Tuesday, May 8, 2007 | Legedu Naanee, the Chargers’ fifth-round draft pick from Boise State, was assigned jersey No. 89 when he arrived last weekend for mini-camp at Chargers Park.
He worked out with the other wide receivers in the Friday afternoon and Saturday morning sessions. But before the Saturday afternoon practice, Chargers head coach Norv Turner approached the 6-foot-3, 230-pounder on his way to getting dressed.
Normally, a rookie being stopped before practice is cause for alarm. But this wasn’t August or September, when the “‘The Turk”‘ — the NFL nickname for the team employee who must find a player about to be cut — is a dreaded figure.
This was May, and the reason that Turner stopped Naanee was to give him jersey No. 40 to wear for the afternoon workout.
Turner had X’s and O’s swimming around his head, and Turner wanted Naanee to work out with the tight ends. That explained why the head coach was playing the role of an equipment manager.
“‘He told me they wanted to use me different ways,”‘ Naanaee said. “‘I guess to disguise things. I was surprised, but it’s OK with me. I want to do whatever I can.”‘
Naanee better get used to moving around. When he comes back for the next mini-camp in June and later for the start of training camp, he might work out with the fullbacks. Or H-back, a position that wasn’t in the Chargers’ playbook last year.
“‘We’re going to move him around and see what all he can do,”‘ Turner said. “‘He’s a big, physical guy who can do a lot of things.”‘
Naanee is versatile enough to complement Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates split wide, big-body tight end Brandon Manumaleuna aligned next to the tackle or big target Scott Chandler, a 6-foot-7 tight end from Iowa drafted in the fourth round.
The Chargers’ 2007 draft class is notable for the versatility of the top two picks, wide receiver Craig Davis and Utah safety Eric Weddle. Davis, the first-round pick from LSU, can play as a split end, in the slot and return punts. Weddle, the second-round pick, can play free safety, strong safety, cornerback and return punts.
Naanee is no exception. He was recruited by Boise State as a quarterback after two years as a starter at Franklin High in Portland when he threw for over 3,800 yards and 21 touchdowns and ran for over 600 yards and eight touchdowns.
He redshirted his first year on campus in 2002, played a backup quarterback role in 2003, shifted to wide receiver late in 2004 and emerged as a starter in 2005. As a senior in 2006, he was a first-team All-Western Athletic Conference pick.
“‘It was hard changing positions at first,”‘ Naanee said. “‘But I worked hard at it and had a good junior year. My senior year we had a new receivers coach (Brent Pease). He had coached guys at Baylor and Kentucky who went on to the NFL, and he told me he thought I had NFL future.”‘
Recruiting all-around athletes and then finding a position for them in college is one of the secrets of success at Boise State, which last year finished 13-0 and ranked No. 5 in the nation.
The roster is filled with players who changed positions from high school to college, and Naanee was one of four Boise State players who ended up being drafted.
As a senior, he caught 34 passes and led the team for the second straight year in touchdown receptions with six. His 34 catches may not seem overwhelming, but in an offense that spread the ball around, 37 catches led the team.
Four players caught 29 or more passes, and that left plenty of options when the Broncos went to their bag of trick plays to come from behind and beat Oklahoma 43-42 in overtime in the Fiesta Bowl.
“‘I was a decoy on the other side for the hook-and-ladder play,”‘ Naanee said. “‘Those are plays we worked on a lot. We had been working on the hook-and-ladder all year. We were wondering if we were ever going to use it.”‘
Naanee wore No. 4 in college, but his first name has more meaning to him than his jersey number. His father is Nigerian, and Legedu means, “‘Good is coming.”‘
That’s what Turner must have been thinking when he changed Naanee’s number.