Q & A: Chargers’ Eric Weddle still has faith in his team
If the San Diego Chargers are going to make anything more of this season than a great disappointment, someone in a key position has to wise up, stiffen up and speak up.
The quarterback, Philip Rivers, has transformed from perennial All-Pro to interception machine. The running back, Ryan Mathews, gift-wrapped the Chicago Bears a victory with another critical lost fumble Sunday. And Coach Norv Turner’s biting-lip pose after Rivers’ startling fourth-quarter picks might sum up his ticking-away tenure.
That leaves Eric Weddle, the former Alta Loma High do-everything player whose enthusiasm for the game’s hard-hitting, pressurized work made him, at 26, the richest safety in NFL history after a summer bidding war kept him in Southern California for five more years at $40 million.
Sunday, the AFC West-rival Denver Broncos and quarterback Tim Tebow come to San Diego, with the desperate Chargers buried in a five-game losing streak, in need of someone to lift them.
What are you telling the team?
“We just haven’t finished lately. That’s the difference between how we started and what we’ve been doing. It’s the NFL. It usually ends as a one-possession game. We’ve been frustrated and hurt, but no one waits for you in this league. I speak when I need to. I talk loud, so the guys know that when I say something, it’s got something behind it. It’s meaningful. We’ve just got to get a win. The rest of the [AFC] West will take care of themselves.”
You’re carrying that extra weight of leadership this year. Do you still have faith in the leadership of Rivers (17 interceptions through 10 games) and Turner?
“One hundred percent. We believe we can win [six] straight and go into the playoffs on a hot streak. We’ve just got to stick with it. This team has got some great character guys who are staying consistently positive. We just have to keep the energy level up. You can get in a funk by losing, but you have to continue working on the things that make you successful. Keep grinding. Work that much harder. Do more drills than you did before. Whatever it takes to tell yourself you’re working harder than you ever have before.”
The Chargers invested so much in you. What did that say to you about your skill level?
“I thought I knew what the Chargers thought of me [after trading three draft picks to select him in 2007], but to have eight or nine teams calling me. … I hope it says I’m a consistent guy who makes plays, is accountable and is growing into his prime years. They look at me as the leader of the defense. They expect me to be one of the best players in the league at my position. There’s no added pressure. It’s nothing I don’t already feel.”
With five interceptions this season, including victory clinchers against Kansas City and Miami, are you satisfied with your development?
“I dropped so many [interceptions] early, the perception was I was just a good player. Now, I’m putting myself in better position and catching the ball. I’m always open to hearing things from other players. If you’re not trying to learn and grow in this league, you’re just stagnating. You’ve got to be on your game here. Like we say, eliminate and anticipate. Know the down and distance, who’s in the game, what you can and can’t do … all of it goes into your head. Now, the speed of the game feels like college again, when I had 19 picks.”
Do you reflect on how far you’ve come from those Friday night games in the Mount Baldy League?
“Who would’ve thought? It’s hard work, and being blessed and fortunate. You get so caught up in the moment, the daily grind of what you’re doing, you don’t appreciate the amazing run you’re having. Make the most of your opportunity — that’s how I’ve always looked at things. You realize at this level that people would die to be in your position, so I take it like it’s my last day, my last play. Like with my teammate [concussion-struck offensive lineman Kris] Dielman out for the year. You look around and realize how lucky you are.”
Last week, Los Angeles showed off drawings of its newly designed Farmers Field, scheduled to open in 2016. Being from the Southland, would you like the Chargers to be the new home team here?
“I don’t worry about it. It seems so far away. But things are so unclear here [in San Diego], I guess it could happen. If that’s what happens, I’ll move my family back up there. I hope we stay here, but I try not to worry about things I don’t control. I do hope football gets back to L.A., though. They deserve it.”
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