Wide receiver may very well be the deepest position on the Chargers roster.
Throughout the offseason, one player in particular has made his mark, and it’s not a name you may think.
Just ask head coach Mike McCoy.
“He’s done a nice job and he’s made the most of his opportunities,” McCoy said last week following the end of the team’s final mini camp. “The way we rotate practice, we give everyone an opportunity to play. All the receivers have bought in to what we’re doing and they are in the best shape of their lives. We’re going to run them a lot, and (DePalma’s) done a nice job.”
The 5-foot-11, 192-pounder was initially a defensive back in college but switched to wide receiver during his junior year at West Chester. He caught 95 passes for 1,794 yards and 18 touchdowns over his final two collegiate seasons. As a senior, DePalma was team captain and also earned a spot on the First-Team All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East.
After initially signing with the New York Jets in the summer of 2011, he was waived during their final round of cuts. He signed with the New York Giants as a member of their practice squad in the middle of the season and spent his last two years there, winning a Super Bowl ring in the process. That experience motivates DePalma, who has his eyes set on locking down a spot on the active roster.
“So far it’s been awesome,” he said. “Right now I’m taking a lot of mental reps trying to get my techniques down in this new offense. I’m putting in a lot of time in the film room and I think that’s showing up on the field.”
DePalma is pleased with his performance thus far as he’s gotten positive reinforcement from the coaching staff.
“Right now they are telling me to just keep doing what I’m doing,” he said. “They want me to stay in the playbook and learn everything and all the positions so wherever they need me I can go in and nothing will be lost. Really it’s just studying. Out on the field everything is fast, so you’ve got to know your technique and what you’re doing.”
DePalma’s best asset is his hands. No matter who is throwing him the ball or where he’s lined up, it seems the diminutive wide receiver is making a big play.
“I’m really blessed to have good quarterbacks throwing me the ball,” he said. “If I get open, I know the ball will be put right on me. As a receiver, that’s all you can hope for. Having good hands is something I’ve been working at for a while. When I first came into the NFL, the balls came out a lot faster and a lot harder. So I really focused on getting on the jug machine and some catching drills, quick passes with one eye open one eye closed and other quick drills I learned along the way that have really helped me.”
While he can line up anywhere, DePalma says he is most comfortable and effective lining up out of the slot.
“I like the slot because I’m fast, but I’m also quick,” he explained. “I’m pretty good at creating separation in the slot with little quick moves to get open, especially against linebackers and safeties. It gives me an advantage.”
DePalma got a taste of what it’s like to reach the mountaintop when he won a Super Bowl with the Giants over the New England Patriots. During the lead up to the big game, he received praise from his teammates and the media for his job imitating Wes Welker. But DePalma is no longer satisfied at being just a member of the scout team; he is determined to make the active roster.
“It would mean the world to me,” he said. “The dream as a kid is to play on Sundays. I’ve been there in the preseason playing those games, and even though it’s just the preseason, the feeling you get coming out of the tunnel and standing out on that field is just amazing. Now when you’re on the practice squad, you get to watch everyone do that on Sundays. You’re just standing there on the sidelines without any shoulder pads on and it really hurts. So to make the team would be something special that I want to get to. It’s a goal of mine and it would really mean a lot to me."
Time will tell if DePalma does enough to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. With so many talented wide receivers above him on the depth chart, he will have to continue his high level of play to be on the team come Week 1. While that may seem like a long shot, it’s something you certainly can’t put past the hard working wideout based on his performance so far.