Chargers on the Ball with Fifth Round Draft Pick

While many have criticized the San Diego Chargers roster moves this off-season, there has been an undeniable theme involved in all of general manager A.J. Smith's personnel decisions. The team has gone out and pursued blue collar players with outstanding work ethics, as opposed bringing in the big money all-stars that have ravaged the teams salary cap and demolished team chemistry in recent seasons.

With this type of lunch-pail-player in mind, AJ Smith drafted defensive end Dave Ball out of UCLA with the first of the team's two fifth round selections.

"I am willing to contribute in any way possible," says Ball. "I mean if I have to run out and grab the tee after kickoffs then that's what I'll do."

Ball will be expected to provide valuable snaps from the right defensive end position. And while this will be his first season working from a 3-4 defensive alignment, he believes his particular skill set transfers well into the new system. But while he remains confident in his ability to contribute to the team, he realizes it will take lots of hard work to fully prepare his game for the pro level.

"Yeah, it's my first time working in a 3-4," says Ball. "I think I just need to work on stuffing the run. I think I bring a lot of pass rush ability to the 3-4, so working on defending the run is the main thing."

Although he is playing in an unfamiliar defensive scheme, he will at least play alongside someone with a familiar collegiate pedigree. Pro Bowl linebacker Donnie Edwards attended UCLA, just as Ball did.

"I was kind of surprised," admits Ball. "It took like two weeks for him to even talk to me. But I guess that's the way it is with all of us pesky rookies. He's going back there (to UCLA) this weekend and asked me if I wanted to go with him."

Ball also commented on Edwards' status as a veteran leader of the defense.

"Leader is a more general category," says Ball in regards to Edwards less vocal leadership style. "Donnie is a guy who is an established veteran who goes out and makes a lot of plays for the team."

Aside from Edwards, Ball has also been interacting with his fellow defensive lineman. He says they have already warned him in regards to his first exposure to Camp Marty. "I've just talked with some of the other defensive lineman," he continues, "and they just told me that camp will be really hard."

However, the pressures of training camp are not the only ones Chargers defenders are preparing to face. The defense also must worry about possibly having to carry the team early this season as the offense could potentially be starting rookies at both the quarterback (Philip Rivers) and center (Nick Hardwick) positions. Also, the team as a whole realizes that another losing season could mean the end of Coach Schottenheimer's illustrious career. However, as an incoming rookie Ball has more important things to worry about, thereby allowing him to be virtually unaffected by these possible distractions.

"It's different because this is my first year here," concedes Ball. "The only real pressure on me is to perform. As I rookie I pretty much just sit back and listen. It would be different if I were an established veteran as opposed to a rookie trying to make the team."

So while his main focus heading into training camp may be on improving his game and helping the defense to regain its dominant form of years past, Ball understands why he was drafted by the team in the first place.

"The Chargers just needed more defensive ends," says Ball. "They probably just wanted some depth at the position."

Now with the drafting of both Ball and draft classmate Igor Olshansky, the healthy return of Adrian Dingle, and the switch to defensive end being made by pass rush specialist DeQuincy Scott, depth at the end position is one thing the Chargers need not worry about. This improved depth across not only the defensive line but defense as a whole has led to an improved attitude and confidence for the defense, something that was the talk of the team's recently completed mini-camp.

"As far as setting attitudes," Ball allows, "I don't really know because this is my first year in this defense."

However, the early results from this off-season indicate a new attitude has been set. Veteran additions such as Randall Godfrey, Steve Foley and Jamar Fletcher have led the charge, allowing for an easier transition for rookie defenders such as Ball, Olshansky and Shaun Phillips.

Fortunately for Chargers fans, the defense is not the only unit making strides. While the Chargers' offensive line has been bashed repeatedly by the media, Ball sees a lot of good coming from the much maligned unit.

"The have looked really good to me," says Ball. "I just work against Leander Jordan and Roman Oben and they have looked real good. I think the offensive line will be very solid."

So while the team is enjoying a brief summer vacation before training camp commences on July 30th, Ball is busy working out as he prepares himself for the season. He has set goals both for himself and for the team.

Ball says that what it will take in order to make this season a success for him personally is to just, "play in every game."

However, his goal for the team is a bit loftier.

"To win the Super Bowl," says Ball of his ambitions for the team. "That's every team's goal really."

Other than a Super Bowl victory, there is just one more thing Ball would like to possess. That is the right to choose who his first career sack would come against. Because if he could choose, he knows who he would love to put that hit on.

"Eli Manning," says Ball excitedly. "He kind of disrespected everybody in the organization, so I think it would be fun to take him down."

With the 133rd pick in the NFL Draft, AJ Smith liked what he saw in David Ball. And after talking with him, I believe I speak on behalf of Chargers fans everywhere when I say we like what we hear as well.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@sandiegosports.net

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