Chargers seek safety in numbers

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Johnny Lightning

Go Bolts
Feb 7, 2006
Four veterans vie to fill two jobs in secondary

By Kevin Acee
July 31, 2006

K.C. ALFRED / Union-Tribune​
It's still early in the Chargers' training camp, but newcomer Marlon McCree (20) can enjoy making an interception in practice.
It is the cornerbacks who get the publicity, good and bad.
But the reality is that the men who play in the far reaches of the defense can be just as crucial (and sometimes more so) to a secondary's success or lack thereof.
Thus, Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith's only significant free-agent signing this spring was safety Marlon McCree. Thus, the biggest battle for a starting spot in training camp is at safety.
“We have to be good in the secondary, and they know it,” safety Clinton Hart said. “They have to bring the best out of whoever is starting out there. Whoever that is is going to be good, because we have guys pushing them for the starting spot.”

This should be fun to watch.
While defensive backs coach Brian Stewart and coordinator Wade Phillips have stuck with the same rotation the first two days, it is likely they will start to mix things up soon.
The only certainty is that McCree will start at one of the two safety spots. (It is ridiculous to think the Chargers guaranteed him $6 million in the offseason to be a reserve.)
Up for grabs
The four Chargers battling for playing time at the two safety positions, from which the team needs more interceptions:
Marlon McCree: Extremely smart, most experienced of the group. Will start at one of the spots.
Clinton Hart: Showed he could play last year at either position. Is rapidly learning how to play the pass.
Bhawoh Jue: Was physical and at times made plays on the ball. Currently injured (knee) but expected back soon. Terrence Kiel: Better against the run. Has had a good opening week of camp.
Where McCree plays is the only question. He played strong safety last year in Carolina, but he has also played free safety.
Really, Terrence Kiel is the only one of the four combatants seemingly tied to a position, having played strong safety his first three years and being better against the run than the pass.
Hart started nine games at free safety his rookie season in 2003 for the Philadelphia Eagles. Last year for the Chargers he started one game at free and four at strong. Bhawoh Jue, the Chargers' primary starter at free safety in '05, has played every secondary position in his five NFL seasons.
“We're all interchangeable,” Jue said.
Add to that widespread versatility the fact that in the Chargers defense the two safety positions are not all that different in their requirements.
“The safeties are a little more involved here,” McCree said. “That's great. The safeties here are identical. Other teams I've been on, you had a strong safety and he was the strong. You had a free safety and he was the free. The safeties here, both of them do the same thing a lot. Most of the time both are covering, both blitzing, both playing the post, both playing cover-two, both playing cover-four. That's fine. I like it that way.”
At the dawn of camp, McCree is the starting free and Kiel the starting strong safety. Hart is playing second-team strong. Jue is on the sideline, still recovering from an offseason knee 'scope. He is expected to return to the field by week's end.
“Those guys have a head start,” Jue said. “I definitely will push them. There's no question I'm going to come like a bat out of hell to win my job.”
It is likely Jue will initially be inserted back in with the No. 1 team, a nod to the fact starters don't lose their jobs to injuries.
One thing that could determine the winner to play opposite McCree is the player who shows the ability to find the ball. The Chargers secondary came up with just seven interceptions last season, including three by Jue and one by Hart. Increasing that total (a lot) is a point of emphasis this camp.
The Chargers also need a true leader at safety. It is likely McCree is that leader, as he was in Carolina. Jue struggled somewhat in that role last season.
“To be a safety you have to be a guy who can run the defense,” McCree said. “That's what I've been able to do in the places I've been. I've been able to adapt to the guys I've been with.”
Whatever happens, with multiple ways this could turn out, the participants and the man in charge are saying there are only positives to come from the summer battle. “I think it is an ideal circumstance,” coach Marty Schottenheimer said. “It's the kind of competition that will clearly bring out the best in everybody.”