Mr. Versatility Adds to Charger Repertoire : Chris Faulkner Now Includes Defensive Line Among His Many Jobs

Times Staff Writer

Imagine the attention Chris Faulkner would receive if he were overweight, wore No. 72 and played for the Chicago Bears.

He'd be enough to put the William Perry bandwagon to shame.

Part of Perry's story is his supposed versatility on the football field. He can play the defensive line or belly flop for touchdowns as a fullback.

Big deal.

Faulkner can play fullback, tight end or guard for the Chargers. Earlier this week, he was moved to the defensive line. In a pinch, he also could be their punter.

He's more versatile than Perry, but the attention has yet to find him.

"It's great for William Perry, and it would be great if it happened to me," Faulkner said. "I wouldn't let it go to my head. I always feel like I'm struggling to become known. I've been working to make a name for myself and haven't quite made it."

At least Charger coaches know Faulkner's name. His name inevitably surfaces whenever there is need at a position.

Faulkner was signed by the Chargers last August as a free-agent tight end. He was going to be the No. 3 tight end until Kellen Winslow returned.

About the time Winslow came back, Faulkner suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 9 against Denver.

Faulkner was not going to make the 1986 team as a tight end since Winslow had returned. Thus, the switch to guard during the off-season.

That move lasted less than two weeks into training camp.

Gunther Cunningham, defensive line coach, wanted to have Faulkner among his troops all along. The wish was granted earlier this week.

"Being versatile is the only way I'll make a name for myself," Faulkner said. "I'm not a Lawrence Taylor or Kellen Winslow. I'm not dominating in one position. If you're not that way now, you better be versatile or its adios .

"It's like the little boy with 10 hands at the dam. He can plug up 10 holes. It's a little more important than two hands."

In these days of 45-man NFL rosters, helping hands such as Faulkner are critical.

"There's nothing wrong with having a man who can do a lot of things," Coach Don Coryell said. "I don't really know how a guy can do it. You don't have many Tank Younger's anymore who can line up at fullback and linebacker and make All-Pro at both."

Faulkner isn't worried about making All-Pro. He is simply concerned with making the Chargers. His days of being the big man on campus are past, but they are not forgotten.

Before Faulkner's senior year at Hamilton Heights High School in Arcadia, Ind., he decided to give football a try for the first time.

He had been a farm boy who watched the other guys play football. On a whim, he went out for the team.

As it turned out, he was the team's best player.

"I was a ball carrier and did some blocking," he said. "I was at a tiny Single-A high school in Indiana. It was obvious who was going to get the ball. I still had a pretty good senior year but was not recognized much because I went to a small school.

"My father and I contacted the University of Florida, showed them some films and made an official visit. They gave us a scholarship. My dad wanted to take it up and bribe IU (Indiana) and Purdue. I said 'Forget it dad. I'm wanted at the University of Florida.' "

When Faulker arrived at Florida, he jumped on a merry-go-round that has characterized his football career since.

He was immediately told by Florida coaches, "Son, you're going to be a tight end."

And so he was. After a redshirt year, he made the starting team at tight end as a freshman.

In the spring of Faulkner's junior year, he was told he would be the fullback and James Jones would play tight end. When the season started, Faulkner played tight end and Jones was the fullback.

The ever-changing world continued in pro football.

Faulkner was drafted by Dallas as a tight end in the fourth-round in 1984 but was cut.

The Rams signed him as a free agent and asked him to try the offensive line. Four days later, when all of the Ram rookie tight ends were hurt, Coach John Robinson asked Faulkner to switch back to tight end.

There he stayed for 1984 and the summer of 1985 until the Rams put him on waivers.

Since Winslow was injured, the Chargers signed Faulkner as insurance. That lasted until the ninth game of last season.

All the while, Gunther Cunningham was wondering what kind of defensive lineman Faulkner would be.

Cunningham, a former coach at California, remembered how Faulkner used to "block the hell out of us," when Faulkner played at Florida. And Cunningham certainly hadn't forgotten about the two touchdown passes Faulkner had caught against Cal.

So, when the Chargers made Faulkner into an offensive lineman earlier this year, Cunningham was disappointed.

"I never felt that was his position," Cunningham said. "It's a passive position and you have to be patient. As a tight end, you go upfield. That's what you do as a defensive lineman. You go upfield and tackle the quarterback. He gives me the impression he's a very emotional guy."

Faulkner agreed, but only to an extent.

On the field, he considers himself aggressive. Off the field, he considers himself a family man. He has a wife, Cheryl, and 10-month-old son, Austin.

"I used to party a lot out of college," he said. "I'm settled now. I don't drink and I have a family. I've been sober for 1 1/2 years. Off the field, I'm laid-back and in touch with my family and quiet. When I cross that white line, I turn into a football player."

At Florida, Faulkner was known as a "wild man" on the field.

"I like to hit people," he said. "I'll play hurt. Some guys won't play if they have a little nick. This is my livelihood. My little boy won't eat unless I do my best out there."

The Chargers will try their best to make Faulkner fit their needs.

He's a defensive lineman for now. However, he also may be used as a blocking tight end or fullback in a short-yardage situation. And if the offensive line ever needed help, he could return to guard.

"What would I consider myself?" Faulkner asked. "The one position I know the most about is tight end. We have such great tight ends here that I couldn't see myself playing there unless, God forbid, one of them got hurt."

Before Faulkner was hurt last year, there were already thoughts of converting him to offensive line.

He was 6-feet, 5-inches tall and weighed 250 pounds at the time. He gained 30 pounds in the off-season to become a lineman.

"When he put the weight on, he was able to maintain quickness and speed," said Ernie Zampese, Charger offensive coordinator. "Not a whole lot of people can do that. When they get big, they lose a lot of their quickness and speed."

Though Faulkner has made numerous position changes, he still has a secret desire to punt. He was a punter for Hamilton Heights High but has not punted competitively since.

"I can punt well," he said. "It all depends on how much they let me do it. Right now, I haven't punted in a couple of months. If I get it going, I can really knock the socks off of the ball."

The Chargers would prefer he knock the socks off other people . . . wherever he plays.

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