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CHARGER '86 PREVIEW : Sitting, Not Hitting : Injured Linebacker Mike Douglass Mending, Eager to Show What He Can Do

August 22, 1986|CHRIS DE LUCA

SAN DIEGO — Veteran linebacker Mike Douglass doesn't look good in green anymore.

While wearing that color for the Green Bay Packers the past eight seasons, Douglass was a menacing outside linebacker, who built a reputation throughout the league for his quickness and aggressiveness.

After he was acquired by the Chargers as a free agent in July, Douglass is back in green--this time the green practice jersey the Chargers require injured players to wear.

He pulled the hamstring muscle in his left leg during the Chargers' exhibition game against the Dallas Cowboys two weeks ago. The former San Diego State star hasn't practiced in full gear since.

An injury this early in the season is disappointing for any player. But for Douglass, 31, who must struggle to win a position on a team with a linebacker surplus, missing one day can be crucial.

Douglass, who never missed a regular-season game with the Packers, said it is difficult to remain on the sidelines and watch other linebacker candidates do all the hitting.

"It's tough sitting out," Douglass said. "It's a situation I'm not accustomed to. It's hard to watch football, I like to play the game too much.

"I have to be sensible, though, and realize you have to be well to perform."

Said Charger Coach Don Coryell: "(Douglass' injury) has been a big blow to us. He's an experienced player, a fine player. But we have no way of evaluating him, no way for him to learn the system."

Douglass is by no means unproven. He led the Packers in unassisted tackles four times. He was voted the Packers' Most Valuable Defensive Player in 1980 and 1981 by the Wisconsin sports media. While at San Diego State, Douglass registered 34 quarterback sacks in two years at outside linebacker.

Mike Haluchak, Charger linebacker coach, said he was impressed with Douglass before the injury, but that with 13 linebackers auditioning for seven spots, Douglass has to get back on the field.

Haluchak said Douglass is expected to sit out Saturday's exhibition game against the Los Angeles Rams and probably won't see action until the exhibition game against St. Louis next Friday.

"Since it is so early in the season, we would rather have him out now than have him come back too soon," Haluchak said. "We want him healthy so he can show us what he can do."

Douglass was acquired by the Chargers as a long-yardage defender. But Haluchak said Douglass must prove that he can play every down to make the team.

"We would like to see Mike challenge for a starting position," Haluchak said. "His strength is pass coverage and as a blitzer. With the limited number of players (the Chargers can keep) and his experience as a starter, he has to do other things. . . . He has to be a down-to-down player."

Being faced with plenty of competition is nothing new to Douglass. After he was picked by the Packers in the fifth round in 1978, he competed for a job against several larger prospects.

"There were tons of linebackers and I was the smallest one of the group at 205 pounds," said Douglass, who is now 6 feet, 214 pounds. "Everybody else was the prototype linebacker, 6-2, 6-3, 230 pounds.

"The skills that the Chargers are looking for in me now are the same skills that won me my first job in the NFL."

But Douglass isn't getting a chance to display his strongest skill--his quickness (4.8 in the 40-yard dash). Instead, he follows the linebackers through practice, charting every play.

"After the injury, I tried to remain mentally alert," he said. "I chart all the plays so I know what's happening . . . so I don't mess around and lose track."

Douglass has remained in good shape, despite the tender hamstring. During his free hours, he works on an exercise bike and lifts weights.

In the off-season, Douglass takes pride in his stringent fitness program. He refers to working out as a "full-time job." He plays two hours of racquetball five days a week, lifts weights six days a week, performs gymnastics and aerobics and rides his bicycle and runs long distance.

Eight years in the National Football League would seem to slow doen anyone, but Douglass said he has become quicker over the years and that his strict fitness regimen has made his age inconsequential.

"I don't think my skills have deteriorated at all," he said. "Age is not a factor when your skills are top-notch. I still feel like I'm 18."

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