Chargers Camp Preview: Starting Free Safety

Jerry Wilson

The Battle: There will be a four-man competition for the starting free safety position. While incumbent Jerry Wilson was re-signed, the team would like to see more of an impact made from that position.

The Competitors:

Jerry Wilson:

He is the returning starter, and his leadership abilities and understanding of the game will make him difficult to unseat. He is a consistent player who is the quarterback of the secondary, which is a significant task given the youth with which he is surrounded. His range and speed is suspect, and he is more of a sure tackler than a big hitter.

"If we don't give up any big plays, we are going to do real well," Wilson said of his mantra to the younger players.

Bhawoh Jue:

He is a versatile performer who has played cornerback as well as safety. His speed and range are both excellent, and he has the ability to hold up in man coverage. While he has been inconsistent throughout his career, much of that can be explained by the multiple nagging injuries and position changes he has endured. The team hopes this relatively cheap signing will develop into the Steve Foley of this year's free agent crop.

Clinton Hart:

He is the most explosive of all of the players competing for this post. He is an excellent tackler with good range in coverage. He is also the biggest threat to blitz from this position, which would give the Chargers the ability to throw some new looks at opposing offenses. He needs to be protected by zone coverage, however, and even then his skills in space are questionable.

Hanik Milligan:

He is a ferocious hitter who can intimidate receivers and keep them out of the middle of the field. He has the speed to help the corners with help over the top, but needs to show improved footwork and fundamentals before he can be trusted to do so. While he would be less of a threat to snag six interceptions than Wilson or Jue, he is much more of a threat to give opposing receivers a dire case of alligator arms.

Who Should Win:

Milligan should win the position. His unique combination of speed and power provide him with tremendous upside. The way he plays the game with a sense of reckless abandon is admirable as well. He is similar in many ways to Terrence Kiel, which is definitely a good thing. With those two at safety, the Chargers could expect their best interior secondary play since Rodney Harrison signed with New England.

"(Milligan) came in and made some extremely good plays," linebacker Donnie Edwards recalled of the work the safety put in during the Kansas City game last year when the reserves played a prominent role.

Who Will Win:

It appears as if Jue will be given every opportunity to claim the starting job, and he will likely do so. His presence in the starting line-up should allow Quentin Jammer, Drayton Florence and Sammy Davis to be more aggressive, as they know that if they jump any underneath routes that Jue will protect them deep.

"The opportunity to compete for a starting job is there and they told me when I walked in the door that's what I was coming to compete for," said Jue.

The chemistry and communication will need to be rebuilt in the secondary, so expect Jue to be named the starter well in advance of opening day. Once they are all on the same page, the secondary should be well prepared to take advantage of what appears to be a greatly improved pass rush.

The Bottom Line:

Jue will be named the starter and should excel. He cited the opportunity to start as the reason he came to San Diego, so obviously he feels the same way.

Wilson will probably be released before training camp. He deserved a shot at making the team given all he has contributed over the last couple years, and his presence in camp will help further develop some of the younger players, but his lack of speed and limited range have made him a liability on the field.

Hart will move back to strong safety where he will back up Kiel. Milligan will stay at free safety where he will back up Jue. Both will play extensively on special teams, and will also provide the Chargers with incredible depth at the safety position.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at Lombardo@SanDiegoSports.net

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