Chargers camp battle: Starting cornerback

The Battle: In the 2003 draft, the Chargers decided to fortify their leaky secondary by selecting cornerbacks Sammy Davis and Drayton Florence with their first two picks. Less than two years after choosing those two, the Chargers must now choose between them when it comes time to anoint the starting cornerback to play opposite Quentin Jammer.

The Competitors:

Sammy Davis

Davis is a finesse player who utilizes excellent technique and keen instincts to thrive. He finished his career at Texas A&M with eleven interceptions, and was able to use his speed and athleticism to maintain consistently tight coverage. While his pure cover skills are what made him a first-round pick, he is a willing tackler and is by no means a liability in run defense.

"I am really trying to work on my technique each week and trying to stay consistent," said Davis.

Davis is slightly undersized, standing six feet tall and weighing 195 lbs. His relative lack of bulk has left him prone to a series of nagging injuries, which is something that has prevented him from becoming entrenched in the starting lineup. Still, he had earned a starting spot by opening day of his rookie year, and was a starter last year until injuries opened the door for his competition.

Drayton Florence

When the Chargers drafted Drayton Florence out of Tuskegee University, they knew it would take time for him to get acclimated to playing against such a higher level of competition. After looking lost for much of his rookie season, Florence finally came on strong last year, leading the team with four interceptions. His biggest play, however, was tipping a pass intended for Rod Smith in a late-season game against Denver, which resulted in an interception by Jerry Wilson. That should be remembered as the play that won the Chargers the division title.

"I just gave him a little pressure on the line and I read his eyes. I didn't even see Jerry Wilson but he happened to be in the right place at the right time," Florence said, recalling the play. "I knew they would be going at me all week. I would go after a second string corner also. I used that as motivation and stepped up and made plays when I needed to."

Florence is a bit of a gambler, and while that can lead to big plays it also results in him getting caught out of position from time to time. He seems to enjoy playing off his man just enough to tempt opposing quarterbacks to throw in his direction. He also has the versatility to return kick offs.

Who Should Win:

No matter who wins this competition, both players will be counted on to play a lot. As both are entering their third seasons, more will be asked of them, and the bar will be raised that much higher.

That being said, it appears Florence has the edge on the starting position. That would mean a decreased role for Davis, which should help keep him healthy for an entire season. Also, Florence provides an excellent complement to Jammer. Since Jammer needs to be on the field due to his physical presence and tight coverage, the team would like to have someone opposite him who can make a play on the ball.

"I thought Sammy Davis stepped up and I thought Drayton Florence did a nice job as well," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said of the situation that put Davis on the bench and Florence in the starting role. "You are always pleased to see the young man who may have lost the ability to start bounce back. That position, you have to have that ability to rebound from adversity."

Who Will Win:

All indications are that Florence will win the post. Although Davis is the more disciplined player, Florence just has too much upside. If the team's pass rush improves as expected, Florence may be able to make a Pro Bowl push in just his third season. Still, Davis appears set for a big year too. For the first time in his career he has the experience necessary to excel, and the health necessary to capitalize on it. He may be in store for a big season as well.

The Bottom Line:

The Chargers have terrific talent in the secondary. Of course, that was true last year as well, and the team ranked 31st in the league in pass defense. Now Davis is healthy, Florence is more NFL-savvy, and Jammer even underwent surgery to improve his vision. If there was ever a time for this underachieving unit to step up and start shutting people down, it would appear to be now.

"We have the talent," said Florence. "We have the coaching. When we go out and do it every week it gets even better."

Michael Lombardo can be reached at

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