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Rookie Ajirotutu Finding Comfort Level

Chargers wide receiver more than "Malcom's body double"



    Rookie Ajirotutu Finding Comfort Level
    Getty Images
    Tramaine Brock #26 of the San Francisco 49ers is called for pass interference when he tried to break up a pass intended for Seyi Ajirotutu #89 of the San Diego Chargers at Candlestick Park on September 2, 2010 in San Francisco, California.

    Seyi Ajirotutu tells a story, once upon a time, about when he was a nervous wreck inside the Chargers huddle.

    He wasn't confident. He was confused. He was thinking too much. He was overly concerned with disappointing his teammates.

    The wide receiver runs through the list as if it is ancient history, except it's not.

    “That was two weeks ago,” he said.

    Due to injuries and a contract dispute, the Chargers are playing without their four top wide receivers, and they've turned to inexperienced options such as Ajirotutu, an undrafted rookie, to help stay afloat.

    The 23-year-old, whose full name is pronounced SHAY-ee ah-JEER-uh-two-two and translates to “God has done this” in Nigerian, made his debut on Oct. 24 versus the Patriots. His first of two receptions went for six yards and led to a touchdown on the ensuing play.

    Last week, Ajirotutu caught three passes for 48 yards against the Titans. That game, a win, wasn't only crucial to the team's playoff hopes, but it was significant for Ajirotutu, who will make his second start Sunday in his first road game, a Houston tilt with the Texans.

    Two of his receptions came on third down and preserved scoring drives.

    “It was like a confidence booster because I feel like I belong,” Ajirotutu said. “I feel like I can do this. But by no means am I there yet. I've gotta keep working hard. Keep coming with the same approach in practice. Get better.”

    His efforts often transpire during offensive meetings, taking the time when the focus turns to the running backs to flip through his playbook. Those moments, along with studying at home alongside roommate and fellow Fresno State rookie Ryan Mathews, combined with a recent overhaul in practice reps have accounted for a two-week speed track in his development.

    Thinking less has meant playing faster.

    Ajirotutu gauges his mental strides when communicating with quarterback Philip Rivers. Before every play, Rivers, who described him as "a really smart guy," will talk to him briefly to verify he knows his assignment. More and more, those helpful reminders have become less necessary.

    The drive for progress has gained him the veterans' respect.

    On Wednesday, wide receiver Vincent Jackson made his first practice with the team since signing a one-year tender. By Thursday, he was sharing his first impressions.

    “He's a good, young receiver,” Jackson said. “He's picking things up fast, and he's stepping up when he's been called on. … He seems to be working hard.”

    In Malcom Floyd's image.

    During training camp, sometime between coach Norv Turner's noticeably prevalent shouts of correction and instruction, Ajirotutu began being referred to as “Malcom's body double.” He's simply called “Tutu” these days, but the casual comparison in camp seemed to fit whenever Floyd stepped off the field and Ajirotutu stepped in.

    Both he and Floyd, in his seventh year, went undrafted. They share a similar size and build — Ajirotutu is 6-foot-3, 211 pounds; Floyd is 6-foot-5, 225 — and grew up in the Sacramento area.

    All that is on paper. Floyd needs only to watch Ajirotutu attack the ball in the air or stretch the field to see the similarities. But a body double?

    Floyd dismisses the notion.

    “He's far more along, far more ahead than where I was at that time,” Floyd said. “He's got a good feel for it now. He went it through his first game already, went through his second. I'm sure he's going to feel more comfortable with this one.”