Chargers to unleash Sproles on Thursday

In the land of giants, Darren Sproles always seems to find a way to stand out. Listed generously at five-foot-six, the diminutive Sproles shines bright with his rare combination of suddenness, power and determination. Media contingents far and wide have praised his game since stopping by Chargers' camp and he takes it to the National scene on Thursday in Green Bay.

While his involvement on offense may be limited at first (such is life behind LaDainian Tomlinson), he expects to contribute immediately on special teams. On Thursday, Sproles will get plenty of reps at running back and boy is he excited about that.

"I feel good about it," Sproles said. "As long as I'm on the field. That's how I see it."

Helping him learn his assignments on special teams has been Eric Parker. Going into his fourth year with the team, Parker has taken on a leadership role. He has taken Darren Sproles under his wing, and the rookie is eternally grateful for it.

"He's shown me some things with my routes," Sproles said, "but mainly he's helping me with my special teams stuff. He knows, like, all of the special teams stuff."

While Parker has helped him adapt to his new special teams responsibilities, Sproles still has to worry about learning the offense as well. He could end up as the number two running back by opening day, meaning he would have to carry the offense should LaDainian Tomlinson get hurt.

Though filling the shoes of the best running back in the world (which Tomlinson no doubt is), may be no easy task, it is something Sproles thinks he would be able to handle.

"Yeah, I would," said Sproles when asked if he would be comfortable leading the team's rushing attack as a rookie. "I feel like I can do that, pretty much. I mean, that's the way you gotta feel."

Even though such confidence is encouraging, hopefully Sproles can be eased into the offense at a more reasonable pace. For now the team has him working on a package of plays designed to showcase his explosiveness and versatility. The majority of these plays utilize his abilities as a receiver out of the backfield.

"They got me doing different routes and stuff out of the backfield," Sproles said. "Mostly I'm working the outside zone."

"Terrific skills with the ball in his hand," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said of Sproles. "We are charged with finding a way to get him the ball."

The team's desire to spring Sproles to the outside is understandable. He has the speed to run away from most linebackers, and the elusiveness and strength to either avoid or break most tackle attempts by defensive backs.

It is never easy for a rookie to make an impact in the NFL, as it is so very difficult to adjust to the speed and complexity of the game. Even those who do succeed typically only do so only in spurts, as the pro game wears on players much more than the collegiate game does.

Well aware of that fact, Sproles has spent much of the offseason preparing not only his body, but his mind, for the season ahead.

"Pretty much I had been working out and trying to stay in shape," said Sproles of his offseason activities leading into camp. "Mainly though, I've just been trying to get my mind right."

Such thorough preparation is not only wise, but perhaps necessary. Not only does Sproles have a grueling season to prepare for, but Camp Marty is in full swing. The training camp, notorious for its hard work, was something Sproles had been warned all about it.

"Yeah, pretty much everybody said it's a lot of work," admitted Sproles. "That's everywhere though."

While hard work may be an easy find, running backs like Sproles are about as likely to be found in the fourth round as Jake Plummer is to be found in the Super Bowl. Yeah, it's that unlikely.

Sproles put up 4,979 yards and 45 touchdowns while at Kansas State, and those were only his rushing stats. He was an absolute steal for the Chargers. But instead of being punished for their thievery, the Chargers get to unleash Darren Sproles on all the teams that passed on him in the draft. Now it is they who will be punished. It starts on National TV against the Packers. And although revenge is sweet, victory is even sweeter.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at

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