The Little Back Who Could
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Posted Aug 20, 2007


Darren Sproles is like that certain little train at the bottom of a big hill. Although a long shot to make the Chargers' stacked roster, he never quit saying, "I think I can, I think I can."

Darren Sproles, all 5-6, 181 pounds of him, might have reached the summit of that upgrade and escaped the roster bubble he had been on.

In the Chargers' second preseason game, a 30-13 pasting of the Rams, Sproles was sensational -- again. His night was highlighted by an 81-yard touchdown on a punt return, as he left numerous Rams tackling air instead of the shifty Sproles.

"It felt good to finally get one in," Sproles said.

How good?

Consider after Sproles reached the end zone, the football never left the security of his hands. Although, in reality, this was a means-nothing game, it meant the world to Sproles. That's why he kept the football instead of throwing it to the ground.

Many thought Sproles would eventually be thrown under the bring-your-playbook-and-see-the-coach bus. On a team with reigning MVP LaDainian Tomlinson and possibly the NFL's best backup running back in Michael Turner, Sproles being in a Chargers uniform come the Sept. 9 opener wasn't expected.

But Sproles, a third-year pro who didn't play last year after breaking his leg in the preseason, just won't go away. Which means the Chargers are going to have trouble chasing him away.

"I'm going to go out and play my game," he said. "That's all I can do. I can't worry about that."

What should worry defenses is Sproles' quickness and head coach Norv Turner's way with offensive X's and O's. Although Sproles has some limitations in the regular offense because his size is a concern in quarterback protections, Turner is apt to find some way to use him on gadget plays or as a decoy.

"If you're that kind of player, you can find a way to use him," Turner said.

What was working against Sproles -- in addition to the talent at his position -- was his inability to consistently field punts. While it was always exciting to see what Sproles would do with the ball once he got it, it was also an adventure watching him try to catch it.

So he worked, and worked, and worked. Coach Turner said Sproles must have set the world record this offseason for how many punts he caught. Now, he's fielding them with ease. Then he proves it's not easy catching him.

"He just needs to keep playing the way he is playing," Turner said.

And it looks like he will do that -- surprise -- with the Chargers.



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