The San Diego Chargers’ coaching staff is hard at work coaching and evaluating their players in the classroom and on the field during OTAs. They have a very interesting camp battle going on in the fullback department. Though the competition is a two-man race, it’s going to be one of the most compelling to watch.
The Chargers drafted Wisconsin fullback Derek Watt (pictured above) with the second of their two sixth-round picks in the 2016 NFL Draft. The man he is hoisting in the air is the running back the Bolts tabbed to be their new franchise running back, Melvin Gordon. The Chargers traded up to select Gordon with their first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Watt was the lead fullback for Gordon during his three seasons at Wisconsin. Gordon broke NCAA rushing records and finished as a Heisman Trophy finalist in his last season at Wisconsin.
Standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing 236 pounds, Watt is the favorite to win the job because the Chargers did use a draft pick on him and for his already established chemistry with Gordon. Watt is the younger brother of Texans’ superstar and 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt. Derek has a great template on how to be a great pro from one of the best players in the game today.
No player is guaranteed a roster spot and in this case it is no different. The Chargers signed Chris Swain of Navy as an undrafted free agent. Last week, the Department of Defense granted a deferral of his military service in order for him to play for the Chargers. With San Diego being the United States epicenter for the Navy, Swain is a fantastic success story. Swain will be an automatic fan favorite, one every fan will want to see make the cut.
Standing 6-foot and weighing 247 pounds, Swain ran for 1,023 yards and 10 touchdowns as a senior. Taking into account his stout frame, he’s the proverbial bowling ball rolling downhill. He was the perfect complement to Navy’s high-flying, triple-option offense. A perceived weakness could be his pass-catching skills, as he only caught two passes in his career at Navy. His running style and pass blocking have drawn criticism but those are all things a good coach can develop.
What works to the advantage of both players is the offense of new offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. Last season under Frank Reich, the Bolts ran 12 plays from a two-back formation. Reich was unwilling to adapt his “pistol-centric” offense to Gordon and the running game suffered. In Whisenhunt’s lone year as offensive coordinator in 2013, he ran 115 plays out of a two-back formation. The last time the Chargers made the playoffs? 2013. Whisenhunt parlayed that success into a head coaching position with the Tennessee Titans after that one season.
It is expected that Whisenhunt will be running more conventional two-back formations, so both fullbacks will get ample opportunities to succeed and make the roster.
My expectation is Watt will be the win the starting gig and Swain will be placed on the practice squad. We as Chargers fans know how often injuries happen. The practice squad is not a black hole, it’s an on-deck circle.
Good luck to both young men, and salute to you, Mr. Swain. You defend our Country so we can live out our dreams. Here’s to you getting to live out your dreams.
The Greg One