Spencer Pulley poised to become Chargers' starting center

Vanderbilt University, tucked inside of Nashville, is regarded as one of the top universities in the country, churning out a pair of U.S. vice presidents, countless business executives and academics.

It also produced Chargers offensive lineman Spencer Pulley, a three-time member of the SEC Academic Honor Roll.


But had Pulley learned a simple lesson about probabilities while studying human and organizational development, he might not have the inside track to becoming the Chargers' starting center — something he'll hope to solidify during the team's final minicamp this week.

Arriving in San Diego last spring as an undrafted free agent, his ignorance about his chances might explain why he's been so comfortable early in his professional career.

"I always thought I had a good shot, but I was probably wrong to think that. I had no idea undrafted guys weren't supposed to make the team," Pulley said with a laugh. "So maybe I just went in blind, and that was a good thing. I just kind of went in and did whatever I could, and thankfully it worked out."

If Pulley went in blind, soon his teammates and coaches had their eyes wide open.

Philip Rivers was familiar with Pulley because Rivers' brother, Stephen, was one of his teammates at Vanderbilt.

"I'd never met Philip, but it was cool to have that kind of connection coming in," Pulley said.

Early in his time with the Chargers, Pulley impressed his new Rivers teammate with how quickly he grasped the Chargers' scheme. Rivers said nothing seemed "too big" for the guy who didn't know he should be making it look tougher.

All it took was a lot of studying.

"Coming in, I wasn't the tallest with the longest arms, the strongest, fastest or whatever," Pulley said. "So I just tried to get into the playbook as much as I could and learn the schemes. Because when you get out here things move fast. A solid part of the game is mental, so being able to keep up with it and making that a priority was the biggest thing."

He took reps last season as a center and as a guard. So far this offseason he's worked with the first-string offensive line as a center with last year's starter, Matt Slauson, sliding over to left guard. Last year's third-round pick, former USC center Max Tuerk, and this year's third-rounder, Dan Feeney, also are taking reps at the position.

"Spencer's looking good," Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. "He seems to be handling the center situation well with the snap counts, the communication with Philip. It's gone well."

Upgrading the offensive line's been a big priority for Lynn since he took a head job this offseason. The Chargers gave left tackle Russell Okung more than $50 million, released former starters King Dunlap, D.J. Fluker and Orlando Franklin, and drafted Forrest Lamp, Feeney and Sam Tevi.

For the rookies, they need to hit the books. Take it from a Vandy man.

"It's definitely just getting in the playbook and learning the plays and trying to learn the different techniques," he said. "It's the same game, but it's a different speed. There are different components to our scheme, so it's just learning it as fast as they can."


Pulley got it all quickly, and a year later, he could be snapping the ball to Rivers once the season opens in Denver.

Ingram signs deal

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco said the gap that had kept the team and star pass rusher Melvin Ingram from a deal closed significantly this past weekend, setting the stage for Ingram to formally sign a four-year contract with the team Monday.

"Both sides were motivated to get a deal done," Telesco said. "…Part of it was Melvin wants to be here."

Ingram, who signed for more than $60 million with more than $40 million guaranteed, will be on the field when the team begins minicamp Tuesday.

Telesco said he expects Ingram to be similarly as productive as he was the last two seasons, when he recorded 18.5 sacks in Gus Bradley's 4-3 defensive scheme. But with new coaches onboard, it's important to have Ingram in the fold for at least a week's worth of work.

"Every day is critical for players to be here," he said.


NFL Network will air the Chargers' second preseason game, a contest with the Saints, live on Aug. 20. The Chargers' preseason games will be televised locally on KABC-7, with the exception of a nationally televised game with the Rams. …Dunlap, who was released by the Chargers earlier this offseason, retired Monday. The team's former starting left tackle was arrested in February on suspicion of violating an order of protection.

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports