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Hard Wonks Part 1 - Defensive Backs

Antoine Cason is ready for his closeup, Mr. DeMille.
Antoine Cason is ready for his closeup, Mr. DeMille.

Hard Wonks is my reality show about Chargers Training Camp. Today's modern internet traveler has got to be bored with the same old positional breakdown pieces that come every summer. However, the only thing you can really talk about during that time are the position battles, the hold outs, the potential cuts and why the team is over or underrated. As resident General Manager I feel obligated to cover the same material, but that doesn't mean I need the pieces to be a cliche. I'm going to try to think like an HBO producer and go for the most drama. I'll see if I can put some spin on what training camp has to offer.

My first focus needs to go after those same camp battles that everyone talks about because that where stuff gets real. Three positional groups come to mind and they all have distinct similarities. First, they've all had a former Pro Bowl player leave or hold out. Second, and this kind of goes along with the first, they all have openings at key positions. Third, we have too many of them with decent chances of making the roster. The first point is what shines the spotlight in its direction. The second point makes the these position groups mean something once the season start. And the third point brings what we all want to hear about in training camp: Drama.

Today we focus on the drama of the Defensive Backs.

The Setup

The modern NFL defensive backfield relies on 6 key positions. The left and right corner back take on the prima donna wide receivers and keep their antics to a minimum. The two safety spots can alternate between punishing running backs and patrolling deep to prevent ridiculous touch down dances. With each pass-happier year in the NFL the Nickel Back and Dime Back positions have become more important in keeping Quarterbacks from dinking and dunking defenses to death. Journeymen and rookies then compete for the backup roles and hone their craft solidifying the special teams units.

The Departed

Antonio Cromartie: We'll get some shots of him on draft day holding a Chargers jersey as a way to show he was a first round pick. Follow that up with a montage of some crazy interceptions and run backs while talking about how his play early on dazzled Chargers fans and earned him a Pro Bowl bid. Segue into his inconsistent play in 2008 and 2009 and show the missed tackle in the playoff game versus the Jets. Finally, a shot of him in Jets training camp miked up so you can hear him running hard and then picking off a pass intended for Santonio Holmes or Jerricho Cotchery. The final words will cover the trade and mention that it opens up a starting spot at cornerback.

Kevin Ellison: Footage here will include a shot of Clinton Hart not cutting the mustard to show how Ellison got to be starter. Follow that with his rookie year highlights with the narrator saying it was a pleasant surprise. Finally, we'll need a scene of cop cars with lights flashing. It's easy enough to blame the Chargers cutting him on that arrest.

The Returning Champs

Quentin Jammer: Narrator can call him the grizzled veteran of the Chargers secondary. We can talk about how long he's been here and how good he's been. We'll even throw in that maybe he should have made a Pro Bowl or two by now. During footage of him talking to youngsters the tone will be about how he's the mentor for this group and what they should aspire to achieve to.

Eric Weddle: We definitely need a quality highlight package here since Weddle makes his fair share of plays in the secondary. The about him for 2010 will be that he's a guaranteed starter in the secondary, but will still need to step his game up in 2010 because he's playing for a contract.

Moving up:

Antoine Cason: This is one of the stars of the show. We can parallel him to Antonio Cromartie. Similar footage of the draft day jersey wearing as Cromartie and show how he made dazzling plays at the University of Arizona. However, that takes a twist when it transitions to the fact that he's yet to produce for the Chargers. Unlike Cromartie the first opportunity Cason got to play a key role came in his second year and he couldn't hang on to the job. I'm thinking we get a lot of close up shots of him after making some mistakes in practice, but mix it with him making some quality plays and the coaches giving him encouragement.

Veteran Insurance:

Nathan Vasher: Since his career has been solely with the Bears will need some film from those days. It'd be good if there's some sideline shots of him with Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera in those Bears days to help show that they two worked together before. Maybe mention his relationship with Jammer and elude that both relationships could give him a leg up when earning the job. We'll need a way to mention how injuries are the one thing slowing down his career.

Donald Strickland: His profile opens with a montage of his different teams. We'll talk about how he's not exactly the best guy for the starting corner job, but that his veteran wiles make him a good candidate for the nickelback spot.

Hanging on: 

Steve Gregory: This is our working class hero. He's every man's every man. Focus his highlight on plays that show him working extra hard to get the job done. Talk about how many say he earned that nickelback spot last year more than Cason lost it. He could be on the bubble with this team so his story is important and we want all the emotions that go with it.

Paul Oliver: This guy's story will focus on his odd journey so far. He was drafted in the supplemental draft. He missed his rookie season. He moved from CB to S. He got a lot of snaps last year at safety, but Kevin Ellison was the guy whose name was in the starting lineup. The other spin on his 2010 training camp is that some might see it the starting safety spot as his to lose. If Ellison had gotten hurt last year he'd have been the guy. So what's changed? Yet, he still might get cut.

C.J. Spillman: The focus here will be on his special teams skills and big hitting ability. It'd be good to get him talking about starting this year and contrast it with the narrator saying that his niche is probably limited to being a backup and a special teamer.

Dante Hughes: I'm not envision a lot of screen time here. Not even a highlight package. We'll just mention how he was a Colt for a couple of years and came in last year as an emergency replacement. Just enough to know who he is when cuts are made.

Brandon Hughes: There's nothing to show here. He'll get a mention about his missed 2009 season as a 5th round pick when he either gets cut or makes the team.

Rookie Reinforcements:

Darrell Stuckey: We can parallel Darrell Stuckey the Chargers 2010 4th round pick to Louis Vazquez, their 2009 3rd round pick. We can show his playmaking and leadership ability at Kansas and point out how Vazquez also came from the Big 12 and was able to earn a spot as a rookie. Stuckey will be a big piece of this story just like Cason and Gregory. Footage of him in the film room, working with coaches and making progress throughout camp will be needed.

Traye Simmons: At some point we'll have a segment about potential practice squad guys. If Simmons looks good in camp the story can make it seem like he has a shot at the roster. That way we'll get one of three things: A good moment when he does, the mixed emotions of a practice squad invite or the disappointment of being cut.

My Preseason Favorites:

With my reality show producer's hat off and my GM hat back on, here's who I have making the team. Who do you have?

CBs: Jammer and Cason

Safeties: Weddle and Stuckey

Nickel and Dime Backs: Strickland and Gregory

Backups: Vasher and Spillman

Practice Squad: Traye Simmons