Interview with Chargers CB Drayton Florence

After playing sparingly as a rookie, Drayton Florence emerged as a starting-caliber cornerback in his second season. He paced the entire secondary with four interceptions, and made plays that were both timely and crucial. His game-saving pass defense against the Broncos comes to mind, seeing as it essentially won the AFC West for the Bolts.

But while most would classify 2004 as a successful season for Drayton Florence, he himself knows there is much work left to do. Although the team was probably happy with his four interceptions (especially since he spent a good portion of the season in a reserve role), Florence expects more from himself this season.

"My goal is to get at least 10 interceptions," Florence said, "and I have to score on at least four of them by taking them back for touchdowns. As far as I'm concerned, they don't even really count unless you return them for a touchdown."

As Florence continues his quest for one that counts, he will be aided by the fact that he is going into his second year in Wade Phillips' defense. He has a greater understanding of what is expected of him on the field, and he thinks that alone with help raise his level of play to a noticeably higher level.

"Oh yeah, I'm a lot more comfortable going into my second year in this defense," Florence said. "Coach Phillips makes things so simple for everybody. He does a great job of getting us prepared every week."

Not only did Coach Phillips assist in Florence's development, but general manager A.J. Smith gave Florence a boost this offseason as well. First, the team signed Bhawoh Jue to presumably take over at free safety for Jerry Wilson. Jue has excellent speed and range, and so Florence can now take more chances jumping underneath routes, knowing that Jue is providing deep help over the top.

Smith also provided help to his statistically-ailing secondary through the draft. He used the team's two first-round picks to select outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and defensive end Luis Castillo, two front-seven players with excellent quickness and pass-rush ability for the respective positions. Merriman in particular should help in forcing opposing quarterbacks to hurry their throws and make poor decisions.

"We drafted a guy, Shawne Merriman, who's going to really help us out a lot," Florence said. "He can create a lot of pressure and throw offenses off of rhythm. With Foley and Merriman on the field at the same time, I think we'll be even tougher than last year."

The Chargers defense had better be tougher, because their schedule sure isn't any easier. The Chargers' secondary, which ranked next to last in the league against the pass last season, will be tested against the likes of Terrell Owens, Marvin Harrison, Laveranues Coles and Chris Chambers. Oh yeah, and Randy Moss now plays for the rival Raiders, so he'll come around twice a year too.

Ever the opportunist, Florence has been preparing to face Moss by training alongside him this offseason. Along with Kassim Osgood, Florence has been conditioning and lifting with Moss in order to get an advantage on the competition this season.

While Moss may fool-heartedly believe that his undermanned Raiders team has a chance to dethrone the Chargers atop the AFC West, Florence has been quick to tell him otherwise.

"We're always talking about it," said Florence of the times he and Moss will go head to head this year. "There's a lot of competition here because we all want to be the best."

So who would get the best of a match-up that featured Florence manning up on Moss? To the surprise of no one, the loquacious Florence was quick to share his thoughts on the matter.

"I'd like to think I could take him," Florence said. "He's been a star in this league for nine years, so it's going to be a tough match-up. I'm just going to have to do some extra homework that week. But yeah, I'll be able to take him."

With his confidence at an all-time high, expect a big year from Drayton Florence. He may not get his ten interceptions or his four touchdowns, but if his improved play can lead the Chargers past the first round of the playoffs, I don't think anyone will be complaining.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at

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