Chargers look at replacements for Kiel

For the third consecutive offseason, the Chargers may be in the market for a safety. Terrence Kiel, the incumbent starter at strong safety, finished 2006 without an interception or a sack, forcing Chargers scouts to keep their eyes open for a playmaker at the position during Senior Bowl week. There is also a dark-horse candidate emerging.

Down in Mobile, Ala. for the Senior Bowl, the Chargers were seeking safety help both on and off the field. On the field, the team was looking at Josh Gattis, a 6-foot-1, 213 lb. safety from Wake Forest.

During his collegiate career, Gattis totaled 259 tackles, 12 interceptions and 19 passes broken up. He was named first team All-ACC following his senior season.

"I'm a high-effort player," Gattis said. "Whether it's special teams, defense or any part of the game, I'll give it my all. Away from the field, I'll represent my team very highly. I'm a guy who will be out in the community and who won't get in trouble, just a clean-cut guy."

The Chargers also found a safety prospect not on the field in Mobile in the form for Reggie Nelson, a junior safety from Florida who has declared for the draft. Nelson finished the 2006 season with 51 tackles and six interceptions.

A Chargers scout was seen escorting Nelson from field level to the top of the bleachers to meet with the San Diego staff during one practice session.

"I have a great personality and I'm a great leader," Nelson said. "I just cover ground the best way I can. I have to keep working hard and never give up."

This does not necessarily mean the Chargers will draft a safety, as San Diego may just be covering its bases. One Chargers official confirmed that the team is likely to pull Kiel from the starting line-up in 2007, but said Bhawoh Jue may be his replacement.

Jue was severely limited in 2006 by knee pain, the result of microfracture surgery during the prior offseason. He is expected to be fully recovered well in advance of the 2007 season.

"Jue is better than Kiel," the source said bluntly.

The source went on to say that Jue would likely play strong safety with Marlon McCree staying at free safety. The team wants Jue near the line of scrimmage, closer to opposing receivers so that he can be deployed in man coverage.

McCree's effectiveness blitzing from the free safety position is another reason for keeping him at that position.

However, the source did caution against reading too much into Kiel's meager 2006 statistics.

"We didn't send him enough for him to get big numbers," the source said.

The one thing that is for certain is that there will be a shake-up in the San Diego secondary in 2007. Whether that involves drafting a hot prospect or promoting a player from within, count on continued secondary improvement being a primary offseason priority.

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