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Aching to Play : Thigpen’s History of Injuries a Source of Concern for Chargers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Chargers drafted Yancey Thigpen in the fourth round out of Winston-Salem State because they saw him as a perfect complement to Anthony Miller--a quick, rangy receiver with enough athletic ability to make the big play.

They still think Thigpen is their man, but are beginning to wonder if he’ll ever stay out of the trainer’s room long enough to prove himself.

Thigpen appeared to have a roster spot all but won, but one nagging injury after another has limited his practice time and game time so severely that his future with the Chargers is unclear. He is in a tight battle with Kitrick Taylor and Walter Wilson for the third and fourth receiver spots.

The injury bug bit Thigpen almost immediately. He missed part of mini-camp and summer school with a sprained ankle and minor back and groin injuries. His latest ailment, a shoulder injury, kept him out of the Rams game and more than a week of practice.

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Against Houston, Thigpen, 6-feet-5 and 210 pounds, caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown.

Billy Devaney, the Chargers’ director of player personnel, was impressed.

“He’s better than what we thought,” Devaney said. “We thought he was a big guy that would have to play in the slot, but he’s shown foot quickness and elusiveness to get off the line of scrimmage.”

But Thigpen realizes that one game hardly gives the Chargers enough time to evaluate him--and that worries him.

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“I’ve been held down the entire camp,” Thigpen said. “Of course I’m concerned that I may not make it. I’m not where I want to be.

“I haven’t been able to prove why they drafted me in the fourth round. The main reason is because I haven’t been healthy. I can only do what my health allows me.”

Devaney said he’s been frustrated by Thigpen’s injury problems.

“He’s been kind of teasing us,” Devaney said. “Everybody likes his ability. He keeps teasing you with it, but he also keeps getting hurt. It isn’t anything that he’s been fudging on. They’ve all been legitimate injuries.”

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But Devaney said the organization is starting to see a pattern develop, and they don’t like it.

“The bottom line is, there are guys like that that stay hurt,” he said. “There was a mention or two that that was his track record in college.”

Thigpen said he’s having a hard time understanding his rash of bumps and bruises.

“After every injury, I figured there can’t be any more,” he said. “The Monday after the Houston game, I thought, ‘I’m getting ready to make my move.’ But then in practice, I went for a pass and a guy fell on top of me. Right away I heard something pop.”

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Thigpen practiced Wednesday for the first time in more than two weeks, and he is expected to play Monday against Houston.

“If I get anything thrown close to me, I’m going to catch it,” Thigpen said. “All I want is a chance. I can tell from sitting back and watching that someone needs to provide a spark. I think I can do that.”

Devaney is hoping Thigpen is right.

"(Wide receiver) is not a strong position for us,” he said. “He would be a strong candidate. He would play a lot if he could stay on the field. We’ve loved what little we’ve seen of him. We have to hope that he shows us something the next two weeks to warrant keeping him on the roster.”

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