So the Chargers said good-bye to Ryan McNeil. Man, this is a cutthroat business. Most, never saw this one coming. At least not this soon -- after only the 1st preseason game. One could also make the argument that the move was made late. Why not release him upon the signing of Kwamie Lassiter? You know, save the time of teaching a savvy veteran a new position, hey, that's more reps for Kwamie and the young guys.
Give the Chargers credit for not doing that, too many what ifs. What if Kwamie were to go down? What if the young speedsters don't develop quickly enough?
Also give the Chargers credit for doing it after the 1st preseason game instead of the 3rd or 4th. Now Ryan will have a better chance to sign elsewhere. Let's just hope it's not with a rival from the beloved AFC WEST. Think Ryan would hesitate to give tendencies of the Chargers offense to his new AFC WEST squad? Me either. Can't blame him though, he wants a ring just as bad as the next guy.
Only after getting over the initial shock of the move is it easier to step back and ponder it.
In all likelihood, had Terence Kiel not been unfortunately shot, Ryan would have been in a battle for the backup FS position with Jerry Wilson. Kwamie Lassiter was not signed to sit the bench. Having zero experience as an NFL free safety already had Ryan at a disadvantage.
Terence Kiel was injured and plans changed. Kwamie Lassiter was moved to strong safety (he does have some experience there) and Ryan McNeil was moved to free safety. The Chargers let it be known that they want speed in the defensive backfield. With those two manning the safety positions, the speed wasn't there, as that is not the name of their game. Did that opening drive in the first preseason game have anything to do with that?
With the solid, yet unspectacular play of SS Vernon Fox and surprising performance of rookie 6th round draft choice Hanik Milligan, Ryan had an even steeper hill to climb. Maybe plans didn't change. Maybe the Chargers knew all along that Lassiter would eventually be the starter at free safety while Fox tries to fend off Terence Kiel.
Perhaps it came down to that initial battle of Ryan McNeil vs. Jerry Wilson for the back up free safety spot. For the record Jerry Wilson is a little younger, a little faster, and a little more experienced at the safety position. Jerry has played very well in camp, but with so much attention paid to the young guys, you never hear about him. A former cornerback, Jerry saw lots of action with the Miami Dolphins as their nickel back. Last season with the Chargers, he saw time as a third safety in nickel situations. He can hold his own out there.
So here we are, Kwamie Lassiter is the starting free safety. Jerry Wilson is his back up.
Vernon Fox is the starting strong safety. Hanik Milligan is his back up. Terrence Kiel is itching to get back, so Vernon will be feeling the heat.
If the Chargers keep 5 safeties on the roster, that looks to be them. Two veterans at free safety with three talented youngsters at strong safety. Kiel, Milligan, and maybe even Fox have potential as free safeties, making this a versatile group.
What's done is done. Ryan McNeil is no longer a San Diego Charger and it remains to be seen how the team will replace his veteran presence and leadership. He did a lot in his short time with the Chargers. I can't remember ever hearing something bad said about the guy. When asked to switch positions for the good of the team, he did it willingly. When asked to restructure his contract for the good of the team, he did it. Damn, this is a cutthroat business.
Will Mortensen can be reached at email@example.com
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