Positional breakdown: Safety

The offseason spending habits of General Manager A.J. Smith speak volumes of his displeasure with the safety position. Whether it was signing Bhawoh Jue in 2005, bringing in Marlon McCree in 2006, or trading up to draft Eric Weddle in 2007, Smith has used any and all means at his disposal to get more productivity from his safeties. Hopefully, Smith's newest combination can get it right.

Things are settled at one spot, as Marlon McCree lived up to the hype in his first year with the Chargers. His 2006 season included 59 tackles, a sack and an interception, but his impact went beyond those modest numbers. He quickly became the unquestioned leader of the secondary and helped the Chargers' pass defense improve 15 spots in the league rankings.

"He's instinctive," said A.J. Smith of McCree. "He's a smart learner. He's physical in run support and pretty active in the passing game. In addition, all the intangibles are solid. We like his work ethic, his character and his passion for the game."

The spot opposite McCree is wide open. Clinton Hart is listed as the starting strong safety on the depth chart, but rookie Eric Weddle will provide a stiff challenge. There is also the possibility that Bhawoh Jue will slide over from free safety.

Hart is a complete safety who is solid in run support and always seems to be around the ball in coverage. However, he is a streaky player who is prone to giving up big plays. The Chargers will have a difficult time selling Hart as a full-time starter, as he is a definite downgrade from former starter Terrence Kiel.

Weddle has terrific upside and his style of play seems to ideally complement that of McCree. Weddle has the range to excel in zone coverage and the quickness and hang with receivers out of the slot. However, Ted Cottrell may be reluctant to start a rookie on a defense already featuring two first-time starters (Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm).

"I was training hard for the Combine and I've just continued that. I feel fresh; I feel fast; and I'm ready to compete," Weddle said.

The most talented option is Bhawoh Jue, although the new coaching staff seems reluctant to move him from his more natural free safety position. That reluctance is a bit perplexing, as both starting safeties share interchangeable responsibilities in the Chargers' defense.

Had the 2006 coaching staff stuck around for another year, Jue would have been given first crack at the starting strong safety gig. One former coach was particularly excited about the prospect of a healthy Jue starting at strong safety, where he would be close enough to the line of scrimmage to showcase his man-coverage skills. Alas, Jue may not get that same opportunity from the new regime.

No matter how the competition unfolds, the Chargers are elated by the newfound depth at the position. Now, if only someone could step into the strong safety position who could make fans stop ruing the day Rodney Harrison was released.

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