Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Breakout Player: FS Eric Weddle (Chargers)

Anyone who watched the 2007 Divisional Playoff game between the San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts will remember this play: On 3rd down and 3 yards to go, sitting on the Chargers 4 yard line (about to score the go ahead touchdown) QB Peyton Manning's short pass over the middle intended for RB Kenton Keith is miraculously intercepted by a 'one-hand-grab' from falling #32 FS Eric Weddle. This was a huge momentum change that helped lead to a Chargers 28-24 upset victory over the Defending Champion Colts.

In the 2007 NFL Draft, the Chargers traded the 62nd pick (2nd), 93rd pick (3rd), a 2008 3rd rounder and 2008 5th rounder to the Chicago Bears for the right to move up to the 37th overall pick and select Weddle, the 5'11 200 pound free safety from the University of Utah. In 48 games for the Utes, Weddle started 45 times (9 at right cornerback, 12 at left cornerback, 6 at nickel back, 18 at strong safety). He even played offense with stints at quarterback, running back, punter and holder; scoring 5 rushing TDs and 1 receiving TD in 2006 alone. He was named the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year twice (2005 and 2006) and earned All-American honors.

Entering into the Draft, Weddle was thought to be too short and too slow to make it in the NFL. Many felt he did not possess the speed and quickness to be a Cornerback and was too small to be a Safety. Yet he is a high-character player, has big play potential, rarely leaves the field and has a tremendous workout ethic; doing well at the Combine and Pro-Day workouts. He has great instincts and reads the QB well, has good hand and ball skills, plays the run like a linebacker, uses good angles in pursuits, and brings intensity on every snap. He struggles a bit on man-to-man coverage but his athleticism makes up for it.

In his first season, the Chargers used Weddle in as the 'Dime' Safety, playing mostly on 2nd/3rd downs. He saw action in 15 games; posting 53 tackles (42 solo), 1 sack, 6 pass deflections, and 1 INT.

Some of the factors that will enable Eric Weddle to have a breakout year in 2008:

1) Starter After stepping up big at the end of last season and the playoffs, Weddle will take over this season as the starting Free Safety for the recently departed FS Marlon McCree (Broncos). The Chargers believe he has potential to become a great player at the safety spot in line with fellow players such as Brian Dawkins (Eagles), Ed Reed (Ravens) and John Lynch (Broncos).

2) Chargers Defense San Diego enters the 2008 season with high expectations and is viewed as one of the elite teams in the NFL in terms of talent level and playing ability. Their version of the 3-4 defense will allow Weddle to make a ton of plays in coverage and in zone blitz opportunities. His versatility brings a rare combination of DB and LB skills to the field and he will not lose a step when interchanging between pass coverages.

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