Player Interviews

Dan Vitale: ‘If I got drafted by the Chargers…’


The Chargers are in the market for a true fullback who can ignite the running game and help Melvin Gordon get back on track. The team met with an enticing candidate during Senior Bowl week: Dan Vitale.

Vitale (6’2”, 235 lbs.) was a four-year starter at Northwestern, where he served as the team’s “superback.” It’s a unique role that required him to do everything from running to iso blocking to pass catching. It was not uncommon to see him lined up as the fullback in an I-formation on one play, then deployed as the slot receiver on the next.

He is actually quite accomplished as a receiver, having caught 135 passes for 1,427 yards and 11 touchdowns during his college career. In fact, scouts believe he runs better routes than some of the receivers in this draft class.

That kind of versatility has him well suited to be a “new generation” fullback.

Said Vitale of the fullback position in the NFL: “I would definitely say it’s moving more towards that H-back route, which is what I played pretty much in college. That’s definitely a strength of mine, being able to run the ball, get out there and catch passes and block in space. I can still be a hard-nosed football player, too, running down hill and popping somebody every once in a while. It’s pretty cool being able to do all of that now as a fullback.”

Vitale was able to showcase all of those skills during Senior Bowl week. He was a member of the South Team, where he worked closely with Jaguars running backs coach Kelly Skipper. He and Skipper focused on improving his downhill blocking with the objective of showing teams he can be a true fullback.

Vitale recalls a wild week in which the schedule was packed every day with team meetings and job interviews. One team that spoke with Vitale was the Chargers, who can offer the opportunity to lead block for last year’s first-round pick, Melvin Gordon.

The idea clearly excited Vitale.

“He’s a phenomenal football player,” said Vitale of Gordon. “I remember watching him as another Big 10 guy and seeing all the success he had over the course of his career. Being able to block for a guy like that makes my job a lot easier as a fullback. If I got drafted by the Chargers, I would definitely try to open up some lanes for him and make him the best running back in the NFL.”

The idea of Vitale winning the starting fullback job in San Diego and escorting Gordon through running lanes is exciting to think about, but in the NFL, you have to crawl before you can walk. In this case, that means cutting your teeth on special teams before you earn significant reps on offense.

All NFL fullbacks are expected to contribute on special teams. It’s a reality Vitale is already embracing.

“Special teams are essential to the fullback position on an NFL roster,” he said. “I played special teams all four years I was at college. It kind of dwindled a little bit as I got older, just because I was playing 60-plus plays per game, but I definitely have that experience. As a ‘superback’ like I was at Northwestern, I’d put my body on the line and fly around. That’s the kind of player I am and that’s what it takes on special teams. I’m not worried about being able to do it … I’m just looking forward to the opportunity.”

If that opportunity comes with the Chargers, it will happen on the third day of the draft. Vitale can expect to hear his name called in one of the final two rounds.

Tom Telesco has struck out in the seventh round so far in his tenure as general manager. In 2013, he selected QB Brad Sorensen, even though Sorensen would almost certain to go undrafted and planned to sign with San Diego as a free agent. In 2014, Telesco picked Tevin Reese, who never spent a day on the 53-man roster. Last year, the team had no seventh-round pick.

If Telesco wants to get off the seventh-round schneid, he would do well to take a chance on Vitale, assuming the “superback” is still on the board at that time.

About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, Football Insiders and MySpace Sports.

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