The four-year, $22-million contract that he signed in March provided financial security for Jahleel Addae, the hard-hitting strong safety who will begin his fifth NFL season when the Chargers play the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field on Monday night.
It did nothing to douse Addae’s burning desire to jab league executives and scouts who underestimated him when he was an undersized defensive back coming out of an unheralded college (Central Michigan) in 2013.
“I always feel like I have something to prove, even after signing this contract,” Addae, 27, said. “I’m never satisfied. Every time I step on that field, I want to make the other 31 teams know that they passed on me and made a mistake.”
Actually, all 32 teams passed on the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Addae, whose name was not among the 254 players called in seven rounds of the 2013 draft, a snub that stings Addae to this day.
A stellar draft class, it wasn’t. Of the first 10 selections in 2013, only four remain with the teams that picked them. The first defensive back chosen, Dee Milliner by the New York Jets at No. 9, was waived last September after three disappointing seasons and is no longer in the league.
“I felt like I deserved to be picked, maybe not in the first or second or third rounds, but to not even be picked in the sixth or seventh round?” Addae said. “Coming from college, where you’re the man and you have such high hopes of getting drafted, it was humbling. But I use it as motivation.”
Addae chose the Chargers among a handful of teams that expressed interest in him as an undrafted free agent. He made the 2013 team as a special-teams performer, distinguishing himself in nickel and dime packages.
He started five of 11 games in 2014 and became a full-time starter in 2015, recording 64 tackles, four passes defended and one sack.
Addae’s knack for inflicting punishing hits took a toll on his body last season. In Week 2, his sideline hit of a Jacksonville receiver resulted in a cracked collarbone, which sidelined Addae for eight weeks.
He returned to start the final six games, taking an interception back 90 yards for a touchdown in the season finale against Kansas City, and finished with 48 tackles, three for a loss. The Chargers retained Addae with a deal that includes $9 million in guarantees.
“I pride myself on being a hard hitter, putting that on film and having guys on other teams respect me,” Addae said. “It’s a hard-earned reputation, knowing that I’m not that big, but that’s how I play the game, with a lot of passion, a lot of energy and a lot of tenacity.”
Addae, a native of Valrico, Fla., was a slot receiver and running back in his first year in college before converting to safety — the position his older brother, Jahmile, played at West Virginia — as a sophomore.
In first-year Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s 4-3, “cover-three” scheme, Addae will pinch closer to the box and have more run-stopping responsibilities than free-safety Tre Boston, who will play up top in more of a center field role, providing the last line of defense.
Addae was paired last season with eight-year veteran Dwight Lowery, who started all 16 games at free safety and, according to coach Anthony Lynn, was “neck-and-neck” with Boston after the final preseason game at San Francisco last Thursday.
In cutting the roster from 90 to 53 on Saturday, the Chargers released Lowery, 31. Boston, 24, who signed as a free agent after playing three seasons at Carolina and starting 10 of 15 games in 2016, will start Monday night.
“That was a tough call because Dwight had an awesome training camp — he competed well, he sold out every single day and gave it his all,” Lynn said. “But Tre is a little younger, and he does more things on special teams than Dwight, and that gave Tre the edge.”
With the safeties in zone coverage and reading and reacting to the quarterback, vision, anticipation, acceleration and closing speed are as important as physicality.
“You have to watch film, prepare yourself and know how plays are going to develop,” Boston said. “You can get bored back there just being a center fielder all game, but you have to take advantage of the opportunities when they come. You have to be the eraser when it comes time.”
Boston and Addae have developed a good rapport during offseason workouts, training camp and the preseason, but their first real test will come against the Broncos on Monday night.
“We have different responsibilities, but when you have two different minds working together it can be something beautiful,” Boston said. “If he’s seeing something and I’m seeing something and we’re able to relate it to each other in a play — ‘Hey, watch this, watch that’ — it’s real big, because it’s like two heads.
“We know each other well back there. I’ve been here for a few months, and we’ve been able to pick each other’s brains, not only the two of us but our cornerbacks too. They’re feeding off what we see. As we build and become one, our chemistry will only grow stronger.”
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