Uncharacteristically, high-profile San Diego Chargers have been making headlines during this offseason. It started in the front office with the ongoing stadium issue, Antonio Gates asking for reduced playing time and rolled into the Philip Rivers-for-Marcus Mariota trade chatter that consumed national and social media in the weeks leading up to the 2015 NFL Draft. Since the draft, defensive captain Eric Weddle has proclaimed he will not show up for offseason training activities until he is signed to a new contract.
Weddle is the undisputed leader of the defense and one of the best if not the top safety in the league. Safety play is going to be critical if the Chargers are going to make the postseason. Let’s take a look at who the Chargers currently have on the roster at the safety position.
Eric Weddle: One of the few safeties wearing the helmet mic to receive the defensive calls from the sideline, Weddle is the conductor of the Chargers defense. Now entering his ninth season in lightning bolts, Weddle hasn’t missed a game in five seasons and has only missed four games in his career. Unlike other seasoned vets, Weddle has gotten better with age. The 30-year old has compiled 97, 115 and 114 combined tackles in the last three seasons. Weddle has been elected to the Pro Bowl four times, three in the last four seasons. Once Weddle signs his new deal, he and his beard will be permanently inked into his starting safety spot for the rest of his Chargers days. It will happen.
Jahleel Addae: Another Chargers undrafted free agent success story, Addae is entering is third season with San Diego. After contributing significantly on special teams he was thrown into the mix on defense halfway through the 2013 season and continued his stellar play. Last season, Addae started at safety alongside Weddle in five games and played eleven games. He compiled 48 tackles (35 solo), one sack, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Although he missed five games, two to hamstring and three to concussion, he showed an aptitude for the position. Addae has great safety instincts and he can be expected to start significantly more games at safety this season as long as he can stay healthy.
Darrell Stuckey: Heading into his sixth season, Stuckey has established himself as the Bolts’ special teams captain. He has continually improved his production each season to the point where he was named special teams Player of the Year and was selected to his first Pro Bowl last season. Stuckey was also given extended playing time on defense at safety and proved his coaches right in doing so. The Chargers have an excellent three-man core at safety with Weddle, Addae and Stuckey consistently making plays.
Jimmy Wilson: An offseason free agency pickup by the Chargers, Wilson signed a two-year deal with the Bolts in March. A native San Diegan, Wilson was a seventh-round draft pick by Miami in the 2011 NFL Draft. He is expected to challenge Addae for the starting strong safety and nickel corner positions. Durable and versatile, Wilson has only missed four games in his four-year career and has compiled 153 tackles (133 solo), 16 passes defensed, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and two sacks. Last season was the first time he started more than four games when he started in 13 of the Dolphins 14 games. As a result he had his best statistical year with 58 tackles, two passes defensed and one interception. Wilson provides another playmaker into the Chargers rebuilt secondary and will be exciting to follow as camp progresses.
Adrian Phillips: The undrafted free agent out of Texas spent last season on the Chargers practice squad. Phillips was team captain for the 2013 Longhorns and had 206 career tackles from the safety position. He did see action in the Miami Dolphins game, where he recorded one tackle.
UDFA’s Johnny Lowdermilk and Gordon Hill: If the name Lowdermilk sounds familiar, it’s because his father Kirk Lowdermilk had a 12-year career in the NFL with Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts as an offensive lineman. Iowa’s Lowdermilk is lauded for his physical play, nose for the football and coverage ability but lack of speed is a concern. Last season he totaled 103 tackles (58 solo), three tackles for loss, three interceptions, three passes defensed and two forced fumbles. He’s worth a look just from a hustle and bloodline standpoint.
Hill entered the NFL after leaving Sacred Heart after his junior season. An All-NEC (Northeast Conference) first team selection, he collected 85 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and two interceptions last season. It will be a long way up to make the main roster but he will get his opportunity to shine in camp.
The Chargers have one of the better collections of safeties in the NFL. Weddle deserves to be the highest paid safety in the league and likely will be soon. Addae and Stuckey fly to the football and are finally coming into their own with regular playing time on defense. There is definitely room for a fourth man in the rotation. Whether it comes from this lot or from an unexpected name arising when roster cuts are made remains to be seen.
The Greg One
Due to having only five draft picks this year, the Chargers added 20 undrafted free agents to bring their roster total to the 90-man maximum (It was 21 but the team released Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt when they signed Chase Rettig). Historically, they have had great success finding key contributors in undrafted free agent rookies. Names like Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Kris Dielman immediately stand out. You can even throw in players like Jahleel Addae and Branden Oliver. Both are younger players, but they have been key contributors in their short careers.
In part one of this two-part look at the undrafted free agents signed by the Bolts, there is a list of the 20 undrafted rookie free agents acquired by the team. The second part will highlight some of the signees that will have a good shot at making the team as a member of the practice squad or the 53-man roster.