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Versatile Dexter McCoil fills hybrid safety role for Chargers

SAN DIEGO -- Mike McCoy still does a double take when he sees the 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame of Dexter McCoil lined up at safety at Chargers Park.

“I wish they all looked that way size-wise,” the San Diego head coach said. “I’m not going to lie, when I was out there for the first walk-through I had to kind of look again because that’s a big guy out there.

“He’s learning the system. He made a couple mistakes the first few days, but he’s worked extremely hard since he got here. He’s going to make the most of every opportunity he has, and I think he’s committed to doing something great.”

A former CFL standout who helped the Edmonton Eskimos win a Grey Cup in 2015, McCoil joined the Chargers as a free agent in January.

In the mold of other hybrid defenders before him, such as Seattle Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor and outside linebacker Deone Bucannon of the Arizona Cardinals, McCoil’s versatility as a run-stuffing safety who can also play in coverage is his selling point.

The Tulsa product is big and physical enough to line up near the line of scrimmage as a run-defender or pass-rusher in sub packages, yet mobile enough to play in coverage as a deep safety or handle slot receivers in man-to-man coverage.

“I think Kam [Chancellor] and [Deone] Bucannon, guys like that, have made their mark, making it easier for bigger safeties to be in the NFL,” McCoil said. “The bigger safeties and hybrid safeties are more valuable in the league right now than it was three years ago.

“I know that I’m going to have to make the roster on special teams, but whatever my role is on defense I’m here to help us win games.”

In two seasons with Edmonton, McCoil averaged 67 tackles, totaling nine interceptions (three returned for touchdowns) and six sacks. He earned most outstanding rookie honors his first season in the CFL in 2014.

Although a four-year starter at safety who finished with 18 career interceptions at Tulsa, McCoil went undrafted in 2013, with 27 safeties selected before him.

McCoil went to rookie minicamp with the Oakland Raiders, but did not make the team’s 90-man roster.

He played a handful of games with the Los Angeles Kiss in the Arena Football League in 2014, but was cut midway through the season.

A few days later, McCoil said he hurried across the country to make a CFL tryout for the Eskimos in Atlanta, earning an invitation to go to training camp with the team.

After two productive years with the Eskimos, McCoil now finds himself with a chance to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL.

“It was just my time,” McCoil said. “God’s timing is everything. You’ve got to be patient. And I’ve had a long journey just to get here. And I’m thankful for my journey, and thankful to continue it on. The CFL was a blessing, and I wouldn’t take it back. We won the Grey Cup. We had a great team, great coaches. And I’ve got long-lasting relationships that I developed in the CFL.

“But the NFL was always my goal as a young man. And I was never going to stop until I continued to work to get here, and to stay here.”

One adjustment McCoil will have to make is the NFL is a quicker game because of the smaller field, so efficiently getting in and out of breaks and playing with anticipation is even more important now that he’s with the Chargers.

McCoil, 24, said the late Sean Taylor was his favorite player coming up. McCoil also watched a lot of videos of former Denver Broncos great Steve Atwater because he had a similar size and build as McCoil.

Learning the playbook so he can play fast on the field has been a point of emphasis for McCoil.

“Safety is a versatile position,” McCoil said. “It’s a position where you could be put in any circumstance. You can be a high safety. You can be a low safety in the box. So I think it just made me better as a versatile player where you can put me anywhere you want.”