The Practice Squad

Well over thirty players will be cut by the San Diego Chargers this coming season and five members will be allocated to the practice squad. One of the keys to the practice squad is keeping players there that can help the big club on a moments notice and also stay with the team. It does not do much good to allocate a player who will be snatched up by another team. Therefore, much thought goes into picking the squad.

"Any player under contract to a Club as a practice squad player shall be completely free to negotiate and sign a Player Contract with any Club at any time during the League Year, to serve as a player on any Club's Active or Inactive List, and any Club is completely free to negotiate and sign such a Player Contract with such player, without penalty or restriction, including, but not limited to, Draft Choice Compensation between Clubs or First Refusal Rights of any kind, or any signing period, except that such player shall not be permitted to sign a Player Contract with another Club to serve as a practice squad player while under contract as a practice squad player."

Essentially this means, another team may take any player on a practice squad as long as that team places the player on their active roster for the season. A team can still choose not to activate the signed player for games, but must keep him on the roster or cut him. Then another team can sign him for their practice squad.

Thems the rules.

So when the Chargers put together their practice squad for the coming season they will look at a few different factors. One is who is worth the time and energy to develop. Another is who can they risk putting out there and not have to worry about another team snatching that player up?

It is a tenuous line and one that can be crossed often. For instance, would the Chargers risk putting a dynamic kick returner possibility in Brian Sump on the practice squad only to see a team like Miami, who they face later in the year on a Monday night, quickly pick him up to be their returner? Can you imagine him coming back to town and taking one to the house…in our house?

"The practice squad shall consist of the following players, provided that they have not served more than one previous season on a Practice Squad: (i) players who do not have an Accrued Season of NFL experience; and (ii) free agent players who were on the Active List for fewer than nine regular season games during their only Accrued Season(s). No player may be a practice squad player for more than two seasons."

"A player shall be deemed to have served on a Practice Squad in a season if he has passed the club's physical and has been a member of a club's Practice Squad for at least three regular season or post-season games (a bye week counts as a game provided that the player is not terminated until after the regular season or post-season weekend in question)."

Well that narrows down the list doesn't it? Actually no one should be affected if I read this right. I need to brush up on my law but it seems even Dondre Gilliam is available for this squad. Of course I am just a lowly writer and I could be wrong.

Consider one guy many have slated to join the practice squad, Antonio Gates. Gates has not played football for years, but camp proved he can use his basketball skills at driving to the hoop to create separation against a defender and he has shown good hands making grabs with regularity. Sure he needs to work on his blocking and he fits into the developmental role. The problem is he was well sought after in undrafted free agency and the Chargers won his services. Are they willing to put him out there and potentially let him go?

My answer is no. The reason is the Chargers got into a bidding war for him and ended up shelling out a roster bonus worth $100K. Not bad for an undrafted free agent.

So who is a candidate then?

Well it is insanely early but we will do our best to accommodate the early hype.

Considering the injury problems The Bolts had on the offensive and defensive line last year it should be safe to say the men in the trenches will nail down a few spots. We will give two to the offensive line and one to the defensive line. We will also need a wide receiver to man a spot since we seem to have so many good ones dotting the landscape. Lastly, you will have to wait for this surprise and the fifth spot…

On the offensive line there are a number of guys who were specifically scouted by Coach Hudson Houck. Considering the immense success he has had, we will give him the benefit of two spots. One guard and one tackle should do.

A surprise pick will man one spot. Although I have not seen a lot of action from him, he has the pedigree to be solid and has come from Hudson's coaching bloodlines. UNLV Coach John Robinson and Houck worked together for 16 years. Now Alex Tuttle gets the nod since he has been watching Houck tapes for the past few years at UNLV where Coach Rob Boras admits he is just the third man to work the line with Coach Robinson. Terrell has the teachings of Houck down and has some athleticism to warrant a spot further developing his game. Terrell is a true student of the game and admittedly learns things slower than other guys but he does not back down and will ask questions to the point of nausea. That and his strong character are traits worth developing.

Terrell allowed a total of seven sacks and 24 quarterback pressures over those four years at UNLV, and only allowed one sack during his senior campaign. He is worth some development.

At the tackle spot, there is a guy with such raw ability and a defensive lineman mentality that he deserves a nod. In fact as a senior in college, it was the first time he saw real action on the offensive line. In total he started just nine games at tackle. Dralinn Burks is a lineman you can work with and teach fundamentals to. He has the talent to be something more than just a developmental player and has shown flashes of that ability early in camp. I was surprised to see how agile he is. A few times during camp I have his name jotted down as someone who stood out.

Burks is the type of guy a developmental squad was made for. With so many recent successes coming from guys that moved from the defensive side of the ball to the offensive side, it only makes sense to take that nastiness and work with it – mold it into something special. He has played both sides of the line and gotten minimal work in at guard so his versatility may end up being a big plus as well should someone go down.

On the defensive line we will take a guy who moved out from a spot on the offense to man a defensive tackle position. His senior year in college was his first full time year as a lineman playing the tackle spot. His Coach hailed him as the MVP of his defense and he played with a severe ankle injury all season. In the offseason he had surgery to repair what turned out to be a ruptured tendon in his ankle. Sheesh. Imagine playing through that. Yet that is exactly what Kris Dielman did as a senior. Not wanting to come out he played through it.

Teams also looked at him as a possible tight end. That is the position he manned as a junior. Yet it is hard to deny the mentality he has playing in the middle and it is hard to imagine a 312-pound tight end.

Tom Criswell so eloquently said, "The young Kris Dielman looked good lined up next to Doug Sims on the 2nd team defense. He was making it rough on the O-lineman and he took on the RBs and closed the gaps quickly."

Consider he posted 55 tackles with 14 tackles for loss and 5 sacks as a senior. Although the numbers may not be gaudy, they are definitely worthy of another look and the only look will come as a member of the practice squad.

In the battle for the hotly contested wide receiver spot on the team some good talent is emerging. I still say a tall receiver has the fifth spot locked down. Would the Chargers throw another 6-3+ guy on the practice squad? Sure they would if it warranted consideration.

How can they not keep the one guy who has shown he can make plays and has been loyal to the Chargers organization? This is his third training camp and each time out he usually finds himself the last one on the field as he takes his usual extra receiver reps with whomever will throw the ball his way.

He is still eligible for the squad since he was cut in 2001 and only spent last season as a member of the unit. Dondre Gilliam has been solid yet again in camp and has fallen victim to a numbers game. Last year he got the shaft when Tamarick Vanover was signed and this is a guy who deserves better. He really does. Unfortunately he is not spectacular; he just goes about his job. Being a known commodity he may not offer the upside someone else does, but he knows the playbook and can sub in if he is needed. That cannot be taught.

The last position is kicker. Last year the Chargers held Bill LaFleur on the practice squad and he was eventually signed by the 49ers. This year a real developmental guy will man a spot. Mackenzie Hoambrecker will be that guy. I admit I have clamored for anyone but Steve Christie, but I am putting myself in the Chargers shoes this early in camp. Hoambrecker still has a shot at supplanting Christie as the real battle begins in preseason. But right now with Christie a no show at camp, Hoambrecker did not distance himself enough with the full squad on the field.

Had he lit it up early during special teams drills, he would be the front runner to take over field goal kicking duties. Instead they opt to save a roster spot while Hoambrecker further works on his mechanics in the hopes he can come up big.

Last season the real reason LaFleur was on the practice squad was as a precursor to taking over the punting duties this year. Yes, you heard that right. The Bolts had every intention of using LaFleur as their man. Instead they had to draft Mike Scifres this season because the 49ers snatched LaFleur.

Consider this move to be similar. Hoambrecker is here to take over as the kicker next season. Being old fashioned and intensely loyal, Coach Schottenheimer is not willing to give the role to this rookie. He will make sure that he learns this year. One wonders if he is just duplicating a mistake from a year ago. Could Hoambrecker be the next guy to join someone else's active roster?

Time will tell.

Tomorrow we kick off the interview season. Stay tuned for an interview with the Coach of Tony Terrell, a man picked here to make the practice squad.

I am off to Vegas for a week and when I come back I will have a ring around my throat. Or is it around my finger? I have heard that they are one and the same.

During my absence, the site will still run as smoothly as ever. Please be advised I will return next Wednesday and writers will be here to cover any news I miss, so no one will miss a beat. Many interviews are on tap (about five this coming week) and an Interview Schedule can be found on our premium boards at:

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Sympathy letters for Denis Savage on his upcoming marriage can be sent to or via the following link: Denis Savage

Praise can be sent as well, I will need something to lift my spirits upon my return.

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