After a number of attempts that have largely come up fruitless, the San Diego Chargers have seemed to have finally assembled a group of young and talented defensive backs. The latest piece of that puzzle, safety Kevin Ellison, hopes to cement his place on the team early. Hardworking, heady, and physical, Ellison embodies what a strong safety should be. Not content to merely contribute on special teams, Kevin Ellison has his sights on a starting job and hopes that his play on the field and his dedication to film study will earn him an opportunity to compete for playing time early.
It's hard to miss a guy like Kevin Ellison when he's on the field because he stays around the ball. His game isn't one of much wasted movement. Watching Ellison play football is reminiscent of watching a lion hunt prey; the field being the Savannah, the prey being an unsuspecting ball carrier. Kevin Ellison stalks, reacts quickly, takes good angles, and arrives at the ball with tremendous force. Coming out of college, Ellison was knocked for not having elite timed speed. But all that is easily negated by his ability to diagnose plays, both before they happen, and as they unfold.
"I think anytime you play, you want to know what's going on on the field. I think that allows you to play fast. Everyone is athletic - everyone is here for a reason. I think what puts someone over the top is their ability to read plays. You look at safeties like Troy Polamalu or Ed Reed and you can tell those guys study like crazy, as well as being very athletic, and that's why they're the two best safeties in the league."
Knowing where to be, and understanding the game of football, isn't something that you can quantify on the stat sheet. Work ethic, study habits, and love for the game are intangible qualities that often go overlooked. But these attributes are what separates talented players from great players, and Ellison works hard on becoming great.
"I love football. I love watching film, I could watch film all day. Anybody that really knows me, knows that about me."
Much of Ellison's ability to quickly transition to the pro game could be attributed to his time at the University of Southern California, a college football powerhouse that recruits the most talented players around the country, and regularly competes for national championships. Ellison grew up in Inglewood, California, but it might surprise you that it wasn't a life-long dream of his to play for USC. Ellison's goals were loftier; to become a great player in the world's greatest league.
"I always wanted to go pro and play in the NFL. I always looked at college as a great experience, but I also looked at it as a stepping stone to the NFL. But going to USC definitely helped get me [to the NFL]. I think what Coach Carroll has going on out [at USC], the program he has in place, it definitely gets guys ready. I think you can see that by the number of guys we've put into the NFL over the last six to eight years. I think when I got [to the Chargers], I was really prepared. Really prepared to come in and compete. I just need an opportunity, and I can go from there."
Opportunity - perhaps no other word defines Ellison's greatest desire right now. With the incumbent strong safety a veteran who has yet to lose his grasp on the starting job, Ellison realizes he'll have to do more than simply play well for a rookie sixth rounder. Ellison not only has to prove that he can do his job and take care of his responsibilities on the football field, but he also has to maximize his chances to showcase his abilities, considering he isn't getting a whole lot of reps as a backup. The preseason is his time to shine, and he's looking forward to the chance.
"I hope I get as many reps as possible. When I get my reps, I've got to make the most of them. Every play I get, it's got to be 100%. I've got to know my job, know what I'm doing, and make it a good rep. There's no one behind me, so I don't look behind my shoulder. I just focus on my next rep and the next thing I've got to do. I don't really worry about anybody else's game, I focus on myself and doing the best I can. I feel like if I'm doing the best I can, then it's hard to keep me off the field."
Watching Ellison in practice gives you only a glimpse into what he is truly capable of. Much of Ellison's game is his ability to arrive to the ballcarrier and deliver a tremendous blow, often times resulting in a game-changing forced fumble. As we've seen through two games in the preseason, Ellison is a hitter. Constantly around the play, Ellison makes the tackles he's supposed to make, and many times makes the tackles he shouldn't have to make. He's not overwhelmed or over-matched out there. While he knows that he's got to continue to do everything thing he can to prove to the coaching staff that he deserves a chance to play, he feels he's well on his way to earning the opportunity to play early on in his career and to help make a difference on this defense.
"I think I'm doing a good job right now. But there's always a lot to prove; I've got something to prove every day, every time I step on the field. But I definitely feel I'm right up there with what every other safety is doing here. I'm going to keep competing because that's just how I am. I'm going to push the guy in front of me, and I'm going to push myself. I definitely feel I'm right up there, no doubt.
"I want to play. I want to play early. I want to play now. I'm a competitor, that's just how I am. I think I prepare that way, but like I said, I just need the opportunity and I'll be ready for it."
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