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San Diego Chargers' Third Year Players

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Year three is the magical year.  The year where the players who have been languishing start to get it.  During the first year, many have a hard time adjusting to the speed of the game.  Everything is happening faster than in college.  The players are running faster, hits are bigger, there are no weak links.  Also, the mental part of the game is a big hurdle for first year players.  Schemes are much more complex, talent can no longer make up for blown assignments or bad technique.  First year players spend so much time thinking about what they should be doing that they can't react to situations, they have to think about them.  This slows them down even more.  The first year is pretty much lost for most players.

Of course, this is not true for all players.  Some, like Shawne Merriman, LT, and others make an impact right away.  It's truer for some positions than others.  RBs can usually play right off the bat, speed pass rushers can play right away.  Everydown LBs, WRs, lineman, and especially QBs historically have trouble coming up to speed in that first year.

By the second year, things start to click, the game slows down a bit, they have a full year of full time training under their belt, and they typically start to show their true colors.  The problem in the second year is mainly consistency.  They may be getting quality PT and lots of practice time, but they still have good games and bad games.  They learn to deal with success and failure and smooth out the hills and valleys of a 16 game NFL season.

Which leads us to the third year.  AJ Smith says that after three years the role you will play is pretty much known and set in stone.  I figured it would be interesting to look first at the guys who were in their third year last year and then at the guys who are entering their third year this year.  AJ has said some players are on notice, and I think he is primarily referring to guys in these groups. 

So let's get started...

This is the list of Chargers whose first year in the NFL was 2006.  They may have been on the practice squad for a year so they may not all show up with three official years of NFL experience, but they are all entering their 4th year in the league.  Here are the names and a short discussion.

Player Position Drafted Notes
Cromartie, Antonio CB 1st First player and already the weakness in the third year judgment is revealed.  Cromartie was coming off an injury in college during his first year and played through a broken hip last year.  Was last year really his third year or do we give him an extra year because of his injury his rookie year?  And how can you evaluate someone who played with a broken hip last year?  The jury is still out on Cro, but I think he will be more like the 2007 Cro than the 2008 Cro.
Clary, Jeromey T 6th When I look back on Clary from last year, I see a guy who played very well against 75% of the teams we faced.  But he was exposed against the upper echelon rushers.  I think the third year judgment here works out fine.  I think Clary will be an above average right tackle, but never much more.  He is going to need help against the upper echelon guys.  Getting some stronger guard play will help him out as well.
Dobbins, Tim ILB 5th What did we learn about Dobbins from last year.  Solid against the run, weak against the pass, stud on special teams.  I think that is Dobbins role.  That is what we can expect.  He isn't going to ever be a starter without injuries happening.  I think he is Carlos Polk++
Gordon, Cletis CB UDFA Cletis got some sporadic time on defense in nickel and dime packages when there were some injuries.  He was pretty good on special teams.  I think this is his ceiling.  Not a whole lot of use hoping for more.
Gregory, Steve DB-S UDFA see Cletis Gordon.
McNeill, Marcus T 2nd Some people don't listen to the third year judgment theory.  Marcus started his first year and played at a pro bowl level.  He has gone down hill since then, but has some injury excuses.  At some point yearly injury excuses become an injury prone label, and McNeil is close to that.  So his third year doesn't help us at all... we need a fourth to figure him out.
Whitehurst, Charlie QB 3rd No one holds a clipboard and wears a baseball cap quite like Chuck.  I think we can expect the same high level of suave and smooth sideline demeanor for years to come.

 I think the third year judgment rule worked pretty well last year.  The only exceptions are Cro and McNeil and both of them get a break because they have made pro bowl trips in their first three years and have injury excuses...

All right, let's look at the guys who we can expect to figure out this year.  These guys saw their first NFL contract in 2007.

Player Position Drafted Notes
Davis, Buster WR 1st OK, we haven't seen a lot from Buster over his first two years. He has had some injury problems, but hasn't shown enough over the last few years to justify any sort of hope.  Outside of three plays in the KC game last year, I'm not even sure he saw the field.  He doesn't contribute a whole lot on special teams.  This is definitely an important year for him, when AJ says some people are on notice, he means Buster is on notice.  Unfortunately, he is 4th or 5th on the depth chart without any obvious path ahead. 
Naanee, Legedu WR 5th Legedu has shown some flashes.  Even in his first year when they couldn't figure out if he was a WR, TE, or H-Back, he still made a few plays that made him stand out.  Because he was a 5th roundpick, there is less pressure on him to really stand out than there is on Buster.  I hope Legedu looks this year like Floyd looked last year: 20-30 catches with some more consistent flashes.
Oliver, Paul DB 4th (Supplemental) Is he a safety or corner?  He has the speed of a safety and the size of a corner, which is not exactly what you want.  I think we figure out this year if Oliver is ever going to challenge for a starting job, if he can be an impact nickel or dime guy, or if he will simply be a special teams/injury replacement guy who fills out the bottom of the roster.
Siler, Brandon LB 7th Special teams stud and short yardage linebacker?  Or maybe something more?  This year we find out. 
Tucker, Jyles OLB UDFA Tucker is kind of an anomaly on this list.  He played half a season his rookie year and made a big impact, got a nice fat contract in the off-season.  Last year started in place of Merriman and played OK, played very well for a second year UDFA, not so well when you compare him to Merriman.  I think he came along so fast that we lose sight of the fact that he is only entering into his third year.  This is the year where he can show he was worth the faith AJ had in him, or he can find himself on notice.
Weddle, Eric FS 2nd Similar to Jyles Tucker, Weddle has had a lot thrust onto him early in his career.  Entering into his third year, we will see if he makes great strides or not.  I think a full summer absorbing Rivera's defensive tweaks will help, as will the defense's commitment to pressure.

If I had to guess, I think Weddle will make the biggest jump.  Not just because he starts to figure things out, but also because we are going to get significantly better pressure this year, and that always makes ball hawking safeties look good.  I think Tucker and Buster have the deck stacked against them a bit since they both are at relatively stacked positions and might not see the field enough to prove themselves, plus they both are playing under more of a microscope than others at their positions.