NFL Draft Has Spencer Concerned : Charger Running Back Fears Chances Will Slip If Other Backs Drafted

Times Staff Writer

Tim Spencer doesn't plan to get up at 5 Tuesday morning to watch the NFL draft on television, but he will probably check in around 7 or 8.

"Tuesday will tell a lot about my situation here," said Spencer, a fullback with the Chargers.

The normally reserved Spencer, who usually thinks of the team before himself, is concerned.

He is worried because the Chargers have said there is a good chance they will use their first pick in the draft, No. 5 overall, to select Auburn tailback Brent Fullwood or Miami fullback Alonzo Highsmith.

"If that happens," Spencer said, "I don't think I'd be the happiest player, but I'm a professional and won't let it bother my work. But there's no question I'll be bothered."

On a team that already has running backs Gary Anderson, Lionel James, Buford McGee and Curtis Adams, Spencer wonders if he will ever do anything for the Chargers but block.

In his two seasons with the Chargers, Spencer, a former Ohio State and United States Football League star, has been more of a blocker than a runner. With Coach Al Saunders talking about using James and Anderson more as receivers, Spencer hopes he will get more carries.

"During my meeting (during the off-season) with Coach Saunders," Spencer said, "I told him that I could do some other things than I'd been doing.

"If I get the ball 20 times a game, there's no question I can run the football. I'm saying I can make things happen by getting the ball more and more. Everyone hasn't seen my true ability. I haven't carried the ball a lot since I've been with the Chargers."

Spencer gained 1,157 yards on 300 carries for Chicago of the USFL in 1983; 1,212 yards on 227 carries for Arizona in 1984, and 789 yards on 198 carries for Memphis in 1985.

In his senior season at Ohio State in 1982, Spencer led the Big Ten in rushing with 1,034 yards and in all-purpose running with a 151.4 average. Spencer rushed for 167 yards on 21 carries and scored two touchdowns, including one on a 61-yard run, against BYU in the 1982 Holiday Bowl.

As a Charger, Spencer has gained 828 yards on 223 carries in two seasons. He has scored 16 touchdowns, but most have been in short-yardage situations.

"It's frustrating because I know I'm not being used the way I was in the past," Spencer said. "As I carry the ball, I get better. As you get the ball more, you see things."

Spencer understands that he is often hurt by his ability to do the "dirty work" that other runners do not like to do and often cannot do.

"Guys who go out and block are hard to come by," Spencer said. "It's almost a thankless job. I know I'll do it. They know I'll do it. But there are not a whole lot of guys who will do it."

Steve Ortmayer, Charger director of football operations, says there is some truth to Spencer's assessment, but he doesn't downplay Spencer's running ability.

"It's a little harder to find blockers than runners," Ortmayer said. "But there's no question he can run the ball 20 times a game. He's a 20-times-a-game ballcarrier. We feel he'll give us a very good year.

"Whoever we might draft would not preclude Tim Spencer from doing anything. He's a big part of our plans."

Saunders said that he also believes Spencer can successfully carry the ball 20 times a game.

But Spencer is taking a wait-and-see attitude.

"Whatever happens won't surprise me," Spencer said. "And I won't be devastated. I'll come out and do my job."

Actually, Spencer said that if the Chargers draft the 6-foot, 1-inch, 235-pound Highsmith, it could help him.

"I think we need a bigger back than me at fullback," said Spencer, who is 6- 1/2 and likes to play at about 222 pounds. "Hopefully, then I can run at halfback and tailback.

"I'm not saying I could be a Gary Anderson type runner," Spencer said. "There is only one of those."

But . . .

"I hate to keep belaboring the point," Spencer said, "but an opportunity is all I need."

Charger Notes The Chargers, who would like to select Alabama linebacker Cornelius Bennett, haven't given up trying to work out a trade with the Indianapolis Colts, who have the second pick in Tuesday's NFL draft. San Diego has the fifth pick but expects Bennett to be selected by then. "They (Indianapolis) have indicated if we don't hear from them, it's no deal," said Steve Ortmayer, Charger director of football operations. "But I don't know if we can resist the impulse to pick up the phone. They might have lost our number."

Defensive end Leslie O'Neal, recovering from knee surgery, got quite a scare when a truck ran into the back of his car and forced him off Interstate 8 near Mission Gorge Road Thursday afternoon. "I didn't get hurt," O'Neal said, "but I can't say the same about my car. It was totaled." A number of Chargers were going to get physical examinations at the office of team physician Dr. Gary Losse when the accident occurred. Dr. E. Lee Rice, another team physician, stopped and gave O'Neal a ride.

Defensive end Earl Wilson, a possible starter at right end to replace O'Neal, was the only non-excused player missing as the Chargers opened their two-day, voluntary mini-camp for veterans at the stadium Friday. Wilson has not signed a contract. "It would help him greatly if he was here," Coach Al Saunders said, "but it's obviously a business decision." Said Charger defensive coordinator Ron Lynn: "I know this contract thing is not finished, and that was upsetting him. I am a little disappointed because I would like to see his movement." Saunders said nine other players not under contract were at the voluntary camp. Dan Fouts (who recently underwent arthroscopic surgery to remove calcium from below his knee), O'Neal and Eric Sievers (who had arthroscopic surgery on his knee) were excused. Because of those injuries, the Chargers needed more players at the mini-camp, and signed two free agents: former Nevada Reno wide receiver Al Williams and former UCLA quarterback Rick Neuheisel, who played for San Antonio in the United States Football League. Both worked out Friday.

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