Chargers looking for a hawk in the secondary

Free safety is a spot the San Diego Chargers are taking a serious look at. The thinking is Jerry Wilson, an unrestricted free agent, may not be back. Free agency offers some options but the Bolts talked to one player who would fill the role while at the Senior Bowl.

Right now, the Chargers enter the offseason with Clinton Hart atop the depth chart. Considering he never played college football, Hart has a tremendous amount of upside and showed well during the 2004 season for San Diego.

That does not mean they are set at free safety, however. The Bolts are always open to competition and bringing in another player who can patrol the backline is the way to go.

It is easy to find a safety that can play in the box and support the run but finding a player who can contribute with over the top help isn't so simple. Complex schemes and knowledge of responsibility are critical factors in finding a free safety. It seems every team is looking.

With receivers getting bigger and stronger by the day, a ball-hawking free safety is what teams crave. Forget the guy who delivers the hit – a player who can compensate for deficiencies of the cornerbacks and make sure the deep ball is never completed is sounding awfully nice after the crackdown on touching beyond five yards.

Two-time semifinalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, annually given to the nation's top defensive back, James Butler fits the bill with his seven interceptions over the last two years. Five of the interceptions came as a junior and he added 119 tackles that year. As a senior, Butler had two interceptions, 91 tackles and a blocked field goal.

Butler's name was circled by a member of the Chargers coaching department and the coach spent time detailing his game, paying attention to his work habits and backpedal. The Bolts later spoke with Butler to further evaluate the man.

As the only senior starter on the Georgia Tech defense, Butler started on the bottom rung of the ladder. He was just a part-time player prior to his junior year. Despite only starting for two years, he ranks sixth in Tech history for most tackles by a defensive back with 234.

For all his tackles, Butler feels he is at his best when roaming the field and locating the ball in the air.

"I feel I am an all-around player," Butler said. "I do well in space. I prefer free because I do better in the open space. It is speed and also a mindset. Know where you have to be. When your mind is in place, that will put your feet in place. I can get in the box too."

Senior Bowl week was one of progression for Butler. He started off slow during the week and improved each day along the way.

It may have been the different style of defense that Tampa employs. Asking a defensive back to understand the nuances of a new scheme could be a difficult prospect to learn in a week.

"There is different styles," Butler explained of Senior Bowl week. "(Tampa) is more aggressive getting to the ball and I learned a lot about playing in middle, how to play the whole field. The coaches have taught me different techniques that will help me out more."

A former State Champion triple-jumper and high school punter, Butler brings athleticism and smarts to the game. He is an avid film studier that has earned praise from the Yellowjacket coaching staff.

His work on the football field also translated to the classroom. He was a member of the All-Academic team in 2003. He knows how important it is to work hard everyday of the week. So when Senior Bowl week came, he wanted to prove he works just as hard as practice as in the game.

"Going out there and hustling," Butler said of his attitude for his week in Mobile. "That is mainly what scouts were looking for – go out there and play hard on every play."

Much like Hart who was not a typical four year starter, scouts believe Butler is a player with upside. More importantly, scouts and coaches believe Butler will put in the time to become the complete man hiding within his body.

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