Sometimes great football players are as important for what they do for the team in the locker room as well as what they on the field during practice or in a game.
As the San Diego Chargers go through training camp and try to rebound from two consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs, free safety Eric Weddle is a perfect example of the quintessential team leader.
Weddle—who signed a five-year, 40 million dollar contract in 2011–enters the 2012 season coming off a Pro Bowl campaign that saw him get 88 tackles and pick off seven opposition passes. (The former Utah Ute had six career INT’s going into the 2011 season). He’s been an All Pro twice—2010 and 2011—and has earned the respect of opposing quarterbacks, as they try to avoid his side of the field whenever they can. He’s also excellent on run support. And Weddle is also extremely well thought of by his teammates, something he takes pride in.
“You’re always trying to earn the respect of your opponents, but it’s even more important to have the respect of the guys in that room,” said Weddle, pointing toward the locker room at the Chargers’ Football Facility. “You’re with them every day almost for the entire year, and it means a lot to know they respect what you do and what you have to bring to the table in all areas of the game.”
Which will be extremely important to a Chargers team that has a new defensive coordinator in John Pagano, and a lot of new faces on defense. Weddle will be counted on not only to do his usual great job during games, he’ll also be the player Pagano and head coach Norv Turner look at to help an important newcomer adjust to playing in a secondary with three Charger lifers—Weddle and cornerback Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason
Atari Bigby is the latest to try and fill the strong safety position, a trouble spot for the Bolts since Rodney Harrison left nearly a decade ago. Bigby was highly regarded as a rookie in Green Bay until injuries sent his career spiraling downward. Sent packing after six seasons, he spent last year in Seattle, before signing with the Chargers as a free agent. Weddle is extremely high on his new teammate, who will battle Brandon Taylor for the starting job.
“The dude can play,” Weddle told ProFootballTalk.com in June. “He’s been impressive to me by how he carries himself and the way he works. He’s a lot like me, only a little bigger. He’s very knowledgeable and understands the role of each player in the secondary. That’s why I think we’re going to have a solid working relationship.”
Weddle loves the fact that the coaches are looking to him to lead the way for in a year of transition for San Diego.
“It’s certainly not just me,” said the six-year veteran, “we’ve got Quentin (Jammer) and Antoine (Cason) and a lot of other great players on defense. We all have to do our parts to make sure what happened the last two years doesn’t happen again. I’ll always do whatever I can on and off the field to help this team get to our ultimate goal—winning a championship. We’re too good of a team to miss the playoffs for a third straight season, but everyone on both sides of the ball has to play with energy and play hard every practice and every game.”
While Chargers’ President Dean Spanos initiated and O.K.’d numerous organizational moves to help the team try to break into the elite status once again, keeping Turner as head coach was one of the most controversial.
Turner is one of the brightest offensive minds in the games, and is extremely well-liked by the players who’ve played for him. But after five years leading a talented Charger squad, there’s no Super Bowl trophy in the Spanos’ trophy case, and many critics feel the team has actually regressed in the past few years, with the blame put squarely on Turner. Most of the players—including Weddle—are fiercely protective of their head coach.
“We wanted him to lead us,” Weddle said firmly. “We’ve got to go out and win it for him and show Dean that he made the right decision. We’re excited to keep (Norv) here and keep the continuity.
“We know that it’s on us. So we have to improve not only for the coaches but for us as players. We’re here and we want to win. That’s the bottom line.”