The strong safety position is to the Chargers what the quarterback position is to the Dolphins.
Just as Miami has been shuffling through quarterbacks ever since Dan Marino retired, the Chargers have been sifting through strong safeties ever since Rodney Harrison was released on Feb. 27, 2003. From Terrence Kiel to Clinton Hart to Steve Gregory to Paul Oliver to Atari Bigby to Marcus Gilchrist, it's been one stopgap after the other.
As training camp approaches, the Chargers are looking for a Ryan Tannehill-type at strong safety -- someone who may not as good as his Hall of Fame predecessor (in this instance, the Hitman), but at least good enough to lock down the position for the foreseeable future.
There are two candidates in the mix this time around: free-agent pickup Jimmy Wilson and holdover Jahleel Addae.
Wilson arrives after four seasons with the Dolphins. He started 21 of the 60 games in which he appeared, with 13 of those starts coming last season at safety. Initially a seventh-round pick out of Montana, Wilson saw his role increase each year in Miami. He finished his time in teal with 153 tackles, four interceptions, 16 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and two sacks.
|Jimmy Wilson. Photo by Shana Siler, SDBR.|
Wilson is a corner-safety hybrid, much like the man he will be asked to replace (Gilchrist). That versatility gives him an edge -- in particular, his ability to cover slot receivers fits well in John Pagano's scheme -- but it also prevents him from being an imposing in-the-box presence. That is concerning for a defense that allowed the third-most rushing yards in the league last season.
Wilson played a career-high 791 snaps in 2014. He excelled covering slot receivers, allowing only one reception every 10.9 snaps, which was the seventh best rate for slot defenders according to Pro Football Focus.
"Luckily, I played a lot of positions in Miami," Wilson told the team's website. "So when I came here and all the versatility they're asking me to do here, it falls right into my work shed of things that I've developed over the years."
Competing with Wilson is Addae, who joined the Chargers as an undrafted free agent back in 2013. Addae started five of the 11 games in which he appeared last season, missing five contests due to a concussion/stinger. Despite the truncated year, he managed to record 48 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles (the second of which was returned for a TD).
Addae has his limitations in coverage. His range and instincts are mediocre at best, which explains his average grades from Pro Football Focus over the last two years. But unlike Wilson, Addae is a big hitter who plays downhill and fills running lanes aggressively. That skill-set may fit in better with San Diego's base defense, where the rest of the starting secondary (Eric Weddle, Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett) consists of players who excel in coverage.
It is likely Addae will open the season as the starer with Wilson being subbed in liberally, mostly on second and third downs. Darrell Stuckey will also get some run in those sub packages, but his defensive snaps will lag well behind those registered by Addae and Wilson.
Can any of these players hold down the position for the foreseeable future? The answer, unfortunately, is probably not. Wilson and Addae both have too many holes in their respective skill-sets to be counted on as every-down players. That will put the Chargers in a bind next offseason, when Weddle is widely expected to leave as a free agent. Should that happen, GM Tom Telesco could be looking for a couple new safeties by the time the next free agency period opens.
There is also a chance third-round pick Craig Mager -- a physical player who can be described as a poor man's Quentin Jammer -- will be moved to safety at some point. After selecting the Texas State product, Telesco made a point to describe his pick as a "corner."
"He's feisty, aggressive, he can tackle. We're excited to add a corner with his size and physicality in the mix," Telesco said.
For now, San Diego appears content to sink or swim with Wilson and Addae platooning the position.
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Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for Scout.com and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. In addition to being publisher of SDBoltReport.com, he works as the Senior NFL Reporter for Footballinsiders.com. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @NFLinsider_Mike.