We talk to the shifty wideout about his first training camp in So Cal, the differences between Philip Rivers and Eli Manning and his plans to make an impact for the Chargers.
Starting out as an undrafted free agent on the New York Giants’ practice squad, Dan DePalma scrapped every day for a team that eventually became Super Bowl champs. DePalma did not play in the Big Game. Nonetheless, his Super Bowl ring represents the hard work it takes to reach that level.
DePalma enters his third training camp but his first with his new team. He faces a logjam at his position: The Chargers are fully committed to Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown, and Keenan Allen. Eddie Royal may be having the best camp of anyone and Robert Meachem is guaranteed $5 million in 2013.
But that hasn’t phased DePalma, who has been having a strong camp in his own right. DePalma talks of how to be an impact player, his friendship with Victor Cruz, and what he needs to do to make the 53-man roster in this exclusive interview.
Brian Ducoffe: You were with the Giants during your first year in the NFL. What was it like to win a Super Bowl while being on the practice squad?
Dan DePalma: It was amazing. It’s everything you dream about — it’s the whole reason you play the game. Just to go out there and be the best. To experience that, especially in my first year and see what it takes to not only play in the NFL but be successful at it and win a championship is really eye-opening. A great experience.
BD: Eli Manning and Philip Rivers will forever be connected in San Diego. What’s been the biggest difference about catching from Rivers versus Manning?
DD: I don’t think there are many differences. They’re both very smart and very talented quarterbacks. As far as offensive scheme goes, they’re both very intelligent when it comes to checking the play, reading defenses, and I think that’s why they’re similar and why we’re going to be successful this year. It’s what I’ve noticed about Phil, when he’s out there he knows exactly what’s going on. He can read the defense very well and change the play when he needs to. It’s something I remember Eli did and I can tell Phil’s doing that — I don’t know if he did it last year, but it puts a lot of confidence in the receiver to know that he knows what’s going on so we can go out there and play our best cause he’ll get us the ball.
BD: Danario Alexander is a guy who also went undrafted and spent a couple seasons waiting before he found success with the Chargers. Has he been able to help you this camp?
DD: Not so much about the experiences and stuff off the field. That kind of stuff we can’t really control so we just worry about what we can on the field. So I’m trying to learn as much as I can from him. As a small receiver, him getting his releases as a bigger guy makes it a little bit easier. So as a littler guy, I’m trying to learn what I can from him as well as the other receivers to make my game as best I can so I can have that breakout season just like he did.
BD: You’ve been making an impact at camp so far. Is that becoming increasingly more difficult as camp goes on, or easier?
DD: It’s still a new offense. That’s what practice is for, to get better. You learn something new every day and we make mistakes. We go into the film room and we have to correct them. I would never say it gets much easier because the defense is always trying to scheme against you, so it just becomes kind of easier to try and read things, then through that you can learn a lot. And when you’re learning, you start to pick up a little more and it gets a little bit more comfortable. But it doesn’t really get easier.
BD: Can you accurately judge yourself before the first preseason game?
DD: I don’t really think about it that way. I assess myself individually, not as far as whether I’m going to make it or not. I just come out to practice as if each play is my last and give it all I got. Through that I try to determine whether I think I did a good job that day. Everything else is out of my control. So as far as I’m concerned, I come out and give it my all every day and that’s the best I can hope for.
BD: You’ve spent two years now on the practice squad. Now in your third season, what does it take to make the 53-man roster?
DD: You have to be an impact player. You have to know what you’re doing on the field. Be able to play offense at a skilled position, as well as special teams. Special teams is a huge part of this game and with only 53 spots, sometimes teams have their set two or three receivers, so you’ve got to make that impact on special teams. My goal is to show them I can play offense and if they need me I can step it up. I’ve got to do my other job, though, on special teams. That’s how I play on Sundays.
BD: What goals did you set for yourself going into camp? Did you see this as a chance to get some good tape out there, or hope to find a spot on special teams?
DD: No, my goal is to be a starter. Every time I come out here and play, whether it’s on special teams or on offense, I want to give it my all. I want to go in the film room and study whether it’s punt or first-team offense. I want to treat it the same. My goal for myself is to stay here. I don’t want to put film out there for other teams — my goal is to stay here and learn this offense. I love it here. It’s a great system, great set of coaches and players and I plan on staying and just give it all I can to stay.
BD: What’s it been like working on special teams with Kevin Spencer? You’re both new to the Chargers, is that helpful?
DD: He’s great. Very technique oriented. He shows you exactly what to do, how to do it, and puts you in the right spots to make the plays. After that it’s all up to you. I really like the way he coaches. He puts you where you need to be and after that you have to be a player.
BD: It helps to be 6-foot-5 like Malcom Floyd, but when you’re under 6 foot, how do you have to play your position to gain an advantage?
DD: I try to turn it into an advantage. There’s different spots and different receivers on the field. When I’m in the slot, that’s where smaller guys are usually most comfortable. Not only am I fast, I can be quick. So when I’m in the slot I try to use that shifty ability to cause separation. When the defense brings pressure or when something doesn’t look right, that little bit of separation makes all the world. The quarterbacks will trust that you can get that when they throw you the ball. That’s usually how most of the slots make a living these days, just by getting that little bit of separation and when something doesn’t go right get it out quick. And as the slot, you’ve got to be able to trust that guy.
BD: Every year there’s that undrafted wide receiver everybody falls in love with but is never be heard from again after Week 1. How do you avoid that from happening?
DD: Just pushing every day. I spent a couple years behind Victor Cruz, an undrafted free agent who came out and exploded. I still talk to him back at home. I work out with him and get a lot of feedback from him when we try to teach each other stuff. I try to learn as much as I can from him as well as the guys here on how to stay at the top, to be the best that I can and keep getting better.