Three to Watch: Practice Squad Makes Perfect

The San Diego Chargers are among the NFL's best teams at grooming undrafted free agents. Some, like FB Mike Tolbert, make immediate contributions. But more often, players require a season or two of grooming on the practice squad. Here's a look at three players from last year's practice squad that could make the active roster in 2009.

DE Keith Grennan, Eastern Washington

DE Keith Grennan

The Chargers signed Grennan as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2007 season. He spent his first year on the practice squad and quickly won over the coaching staff. Prior to the 2008 season, he had an offer to join the Atlanta Falcons practice squad and work his way onto their active roster. Instead, the Chargers persuaded him to stay in San Diego, promising him he'd be the first player called up from the practice squad if a spot became available.

San Diego fulfilled its promise on Nov. 22, signing Grennan to the active roster. Unfortunately, he injured his knee in his first game and promptly landed on IR. Grennan is now healthy and eager to work his way back up the ladder. If he hopes to stick, he may have to unseat veteran Ian Scott, a tough but doable task.

"I think I'm a pretty hardnosed guy," Grennan said. "I'm physical and an old-school player. I give 110 percent on every snap and always run to the ball. I'm a classic defensive lineman, through and through."

WR Gary Banks, Troy

WR Gary Banks

Banks joined the Chargers as an undrafted free agent prior to last season and spent his first year on the practice squad. He impressed the team with his ability to run precise routes and make difficult catches in traffic. He also wowed his teammates with his athleticism, which should be expected of an ex-QB and former minor league baseball player.

Banks would have a hard time winning a spot in the wide receiver corps as currently constructed, but it's easy to see how a spot could become available. Kassim Osgood is on the trading block and may be released; Malcom Floyd has yet to sign his one-year tender as a restricted free agent; and seventh-round pick Demetrius Byrd is a huge question mark as he recovers from a serious car accident.

"Gary is very physical and can get the separation needed to get open," said Troy offensive coordinator Neil Brown. "Also, his intelligence of football is outstanding. Gary is a great player on special teams, too, because of his outstanding blocking ability. He has a lot of things that are going to get him to make it in the NFL."

FB Billy Latsko, Florida

RB Billy Latsko

Latsko joined the practice squad on Oct. 15 last season before being called up to the active roster on Nov. 29, taking the place of Grennan when he went on injured-reserve. Latsko was not active for any games and merely provided insurance behind Mike Tolbert, who was battling an ankle injury. This season, Latsko will look to do more than back up Tolbert -- he'll look to take his roster spot.

Latsko, who's spent time with the Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers, is an old-school fullback known for his toughness and vision as a lead blocker. That's in stark contrast to Tolbert and Jacob Hester, both of whom are more halfback-fullback hybrids. The Chargers could use a bulldozing fullback like Latsko as they look to restore their inside running game.

"I'm an unselfish guy and anything I can do for the team, I'll do it," Latsko said. "I wasn't big on getting all of the spotlight [at Florida]. If they needed me to run the ball or catch the ball I did my best, but if they needed me to block that's what I did."

Which members of last year's practice squad do you see sticking around in 2009? Let your voice be heard and talk about it in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

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