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Chargers adjust to rule change

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Aug 3, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006
    Casey Pearce
    Posted Aug 3, 2009

    The elimination of three-, four- and five-man wedges on kickoffs this season will have an impact on special teams play around the league.

    As Chargers special teamers prepare for the upcoming season, they’re not just sharpening their skills in the kicking game; they’re also adjusting to a new way of doing a few things.

    This offseason, the NFL voted to disallow wedges of more than two men on kickoff returns. That means return units are spread out a little, which creates a little more space on returns.

    “It’s going to change the way you defend kick returns because you’re not going to have those big piles in there,” Chargers Head Coach Norv Turner said. “Just like you need better athletes on the return side of it, now you need to continue to have better and better athletes covering them.”

    The change was made with player safety in mind. League officials thought four- and five-man wedges created too many big collisions and put players in dangerous positions.

    Linebacker Antwan Applewhite, one of the Chargers’ top special teamers, believes he’ll have to be a better open-field tackler, but having one less man to account for in the middle could simplify the mental portion of his job.

    “It takes away some of the grey area because there were so many extra gaps,” Applewhite said. “Now that there are only two guys in the wedge they don’t have as many places they can go.”

    Applewhite likes the change and believes the change in schemes will provide opportunities for cover men to make some big plays.

    “If you beat your man early off the bat, there’s one less guy to clean up so you’ll get some chances,” Applewhite said. “I’m going to have fun with it.”

    Prior to the rule change, the Chargers often used just a two-man wedge due to the strengths of their personnel, so it’s not a huge change for San Diego. Turner even thinks it can help a player like Sproles who is so talented in the open field.

    Sproles said the spacing has changed his initial approach after he catches the ball.

    “Without a third (blocker) there floating, you’ve got to hit it quick,” Sproles said. “Right when they lock on, that’s when you’ve got to go. Before, when they locked on was when I was starting to get going.”

    Merriman, Davis sit

    Monday morning’s practice marked the first time since camp opened that a veteran missed a practice. Wide receiver Buster Davis had an “extremely tight quad,” and linebacker Shawne Merriman rested his surgically-repaired knee.

    “We have a schedule for Shawne,” Turner said. “We wanted to get him through the weekend like we did. He’ll occasionally take a morning off.”

    Merriman practiced Sunday and was back on the field Monday afternoon. The team has only one practice scheduled for Tuesday, so Turner’s plan to rest Merriman Monday limited him to one practice for three-consecutive days.

    “It gives his knee a chance to recover each day,” Turner said. “It’s just the plan we have.”

    Turner said that Davis, who is coming off groin surgery, is catching up in his overall conditioning due to the time he spent rehabbing from his operation.

    “Unfortunately when you’re coming off of an injury and you’re recovering from it and rehabbing and doing all the things, you’re not able to be in the same kind of condition that the other guys who have been in six-month offseason program are,” Turner said.

    Speaking English

    With Merriman resting, linebacker Larry English worked with the first team throughout the morning and had an impressive showing.

    “It was a fun morning,” English said. “I feel like I’m picking things up and really learning.”

    Stiff competition

    Eric Weddle knows that he benefits from being challenged by Antonio Gates every day in practice. Vincent Jackson feels the same way about Quentin Jammer, and Jammer knows Jackson helps make him better. The same can be said about Shaun Phillips and Marcus McNeill, Jamal Williams and Nick Hardwick and Jacob Hester and Stephen Cooper.

    “When you work against a guy as smart and as talented as Nick every day, you can’t help but get better,” Williams said. “You have to bring your ‘A’ game to practice every day.”

    The plethora of talented players makes for interesting training camp practices and brings a flavor that Turner loves.

    “The mindset of our guys is that they’re practicing in a very competitive manner,” Turner said. “Obviously when you’re going 11-on-11, there are individual matchups going on and I think they’re all taking great pride in winning those matchups. When you have that and you have good players, it really shows up.”

    Special opportunity

    Running back Gartrell Johnson knows that if he wants to have a chance to be active on Sundays, he’ll have to be more than just a third option behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Sproles. That’s why he’s embraced his role on special teams.

    “I love it,” Johnson said. “It’s physical and I just love being out there and contributing, making plays.”

    Johnson was on nearly every special teams unit as a freshman and sophomore at Colorado State and hopes to be heavily involved in the Chargers kicking game.

    Wednesday Night Lights

    Wednesday night’s practice at Qualcomm Stadium is open to the public and admission is free. The practice begins at 7:00 p.m. and lasts until approximately 9:20.


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