Chargers' Jason Verrett energized by Pro Bowl, ready for leadership role

Speaking up is not necessarily his strength, but Jason Verrett may need to be a vocal leader for the Chargers' defense. AP Photo/Gregory Bull

SAN DIEGO -- Jason Verrett felt like he belonged.

Taking the field with fellow Pro Bowlers like Charles Woodson and Adrian Peterson a few weeks ago in Hawaii, the San Diego Chargers cornerback felt like he had graduated to another level in the NFL.

Woodson, a player Verrett looked up to growing up in the Bay Area, gave him a signed Oakland Raiders helmet. He exchanged numbers with Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin, who served as honorary coaches in the annual All-Star game.

But now comes the hard part for Verrett -- maintaining the high level of play that resulted in his first Pro Bowl appearance.

“It changes a lot because you’re around the best of the best as far as athletes,” Verrett said. “For you to be selected as one only motivates you, and that’s the type of guy I am. I don’t really like to let a lot of things go to my head. I like to use it as motivation.”

That's what coach Mike McCoy likes to hear because San Diego needs Verrett to take on more of an assertive role on defense with longtime captain Eric Weddle likely leaving via free agency.

Verrett earned a role as a defensive leader through his consistent play. The TCU product led the team in interceptions with three and regularly lined up on the best receiver on game days.

With Weddle gone, the soft-spoken Verrett will have to come out of his shell and talk more in the secondary. “I first just wanted to earn my stripes on the football field,” Verrett said. “And I even talked to Philip [Rivers] about that, and he definitely told me that I earned them. I’m not a guy that really likes to be too vocal about things, but just on the back end with Weddle gone, I’m going to have to be a guy who steps up.

“I feel like I can be that guy who not only leads by example, but gets the defense and secondary closer, because we have a lot of talent back there. And we definitely want to be able to do some things this year.”

Verrett’s already started the process of building camaraderie with his teammates. He’s working out with Jahleel Addae, Greg Ducre and Patrick Robinson at EXOS training facility in nearby Carlsbad, California during the offseason.

One of the points of emphasis for Verrett and the Chargers during the offseason program in April is creating more turnovers. The Chargers forced just 20 turnovers last season, ranking No. 24 in the NFL.

“We talk about that now, because we definitely need a lot more turnovers than last year,” Verrett said. “Three interceptions by me is fine, but it’s still not enough. You can still strip the football -- do all types of things to get the ball to our offense. My main thing in OTAs [organized team activities] is getting picks in practice and getting used to doing it.”

And with the Chargers spending at least one more year in San Diego, another focus for Verrett this offseason is continuing his involvement in the community.

“I’m doing anything that the Chargers ask me to do as far as going out and talking to the kids -- any of those types of things,” Verrett said. “I got drafted here. This is my home for the next remaining year and hopefully for the rest of my career. So it’s a blessing to have another year in this city, and hopefully we can put a winning season out there, so we can keep the fans in tune and hopefully help us stay here long-term.”