Pass rush top priority

In a sport defined by trends and turnover, one thing will always be true: everybody needs a player who can get after the quarterback. This is especially true for the Chargers, who return the NFL's second worst pass defense, with only Bhawoh Jue to show for their revamping efforts.

Enter Justin Tuck, a pass rushing force from Notre Dame who is about to burst onto the NFL scene and become the instant cure-all for one defensively ailing coach.

If Tuck adjusts to the pro game as well as he did to the collegiate one, then the NFL no doubt has a star in the making. Tuck came to Notre Dame as an undersized outside linebacker and left as a dominant force at defensive end.

"I came in 212," said Tuck of his playing weight when he first got to Notre Dame. "I came in a basketball star. I came in at about 212 lbs. playing outside linebacker. Before the off-season was over I was around 245 and they moved me to D-end. I kind of got bigger, faster, more explosive, stronger ever since."

Just as his weight and production soared, so has his draft stock. After hearing back from the NFL evaluation board regarding his draft prospects, his decision to leave school became an easy one, despite having one more year of remaining eligibility.

"Late first or early second," said Tuck when asked about where he was projected to be taken. "That had a huge bearing on it."

Now all that Tuck can do is wait and deal with the uncertainties that have accumulated in front of him prior to the draft. Not only does he not know which team will draft him, but he does not even know what position he will play once he is drafted. Most teams that run a 4-3 defense view him as an end, while most teams using the 3-4 see him as an outside linebacker.

"I would definitely rather play 4-3 down," admitted Tuck, "but I'm versatile. I can play both."

Despite his preference, Tuck is open to playing any position. He is more concerned about making an impact, regardless of which position he makes it from. This is important for the Chargers, who would like to use him as an outside linebacker. Lined up opposite of Steve Foley, he would give Eli Manning a whole new reason for wanting to avoid coming to San Diego this season.

"I'm versatile," boasted Tuck. "I've played linebacker and I've played it sometimes this year in different packages we have. Either way I'm going to be a steal of this draft."

As he waits to embark on his professional career, he has kept in touch with Adalius Thomas, an outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens who is an old friend of Tuck's. Thomas has been giving the youngster advice on how to endure the pre-draft process.

"He told me to enjoy it," said Tuck of Thomas' advice for the upcoming weeks. "A lot of people go through it and are stressed out and don't perform. Just be relaxed, enjoy it and have fun."

Only the team that drafts Tuck will be able to enjoy his performance on this field this season. The Chargers would love to be that team, and their second pick in round one seems like an ideal spot for this big-time pass-rusher to go. The Chargers registered the third fewest sacks in the league last season, and their youthful secondary was often exposed. The selection of Tuck could nullify both of those problems. For the Chargers, nothing would be more fun than that.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@sandiegosports.net


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