Linebacker stands out in minicamp
BY KEVIN ACEE, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
FRIDAY, MAY 28, 2010 AT 12:02 A.M.
SEAN M. HAFFEY / UNION-TRIBUNE
Jyles Tucker flushes Tampa Bay's Jeff Garcia from the pocket in a December 2008 game.
Jyles Tucker did a sort of double-clutch, tracking the ball, then went airborne and stopped the pass.
His body dropped back to earth along with the ball, his hands quick enough and his instincts sharp enough for him to make the interception even as he fell to a crouch.
With an agility no coach can teach, balance bestowed at birth, Tucker not only did not topple but got up before being tackled and took off running the other direction.
That was one of two balls Tucker batted down at the line during Wednesday’s second minicamp practice, and it is an example of why the Chargers gave him a five-year, $14 million contract two summers ago and why there is optimism he is on the verge of achieving the potential that made them so high on him.
“There’s a reason he came on the scene the way he did the second half of his rookie season,” head coach Norv Turner said. “… I think he’s really ready to come on and be a part of what we do.”
These are interesting times with the Chargers outside linebackers. They right now are short one very important member of the corps, but they may yet have an abundance at the position.
With Shawne Merriman staying away from Chargers Park in protest of his contract status, Larry English, Antwan Applewhite and Tucker have gotten more repetitions in practice. The Chargers believe there is tremendous upside for Applewhite, who came on strong in 2008 before missing almost all of ’09 with a hamstring injury.
“It’s time to shine – with everything that’s going on,” Tucker said.
Yes, it is.
Tucker’s contract was not monstrous, but it was sizable enough to perhaps be unprecedented for an undrafted free agent going into his second season and having played in just six games.
Tucker had almost as many sacks before signing the deal (3½) as he has in 20 games since (5½).
He missed three-plus games with a hamstring injury in 2008, was slowed by a staph infection at training camp last summer and spent the second half of the ’09 season on injured reserve after spraining his ankle against the New York Giants.
“I’ve been thinking about it since November,” Tucker said. “It’s a big year. I feel like I did when I first came in. I’ve got something to prove.… This is my fourth year in the league. I feel like I’m a veteran. I know what’s going on. It’s time for me to produce. No one needs to tell me that.”
Linebackers coach John Pagano is among several in the organization who has recently praised Tucker’s increased maturity.
“He’s learning how to be a pro,” Pagano said.
Tucker is working harder, understanding more, seemingly focused on maximizing his ability and expanding his expertise.
He is about the same weight (262) but leaner, which is already showing up in how he moves and how he feels. It should also translate into less fatigue and a sustained level of play. In addition to being able to defend the run and drop in coverage, it is durability and consistency that separates a starting outside linebacker from a pass rush specialist.
The assumption, and it would be a correct one, is that English is the heir to Merriman. But the money Tucker got in ’08 is comparable — less guaranteed but more in potential money over the life of the five-year contracts — to what English got as the 16th overall pick in 2009.
Tucker, always deferential but never shy, feels like he can be a starter in the NFL.
“I believe that,” he said. “That’s what I’m working toward. It’s an important year. I’m trying to show I can play in this league on a consistent basis.”