. I told him after the draft about Branden.  I told him how we had drafted a running back that year, but Branden beat him out.  I told him he will have all kinds of opportunities, but I would love to work with him because I think he has a chance to make it in this league.

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