I'm going to be the first guy to admit that I was on the fence last year about Darren Sproles. Statistically speaking, Sproles was a middle of the road guy as a return man, and I hadn't seen him run between the tackles enough to be confidant he could serve as Ladainian Tomlinson's primary backup. I had question marks about Sproles, and I was looking forward to see how those questions would be answered this year.
Here we are, a full season in and onto the playoffs and Darren Sproles has emerged as one of the games best return men. And in addition to his return skills, Sproles racked up 700 yards on offense and 6 touchdown scores. One of the biggest things that jumps out to me about Sproles' development from a year ago is his patience and vision he now displays. He is no longer outrunning his blockers. He allows the play to unfold before him and he uses his incredible acceleration to lull defenders and then explode past them. Sproles certainly stepped up in a big way this year, and that's exactly what he needed to do. Its a contract year for him, but the Chargers prepared themselves by drafting Jacob Hester. However, Sproles earned a roster spot in training camp, and he's earned a new contract with his Pro Bowl-like play this year.
In a recent interview with the NFL Network, Indianapolis Colts' GM Bill Polian talked about his team matching up with the San Diego Chargers, a ball club that has given him fits the past few years. One of the guys he called out was Darren Sproles:
We have to do some things to win that game, or be in that game at the end, that we did back in November (IND 23 @ SD 20) but didn't do here (in San Diego) when we played them in the playoffs last year. For one thing, we've got to limit Sproles, particularly in the kicking game. We can't give him any home runs in the kicking game because he does that with regularity. The other thing we have to do is limit their big plays, both with Sproles and LT in the running game. They thrive on that. And we've got to limit their big plays in the passing game because they are, with Rivers and that great receiving core, a tremendous down-field big-play team. We've got to make them hit doubles and not home runs. If we do that, and we don't turn the ball over, we should have a chance to be in the game at the end, as we were in the previous contest and you hope that you can make a play to win it. But we have to play our best in order for it to be a close game because they are an extremely, extremely talented team.