Gary Plummer Clogs the Middle for the San Diego Chargers
SAN DIEGO (AP) _ Gary Plummer, the player nobody wanted, somehow keeps making the plays coaches want to see.
″He’s a real success story,″ Chargers coach Al Saunders said of the San Diego linebacker who plays in the middle in the Chargers’ 4-3 defensive alignment.
″He plays with unbelievable intensity. He does everything with emotion and commitment. He’s smart. He does the right thing and that’s why he’s playing and still playing. Our defense, without him, would not be the same.″
At 240 pounds, Plummer is considered somewhat undersized and a shade slow for an inside backer. There are concerns over his durability during the course of a 16-game season.
Yet, there he is each Sunday, plugging the middle for a defense that has gradually improved from the league’s laughingstock three years ago to one that is starting to gain respect. The unit is ranked 17th in total defense, 14th against the run, and for the most part has helped the Chargers, 3-8, keep games close in an otherwise forgettable season.
Plummer is coming off perhaps his best game as a professional, knocking down a pass and registering seven tackles and three assists in last Sunday’s 10-7 win against at Atlanta.
Plummer is the team’s second-leading tackler with 66, one behind safety Vencie Glenn.
″He’s a tough guy,″ defensive coordinator Ron Lynn said. ″I don’t care if they run over him five times in a row. On the sixth play, he’s liable to jump up and make the play you really need to have.″
Lynn is at once Plummer’s biggest booster and biggest critic. The two, along with linebacking coach Mike Haluchak, have been together eight years.
After two years as a defensive lineman and linebacker at Fremont’s Ohlone College, Plummer went to California-Berkeley as a walk-on, where he became the starting nose tackle. Lynn was Cal’s defensive coordinator and Haluchak a defensive assistant at the time.
Lynn left Cal in 1983 to become the Oakland Invaders defensive coordinator, taking Haluchak with him as an assistant. Plummer signed on with the Invaders as a free agent and ended up starting three years in the now dormant league. In 1986, when Lynn and Haluchak came to San Diego to help resurrect a defense that ranked 28th and last in the previous season, Plummer came too.
″He lettered one year in high school (at Fremont’s Mission San Jose High) and was not recruited by any major college,″ Saunders said of Plummer. ″So he went to junior college (Ohlone) playing as a down lineman and linebacker. Nobody recruited him out of junior college so he walked on at the University of California. He started every year there.
″After his career at Cal, no (NFL) team drafted him. No team would even allow him to come in as a free agent, so he went to the USFL. He started every year he played in the USFL. After the USFL folded, no other team picked him up. We did and he’s basically been a starter for us ever since. His whole career has been like that.″
Plummer recognizes he has limitations. He has made a career of overcoming them.
″hat’s been the story of my life,″ he said. ″I either wasn’t big enough, or strong enough or fast enough. I welcome the criticism. But when someone tells me I can’t do something, it’s kind of like, ‘Well, I’ll show you.’ I guess I’m too stubborn to let someone talk me into believing I can’t do it.″
Lynn said he’s a fan of Plummer’s determination, work ethics and football smarts. But the defensive coordinator also admits he’s trying to replace him all the time. At the start of the year, the coaches decided start second-year man Chuck Faucette and rookie Cedric Figaro ahead of Plummer.
Both went down with injuries, linebacker Billy Ray Smith missed three weeks with a torn calf muscle, and linebacker Chip Banks is a holdout. Plummer not only was thrust back into the lineup but assumed the role of a defensive leader.
″Thank God we had Gary,″ Lynn said. ″He’s played super. (Last Sunday), he played as well as you would want a guy to play. He made all the plays we asked him to make, maybe more. And I’m not surprised at that.
″And yet, we’d still like to say there’s a guy out there that eventually is going to take Gary’s place. It’s to everybody’s advantage if we can do that. There’s nobody who has a lack of confidence in Gary and I promise you if it hadn’t been for us he wouldn’t be playing football today because basically nobody would have given him a shot.″
Lynn said Plummer leaves so much of himself on the field that over the course of the season he becomes worn down.
″Some guys can go out and play 70 percent and be adequate, they’re so gifted,″ Lynn said. ″He’s not gifted. He has to go 100 mph with everything he does on every play. All those little nicks, bumps and bruises he plays through, he fights through but then he’s not at peak efficiency.″
Plummer thinks a lot of Lynn. He doesn’t necessarily agree with his assessment, though he has heard Lynn’s argument many times before.
″Sooner or later,″ Plummer said, ″pure ability isn’t enough to get you to the NFL. You see guys come to camp every year with S’s painted on their chests. They’re running 4.4 40-yard dashes and benching 400 pounds. Why don’t they make it? To me, it’s what you have inside. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’ll take the underdog’s role any day.″
And while Lynn continues his search, Plummer keeps playing.
″You know, Gary’s a better player than he ever gets credit for because everybody talks about, ‘Yeah, we’re going to replace him.’ I think it’s a case of you’re always think the grass is greener on the other side.
″Well, he’s now in his third NFL season. And next year, he’ll be in his fourth. Probably five years from now, he’ll be in his eighth. And you know what people are going to say? ’Dang, how is this guy here?‴
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