Dobbins Dominant on Special Teams

With a playoff spot in hand, the talk in Chargers town has turned to which star players will be protected during the final two weeks. One player with no chance for rest is LB Tim Dobbins, who is not a star, but a key cog in the Chargers' machine.

The Chargers boast the most dominant coverage teams in the NFL. Opponents' average starting position following kickoffs is the 19.6-yard line, a number only bested by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Also, the Chargers rank third in the league in net yards per punt (39.7), with only the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders performing better.

Kassim Osgood gets much of the credit for this stifling performance -- and rightfully so -- but it is Tim Dobbins who leads the special teams in tackles (17).

In the win over the Detroit Lions, Dobbins contributed a career-high three special-teams tackles. He also forced a fumble on the Chargers' first kickoff of the third quarter, jarring the ball loose from Aveion Cason and handing Antonio Cromartie an easy recovery.

"Tim Dobbins had a great day and he's a very good special-teams player," head coach Norv Turner said.

Dobbins' big game served as a bit of redemption, as his season has included more bumps in the road than he anticipated. It started back in April, when the Chargers drafted two players at his position (Anthony Waters in round three and Brandon Siler in round seven).

The 2007 draft was a stunner for Dobbins. Remember, when the Chargers drafted him in the fifth-round of the 2006 draft, he was the only inside linebacker on the team with a contract beyond that season (Stephen Cooper and Matt Wilhelm earned their extensions later).

At the time, Dobbins considered himself San Diego's "future at the position."

Instead, A.J. Smith brought in new blood to take his spot on the depth chart.

Dobbins held off the rookies and maintained his spot as the top backup at inside linebacker. However, he was pressed into the defensive rotation in week two when Wilhelm went down with a calf injury. Although he picked up a career-high in tackles in that game (five), he appeared lost in coverage and was quickly demoted.

When Wilhelm missed the next game against the Green Bay Packers, it was Carlos Polk who started in his stead.

Polk has since landed on the injured-reserve list, but Dobbins remains the No. 4 inside linebacker behind Siler. Next season, Dobbins could fall to fifth on the depth chart if Waters' knee is 100 percent.

But, as Dobbins has learned in his two seasons playing alongside Polk, the ability to dominate on special teams can keep a player around a long time. So even if he doesn't crack the defensive rotation, expect Dobbins to play out his full rookie contract with the Chargers (which runs through 2009).

"It seems pretty easy to me," said Dobbins of covering kicks. "I just run downfield and try to make plays."

What was easy for Dobbins was absolutely grueling for Aveion Cason.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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