SEATTLE - SEPTEMBER 26: Wide receiver Deion Branch #83 of the Seattle Seahawks looses possession of the ball as he crosses the goal line against Paul Oliver #27 of the San Diego Chargers at Qwest Field on September 26, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. The touchdown was disallowed, and the Seahawks went on to defeat the Chargers 27-20. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Deion Branch;Paul Oliver
The news Monday morning of Chargers strong safety Steve Gregory's suspension may have been a shock to many, but not Paul Oliver.
Not entirely, at least.
Gregory, who will miss four games for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances, tipped off his replacement in an earlier, private conversation.
“We had a talk a few weeks back, and I had a feeling,” Oliver, 26, said. “He didn't say anything (specific), but he said to stay ready. 'Make sure you keep preparing.'”
A quick tour around the locker room, and it's clear Oliver listened. Few teams could lose their leading tackler and be so confident in his replacement.
Oliver, who made three starts last year, will start for the first time this season on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders. Chargers coach Norv Turner said he is comfortable with Oliver and, given his involvement in the team's nickel packages, described him as already being “like a starter.”
Free safety Eric Weddle went a step further.
“We don't expect a drop off,” Weddle said. “He's right there. He's going to be good. He plays a lot for us and now he's going to be out there full time. Just the little things that he doesn't get to see a lot, he'll see them and he'll react. He'll be fine.”
Oliver is regarded as a dependable, consistent all-around player. No one may be more confident than Oliver himself.
To be certain, the Georgia product is anything but cocky. He said he doesn't like the spotlight and just wants to help the Chargers win. But he knows what he can do, and he's shown it.
Just two weeks ago, Oliver created a touchdown-saving turnover against the Seattle Seahawks.
The play came near the close of the second quarter on a 41-yard reception from Deion Branch. The wide receiver was inches shy of the end zone when Oliver, a 2007 supplemental draft pick, sprinted down the sideline and connected on the ball with a right cross from behind, knocking it out the back of the end zone.
Touchback. Chargers ball.
"Trying to do anything right there. It went from being bad to good real quick," Oliver said, and his tone of voice shifted to frustration. "I just really hoped it would have helped us win. ...Kickoff team stopping what's-his-name (Leon Washington) from getting all those touchdowns on us."
That play, or any other one play, can't define a player, Oliver said, even if he wants to earn that reputation as a ballhawk.
One play, however, can help explain why the Chargers have no concerns about Oliver as their new starting safety.
“That (play) just epitomizes what kind of player he is and what kind of friend he is as a teammate,” Weddle said. “He doesn't say anything about his playing time. He goes out and works every day. Now his chance has come, and he's going to make the most of it.”
Oliver was told this day might come. He's ready for it.