Interview with Chargers LB Howard Hodges

After finishing with the league's second-worst pass defense in 2004, the Chargers are relying on an improved pass rush to remedy that ailment in 2005. While newcomer Shawne Merriman will be counted on to bring the majority of the additional heat, holdover Howard Hodges will have his shot to prove he can turn out some lights as well.

Howard Hodges is a six-foot-two, 255 lb. former defensive end in his second year out of Iowa. He is making the transition to outside linebacker in the Chargers' 3-4 defense, and recently got his first heavy exposure at his new position while playing for the Frankfurt Galaxy in NFL Europe.

"I'm a lot more comfortable now," Hodges said. "Going to Europe was the best thing for me. Just getting onto the field as a linebacker really helped my confidence. Last year I was a little iffy and I second-guessed myself a lot of the time. I think that really hurt me, roster wise."

His time in Europe should keep inexperience from hindering his chances this time around. But in order to help his chances, he had to risk hurting his body. There is precious little time off between the end of the NFL Europe season and the beginning of training camp. It is a hard turnover to endure, but one Hodges saw to be necessary.

"It's rough," he admitted. "You have a lot of nags and aches coming back from Europe. You play a ten-game season, plus you go to camp like three weeks before that. But if you want to play in the NFL you have to be willing to do it. If you want to stick around you have to be willing to do anything. It's a business, and that's just how it works."

But while Hodges is returning to San Diego for a second go-round, he feels as he is embarking on a brand new adventure. After all, he will soon have a team, teammates and defensive formations that are all entirely different than what he has been getting accustomed to.

Just as the scenery is about to change for Hodges, so too is the intensity level. That is something for which he is well-prepared.

"I'm excited to be back in San Diego's defense and learn that again," Hodges said. "I know they recruited some more players, so I'm ready to be a part of the competition."

Hodges finished his career at Iowa with 20 sacks, including eleven as a senior. If he can put the same kind of pressure on NFL quarterbacks that he did on collegiate passers, then the Chargers will be happy to keep him around. Perhaps this time he will be kept on the active roster instead of the practice squad.

"My goal this year is to make the team," Hodges said. "I want to play on Sundays. Then, of course, if I make the team I'll have new goals, like for sacks and everything else."

While Hodges' goals may change, the Chargers goal remains steadfast: improve their previously horrid pass defense. A now wiser and more experienced Hodges can help do that. Now we'll have to wait until training camp to see if he'll get his chance.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@SanDiegoSports.net


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