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Sproles bounces back for Bolts, who play 49ers in exhibition finale

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Aug 29, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news;_ylt=AlQjaxjk4BQy5YC.Kv0jTwqU2bYF?slug=ap-49ers-chargers&amp;prov=ap&amp;type=lgns" target="_blank">Associated Press</a>

    By Bernie Wilson

    <img src="http://photos.signonsandiego.com/gallery1.5/albums/050901niners/KCchargers011.jpg" title="Darren Sproles runs for a touchdown in the second quarter as Brandon Moore trails." alt="Darren Sproles runs for a touchdown in the second quarter as Brandon Moore trails." align="right" height="200" width="194" />SAN DIEGO (AP) -- Remember Darren Sproles, the speedy little running back from Kansas State?

    He's come scampering all the way back from a broken leg, providing some sizzle for the San Diego Chargers in an otherwise meaningless exhibition season during which LaDainian Tomlinson has been a spectator.

    Sproles has had a spectacular August, all but winning a spot on the 53-man roster with one game left, Thursday night at home against the San Francisco 49ers.

    "I would say Darren has a chance of helping us win football games this year, yes," said new Chargers coach Norv Turner, who was San Francisco's offensive coordinator last year.

    The 5-foot-6, 181-pound Sproles has looked good running the ball and catching it. He's really shined at his specialty, returning punts and kickoffs.

    "I would say he's back in a blaze of glory in returns," said general manager A.J. Smith, who took Sproles in the fourth round of the 2005 draft. "We're pleased with what we've seen."

    Sproles had to prove himself all over again after breaking his left leg returning a punt in an exhibition game last summer. He missed all of 2006, when the Chargers went an NFL-best 14-2 before losing their playoff opener to New England.

    "That's the worse feeling ever, really, because you can't do anything," Sproles said. "The only thing you can do is go to meetings. You can't go out there and practice until you get all healed up. It was rough, but I kept my spirits high."

    Turner, hired in February after the sudden firing of Marty Schottenheimer, saw plenty of Sproles during offseason workouts.

    "He started in March and he got the ball machine out there and he might have set a world record for most punts caught in a six-month period or whatever it was," Turner said. "He's become a very, very sure catcher.

    "To me if the guy is not a sure catcher, I'm not going to put him back there on it." But he has worked as hard as anyone on the football team and it shows in his ability to catch the ball."

    If any team knows the value of a sure-handed punt returner, it's the Chargers. Eric Parker's double muff was among their crucial blunders in their 24-21 playoff loss to the Patriots.

    Sproles returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown against the Rams two weeks ago. Last Saturday at Arizona, he faked safety Aaron Francisco to the turf and sprinted into the end zone on a 19-yard run.

    Sproles is effective because of his quickness and ability to change direction.

    "He is just hard to tackle in space. He is a great competitor," Turner said.

    As impressive as Sproles was on his punt return for the touchdown, Turner was more excited by a third-and-8 pass play in the same game.

    "He's a got a guy right on him, made him miss and he still could have been short. But he made a physical run to get the first down," Turner said.

    "I've been feeling pretty good," Sproles said. "I got to really show what I can do, with the opportunities I had."

    Sproles' playing time will be cut back once the regular season starts. He's third on the depth chart behind Tomlinson, the reigning NFL MVP who doesn't play in exhibitions to avoid the risk of injury, and Michael Turner, L.T.'s high-paid backup. But Sproles could be used as a third-down back even as he earns his paycheck as a returner.

    San Diego's starters are expected to be in for only 10 plays Thursday night. Sproles will take as much action as he can get.

    "You've still got to go out there and play," he said. "I love playing anyway, so it don't matter to me. I just want to play anyway."

    The 49ers' starters will play 12 plays or the first quarter, whichever comes first. They've got far fewer roster spot battles than in coach Mike Nolan's first two years, a reflection of San Francisco's dramatic talent upgrades from Nolan's 4-12 debut team in 2005.

    The Niners are coming off a disappointing loss at Chicago in which the first-team offense managed just one first down in the first half, when its only scoring drive was a 6-yarder after a turnover.

    Nolan and quarterback Alex Smith resisted the urge to panic, citing the Bears' solid defense and the offense's strong performance in the first two exhibition games.

    "The best thing for us would be to go out there, get some first downs, get into a rhythm and get some confidence going," said Smith, who grew up in the San Diego area and was a high school teammate of Reggie Bush. "Going into this last game, you'd like to get that before we get geared up for Arizona."

    NFC rushing champion Frank Gore is unlikely to play despite lobbying Nolan for a few snaps. Gore's broken hand is pretty much healed, but Nolan would prefer to treat him the same way the Chargers treat Tomlinson in the exhibition season.

    AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in San Francisco contributed to this report.

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