CHARGERS SPRING REPORT -- SAFETIES
With the Chargers 2009 mini-camp underway, Chris Ello takes an inside look at how the Bolts stack up position-by-position during football's version of Spring Training.
Clinton Hart, 7th yr., Central Florida CC: Without question, Hart is one of the great stories in the entire NFL...passing on college football scholarship opportunities to stay home and take care of his family after his father was jailed, Hart took the longest road possible to reach his NFL dream.
From the Arena 2 league, to Arena Football, to a free-agent tryout with Philadelphia, to NFL Europe, to joining the Chargers on special teams in 2004...and now to becoming a solid starter. Amazing. Not many guys could have done it.
The former 32nd-round pick of baseball's Anaheim Angels, Hart hasn't necessarily hit a home run with the Chargers, but he has without question been a solid contributor. Unless somebody comes along and shows a big-play, game-changing ability (something the Bolts lack at this position), Hart continues in his starting role.
Eric Weddle, 3rd yr., Utah: It's not that Weddle has been a failure in any way...but he simply hasn't yet lived up to the hype surrounding an All-American who was selected in the 2007 draft only after A.J. Smith gave up four draft picks to get him (2nd, 3rd picks in '07...3rd, 5th picks in '08).
Too often last season Weddle was the guy in the Monday morning sports page photo standing next to the opposing receiver who had just caught the game-winning pass.
Nevertheless, it may be a bit too soon to give up on this two-time Mountain West Conference defensive player of the year. Weddle still has the big-play ability this team needs, and his smarts figure to serve him better in his second year as a starter.
Just a guess...but if the Chargers are to make a serious Super Bowl run, this is one player who will have to help lead the charge.
Steve Gregory, 4th yr., Syracuse: Don't know about you, but Gregory was one of my favorite players on the '08 defense...you can summon whatever statistics you want, but this is a guy who always seemed to be around the ball.
Whether in the dime package as a 6th defensive back, or filling in as an occasional starter, Gregory delivered some hard hits and some key plays. He should be used more this season, and perhaps push Hart for more playing time.
Gregory, like Hart, is a player you can root for...undrafted out of Syracuse in '06, he was signed to the Chargers practice squad and has worked his way from there into the regular defensive rotation.
Safety is all about instincts and intimidation...and this street kid from Brooklyn has a burning desire to get the job done.
Paul Oliver, 3rd yr., Georgia: Not necessarily in a bad way, but Oliver is almost the exact opposite of Gregory...A much-ballyhooed prep star who was rated as a No.-1 college recruit coming out of high school, Oliver had all of the combine numbers that make scouts drool: 4.32 in the 40, a 37-inch vertical leap, etc.
However, when he made an interception in the playoff win over Indianapolis, I was surprised -- because I wasn't sure he was even still on the team. That's how little impact he has had so far.
Chosen by the Bolts in the '07 supplemental draft (costing them a 4th-round pick), Oliver is the kind of talent who should be about ready to blossom.
It will serve him well if he heads into this season realizing that this might be his final chance to make his mark.
Kevin Ellison, Rookie, USC: To me, never a bad idea in the 6th-round of the draft to take a chance on a talented player who fell on the board because of injury...And Ellison certainly has had his share: including three knee surgeries during his college career with the Trojans.
When he was on the field, however, Ellison played well, earning All-Pac 10 honors in each of the last two seasons (he made it last year despite missing five games).
Ellison is viewed as a good run-stuffer who goes for the hard hit in the secondary (not to necessarily compare the two, but the Bolts haven't had an intimidating safety since Rodney Harrison left).
His bloodlines are solid as well...his brother Keith played one year at San Diego State and eventually was drafted by Buffalo as a linebacker out of Oregon State. Keith was drafted in the 6th-round and has played three years for the Bills. Hmmm....6th round, you say?
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