20 Sep Linebacker Hayes Pullard is still learning the Chargers’ system, but feels right at home playing football in Los Angeles
The first week of the season was a whirlwind for Hayes Pullard, the former USC linebacker who was waived by the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 3 and claimed by the Chargers on Sept. 4.
Seven days after joining his new team, Pullard found himself in front of a raucous Sports Authority Field crowd of 76,324 on “Monday Night Football” playing far more than he expected in a 24-21 loss to the Denver Broncos.
“One thing Gus always said at Jacksonville is that you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Pullard said, referring to Gus Bradley, the former Jaguars coach and current Chargers defensive coordinator.
“I wasn’t expecting it, but you have to be ready. You know you haven’t gotten many reps, you haven’t prepared much, but when you get thrown into the fire, you have to be able to play like a starter.”
Pullard played as much as a starter. His 32 snaps were more than starting linebackers Korey Toomer (27) and Kyle Emanuel (30).
Pullard was credited with seven tackles, second on the team behind linebacker Jatavis Brown’s 14, but he missed a few tackles and was badly beaten in the first quarter when he was late to react to receiver Emmanuel Sanders’ break off the right slot. With the ball on the Chargers 25-yard line, Sanders bolted past Pullard on a post pattern. Pullard was spared when quarterback Trevor Siemian’s pass went off the fingertips of a diving Sanders in the end zone.
“I wasn’t having too much fun early on because I wasn’t expecting to play … but overall, it went pretty smooth,” Pullard, 25, said. “A lot of things need to get better. I need to tackle better in the red zone, and I almost got beat deep. I’ve got to fix those things.”
Pullard’s familiarity with Bradley’s 4-3, cover-three scheme made him attractive to the Chargers. Pullard played 24 games, starting twice, for Jacksonville in 2015-2016, recording 24 tackles.
“He had some catching up to do,” Bradley said. “Though he had a basic understanding of the defense, there are some subtle differences. For him to pick those things up and go into the first game, we were pretty pleased. But he left some things out on the field as well.”
Bradley likes Pullard’s size (6-foot, 235 pounds) and instincts and expects him to improve as he gets more comfortable with the Chargers.
A former Crenshaw High standout and four-year starter at USC, where he led the team in tackles for three seasons, Pullard is eagerly anticipating Sunday’s home opener against the Miami Dolphins in StubHub Center.
“Getting cut by Jacksonville was a blessing in disguise,” Pullard said. “This is a dream come true, being from Los Angeles, going to Crenshaw and USC and now hearing the name ‘L.A. Chargers.’ ”
The last time Jay Cutler faced the Chargers, he torched them for 345 yards passing and two touchdowns, completing 27 of 40 attempts in the Chicago Bears’ 22-19 victory on Nov. 9, 2015.
Cutler, 34, who came out of retirement to replace injured Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill, will start Sunday against the Chargers, which strikes zero fear in the heart of Chargers defensive end Melvin Ingram, who sacked Cutler once in that 2015 game.
Asked what kind of problems Cutler presents, Ingram — who had four tackles, 1 1/2 sacks, four quarterback hits Monday night — said, “None. We don’t see him as a problem for us.”
On that, Ingram and Chargers coach Anthony Lynn do not agree.
“Jay’s a heck of a quarterback,” Lynn said. “He’s got a big arm. He has some escape-ability. I remember him running around in Denver, keeping the ball. He made a lot of plays off schedule. That’s when he’s most dangerous. Those are the plays you can’t prepare for. He’s kind of a wild card.”
The 6-3, 231-pound Cutler has been reunited with Miami coach Adam Gase, his offensive coordinator in Chicago. Bradley said the key to slowing Cutler is to harass him.
“He makes very good decisions if he’s not under a great deal of pressure, so we have to affect him, try to make him make some unwise decisions,” Bradley said. “But that’s tough to do. He’s played for quite a while, seen a lot of things, and he’s fit into that system pretty well.”
The Dolphins also feature one of the NFL’s best young running backs in Jay Ajayi, who rushed for 1,272 yards and nine touchdowns last season and had three 200-yard games.
“You can’t just arm-tackle him — you have to really put your hat and your body on him to get him down,” Ingram said. “My hat’s off to him. He’s a great running back, and we’re gonna show him respect.”
Cornerback Jason Verrett, who played 63 of 69 snaps Monday night, sat out Thursday’s practice because of a knee injury. His status for Sunday’s game is not known. Verrett missed most of 2016 because of a torn knee ligament. … Receiver Dontrelle Inman (groin), guard Kenny Wiggins (ankle), defensive end Jerry Attaochu (hamstring) and tight end Sean McGrath (knee) were full practice participants on Thursday. … The Chargers signed Isaac Rochell, a seventh-round pick, to their practice squad after the defensive end cleared waivers Thursday. Defensive end Whitney Richardson was waived to clear the roster spot.