Darren Sproles has been piling up yardage since he first picked up a football in a Pop Warner game at the age of nine. That’s when he sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown. The San Diego Chargers running back/kick returner hasn’t let up since.
While at Kansas State, Sproles set 23 school records and had the sixth-most all-purpose yards in NCAA history. This season, in Week 6 against Denver, he set the Chargers’ all-time record for combined yards on kickoff and punt returns with 5,262. That’s the game that Sproles returned a punt 77 yards for a touchdown.
Sproles, drafted in the fourth round by the Chargers in 2005, is a speedy, shifty runner who is also dangerous out of the backfield or as a receiver. At 5-foot-6-inches, 185 pounds, Sproles also is one of the NFL’s smallest players. But that doesn’t stop him.
In the season-opener at Oakland, Sproles returned a kickoff 59 yards to set up a field goal and his 5-yard run with 18 seconds left gave the Chargers a 24-20 win. In a loss to Baltimore the following week, Sproles caught seven passes for a career-high 124 yards, including an 81-yard TD reception.
He had a 58-yard scoring catch in a 37-7 victory at Kansas City in Week 7, and his 21-yard catch in Week 9 at New York set up the game-winning touchdown in a 21-20 decision over the Giants.
And there is something about playing the Indianapolis Colts that gets Sproles going. In a 2007 game against the Colts, Sproles became then ninth player to return a punt and kickoff for touchdowns in the same game, his first two NFL TDs.
In last season’s playoff game at Indianapolis, Sproles’ 22-yard scoring run in overtime gave the Chargers a 23-21 win. He had 328 all-purpose yards in the contest, the third-most in postseason history.
Sproles has been LaDainian Tomlinson’s backup since Michael Turner left for Atlanta last year. And with Tomlinson’s production slipping over the past couple of years, it might be time for Sproles to start at running back.
And that’s probably what the Chargers were thinking when they kept Sproles from testing the free-agent waters by tagging him as their franchise player after last season.
Practice squad not a bad gig: “Wanted – football player with some experience to join NFL team to impersonate opponents star players during practice. Chance for advancement in organization. Starting salary is $5,200 per week.”
That could be a possible job ad for an NFL team looking for players to fill its practice squad, which consists of eight players to serve on the scout team in practices. These are generally experienced players, such as rookies out of college who aren’t good enough yet to play in the NFL.
The players study other teams plays and act as opposing players to help their team prepare for games. The pay isn’t much by NFL standards, but it isn’t bad. The minimum salary for a member of the practice squad is $5,200 per week, or $88,400 for 17 weeks.
If a practice squad member is released, he may sign with another team without compensation.
Some of these players come from the NFL’s International Practice Squad Program, which promotes the development of players worldwide. Last year, 16 players were a part of the program, including five players each from the United Kingdom and Mexico, two from Germany and one each from Sweden, Japan, France and Russia.
NFL rules stipulate that practice squad members cannot play in regular-season games; haven’t played in more than nine career NFL regular-season games; haven’t been on an active roster for an entire year and do not have more than two years on a practice squad.
Practice squad players can be promoted during the season, as long as there is an opening on the 53-man active roster. San Diego signed linebacker James Holt from the practice squad on Nov. 3, after releasing wide receiver Chris Chambers. And New England recently signed defensive back Kyle Arrington from the practice squad. Arrington previously played on practice squads for Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.
FIRST WIN – Tampa Bay broke into the win column, defeating Green Bay 38-28 in Week 9. That left no winless teams, and Detroit’s 0-16 record of 2008 is safe.
40,000-YARDS – On Nov. 8, Peyton Manning became the first player in NFL history to pass for 40,000 yards in one decade.
Did you know? The record for the most touchdowns scored in the NFL through the first nine weeks of the season is 667, set in 1983. There were 651 TDs scored through nine weeks this year, the third-most.
Sidelines: Through the first nine weeks, NFL viewer ship was at its highest point in 20 years, averaging more than 17 million viewers per game…The NFL started its Thursday night schedule in Week 10. The games, seen on the NFL Network, will continue through Week 15.
Copyright © 2009 Bob Hurst. All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Hurst Sports Media.