The Chargers' roster cries for a player like Kory Sperry. As it stands now, Antonio Gates is the only tight end capable of creating consistent separation and making plays in the red zone; backups Brandon Manumaleuna and Kris Wilson are H-backs known more for their blocking and special teams play, respectively.
Sperry (6-foot-5, 238 pounds) is the sort of receiver-tight end hybrid the Bolts have targeted in recent drafts, including Legedu Naanee (2007), Vincent Jackson (2005) and Ryan Krause (2004). He can step in and make plays in the passing game if Gates is injured, something that's happened each of the last two seasons.
"He is a big, athletic tight end that can run and catch," said CSU recruiting coordinator Greg Peterson. "I can recall maybe a half-dozen catches from his senior year where he ran down the field like a big wide receiver and made some tremendous, athletic catches, yet he comes in a tight end body. I think he's got a big, big upside."
TE Kory Sperry
The challenge for Sperry is that the three players in front of him on the depth chart are established vets. So if he hopes to stick, he'll have to shine brightly enough to prompt the team to keep four tight ends. That would likely mean cutting FB Mike Tolbert and keeping just one fullback.
Luckily for Sperry, the tight ends ahead of him view him as a worthwhile prospect rather than a threat.
"I always ask Antonio certain things and he helps me out," Sperry said. "The same with Brandon and the other tight end, Kris Wilson; he's a big help putting in certain plays that you can use different footwork, or what you've got to use to reach, or read the defense. All three of them have helped me out big time."
Sperry must become a sponge -- learning from the veterans and from tight ends coach Rod Chudzinski -- if he hopes to be NFL-ready by Opening Day. Firstly, he needs to improve his blocking. He must bulk up and use better leverage if he's going to be effective in that aspect of the game.
And even though Sperry has proven himself as a receiver, catching 141 passes for 1,763 yards and 20 touchdowns in 40 games at Colorado State, he still has room to improve in that element of the game.
"He looked like an OK receiver in the under zones, but based on my exposure, I didn't think he caught the ball cleanly," said former NFL scout Tom Marino. "He was best in the under and red zones. I didn't see him as a big tackle-breaker, nor did he show much creativity or run instincts. He may be a little high-hipped and I didn't think he finished with any degree of consistency."
Can Sperry patch the holes in his game and emerge as a contributor? The Chargers certainly hope so. He could provide valuable insurance for the intermediate passing game this season and beyond, as none of the team's veteran tight ends have contracts that run beyond the 2010 season.
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Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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.