Much has been said over the past few months about the Los Angeles Chargers' selections of Forrest Lamp and Dan Feeney. Pundits noted how the Bolts revamped the interior of their offensive line in one fell swoop on the second day of the draft, taking Lamp in the second round and Feeney in the third.
Draft experts explained how the Chargers shored up an area perceived as a weakness, infusing two of the top prospects available at their positions into the roster. Most predicted one of, if not both, rookies to earn a starting spot come opening night in Denver.
Veteran guard Kenny Wiggins heard the chatter just like everyone else. But if you expect him to let the rookies take his place in the starting lineup, think again.
"Obviously they're good players. They got drafted where they got drafted for a reason. But I'm not the kind of guy to just roll over and let them take the job. They've got to go through me first. That's my mentality. I'm ready for the challenge. I understand they'll get every opportunity that I didn't get as a rookie. I'm OK with that because I should have played better in college. But right now, this is my spot to lose."
Wiggins has had to scratch and claw for everything he's gotten in the NFL. In fact, since signing with Baltimore as an undrafted free agent in 2011, his first five training camps with the Ravens, 49ers and Bolts ended with him being one of the last players cut.
He exhausted all of his practice squad eligibility in 2014, and was out of football until the final week of the year when the Chargers signed him prior to Week 17 after injuries ravaged the offensive line. Wiggins got his first taste of NFL game-action on special teams, yet once again, was one of the last players cut when the Chargers got down to the 53-man roster heading into 2015.
However, the lineman was out of the league for only one week this time as an injury to D.J. Fluker caused the Bolts to re-sign him after the season opener. Finally, in Week 3, he saw his first regular season snaps up front after Orlando Franklin left the game. He got the start one week later, and ended 2015 appearing in 15 games with eight starts as his 401 total snaps ranked fifth among the team's offensive linemen.
His play and work ethic impressed Philip Rivers.
"Kenny loves the game and has a passion for it," number 17 said at the time. "When you believe in yourself that you can do it, until you've exhausted every last straw, you keep going. Really, he had exhausted it all. All of his practice squad eligibility and everything. And then he gets the call, and here he is and he stepped up and played well for us. Because he had spent different times with us, it is as if he'd been here the whole time. And here he is starting games and playing well. So you are always happy for a guy like that, and shoot, he's playing really well."
Fast forward to this offseason, and Wiggins saw the writing on the wall when the Bolts took Lamp and Feeney in the NFL Draft.
He had been a fixture during OTAs as the starting right guard prior to the draft, and wasn't about to let that change. Even with Lamp and Feeney in the fold, Wiggins took nearly every rep of the offseason program as the starting right guard. Come training camp, he intends to make the first-year guards fight tooth and nail to take his place.
If they beat Wiggins out, it won't be because they were handed it on a silver platter.
It'll be because they earned it.
"They are both good players and people. I hold no animosity at all. They are doing what they were brought in here to do, and I'll help them however I can. We're part of a team, and we want to win games. But I look at the starting spot as my spot to lose."
In addition to his experience, Wiggins believes he has a leg up due to his style of play in the team's system. The 6-6, 314-pounder has had more than five different offensive line coaches since entering the NFL. Each one carries his own different styles and priorities. While Wiggins appreciates each coach he's played for, he believes the Bolts' new O-Line coach, Pat Meyer, is best suited for his game.
"I just try to be the same guy every single day. I must be doing something right if I've been around here for so long now. They like me for some reason. And this year, I've never really had a coach like Coach Meyer. He teaches an aggressive style of pass protection that I really like. It's good for me because it's who I am. I like to get my hands on guys first and stop them before they start. Our previous coaches want us to step back off the ball, but Pat focuses more on going out and starting the fight before they get to you. I like that because inside, I'm a lot taller than normal guards and can get my hands on them faster."