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Eric Weddle's understudy Jahleel Addae set for lead role on Chargers' defense

Chargers safety Jahleel Addae anticipates an expanded role in the 2016 season. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

SAN DIEGO -- As an undrafted rookie out of Central Michigan for the San Diego Chargers in 2013, Jahleel Addae adopted one simple rule when he arrived at Chargers Park: follow veteran safety Eric Weddle.

Addae switched from running back to safety in college and didn’t have much time to work at the position, so there were a lot of nuances to pick up at the next level. Addae had a steep learning curve, and helping to bridge that cap was an All-Pro safety in Weddle.

Having the opportunity to glean information from a player like Weddle helped Addae, 26, get on the field for the Chargers early in his NFL career.

“Coming in as a young player I latched onto Weddle,” Addae said. “I watched everything he did, both on and off the field, as a professional. We would text each other. I would be on the couch watching film, and I would get a random text from him telling me ‘look out for this’ or ‘next time you can do this better’ or ‘good job on this.’

“Even after Sunday games, he goes home with his family but he still found time to hit me up. He was a big brother. He was a leader. And he knows I’m a genuine guy and work hard. So I know that he’s confident that what he taught me and left behind, I’m going to run with it.”

Even with Weddle moving on and signing with the Baltimore Ravens in free agency after a tumultuous last season with San Diego, Addae says the two remain friends and stay in touch.

But now that Weddle is gone, the Chargers will look to Addae to fill a leadership void on San Diego’s defense.

“I’m going to be me,” Addae said. “I’m confident in my ability, and that’s why I’m here. I wasn’t drafted. I wasn’t given anything, and I came in playing the game the way I know how to play it. I’m not going to change that.

“Honestly my leadership role has stepped up. But I feel like I’ve been a leader with the way I’ve worked in the past, how I go about my business, how I approach the game and how I play the game.”

In anticipation of an expanded role, Addae said he went back home to Florida to work out with personal trainer Dwight Ross on agility, speed and footwork. Addae also worked locally on strength training with Roy Holmes at EXOS training facility, along with teammate Jason Verrett.

Another point of emphasis for Addae has been working on ball drills in order to get more interceptions during the season. Addae has yet to corral his first career interception in 30 NFL games played.

“I’ve got to get my hands on more balls and create more turnovers, whether it’s stripping the ball or making more interceptions,” Addae said. “And when those opportunities present themselves, I’ve got to capitalize on it. So I’ve been doing a lot of balls drills. I’ve been tracking the ball a lot and doing some ball drills with tennis balls to work on hand-eye coordination.

“We’ve got to get the ball to No. 17 (Philip Rivers). If we get the ball back to him, he’s one of the best in the league and we’re going to win a lot of games.”

Fans would argue another area Addae could clean up is his proclivity for going airborne and projecting himself like a missile into ball carriers and receivers, earning the nickname “Friendly Fire” from his teammates.

Addae had three unsportsmanlike and unnecessary-roughness penalties last season, and has missed eight games over the last three years due to injuries, including two concussions in the last two seasons.

The Chargers like the physical way Addae plays as a tone setter on the defense. It’s one of the reasons Addae earned the nickname “The Hitman” in college at Central Michigan. However, Addae said he’s resolved to change his approach to tackling in the upcoming season.

“Every year I’m getting better,” Addae said. “But it’s hard when you’re out there in between the white lines in front of 70,000 people and those instincts come out. It’s what you’ve done your whole life.

“But the game has slowed down, so I can slow down my play. I don’t have to go in and bang every time. This year I’m going to do more tackling and taking my big hits when necessary. My goal is to play a full 16 games. In the game of football you never know what’s going to happen, but I’m going to try and give myself the best shot.”

With Weddle departing in free agency, some draft observers were surprised the Chargers did not select a saftey in this year’s draft. However, the Chargers are confident in the depth they have at the position, which includes the addition of Dwight Lowery in free agency and former CFL standout Dexter McCoil, along with holdovers in Darrell Stuckey and Adrian Phillips.

“Obviously, we lost someone big (in Weddle),” Addae said. “But the folks upstairs know what we have back there, and that’s all that matters. We know as a defense that all 11 out there are going to do their job. And we have more than enough talent back there to match and exceed expectations.”

So San Diego’s secondary does not lack swagger?

“We’re dripping with confidence,” Addae said, smiling.