Vinson still on run with Chargers

August 31, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

Tony Vinson isn't doing too badly for a guy just out of college.

Nine months after concluding his record-setting, 2,000-yard season as a running back at Towson State, Vinson is within a stiff-arm's reach of the NFL. He has traveled to Berlin for free. And he'll soon become accustomed to sizable paychecks.

The San Diego Chargers were impressed enough with Vinson's size, strength, speed and talent to draft him in the fifth round last spring. One week after cutting Vinson, the Chargers have welcomed him back as a member of their practice roster.

"Tony has done a good job for us," San Diego general manager Bobby Beathard said. "He's very talented. He's got great hands. He's got even better feet than we thought when we drafted him, and he's very sharp. I don't think he's blown an assignment since he's been here."

"I can't wait to get back to work," said Vinson, who visited his Towson State coaches and teammates last week. "They expect you to learn fast. They don't wait for you."

Two factors impeded Vinson's progress to the active roster. After an encouraging three weeks of camp in July and a decent performance in the preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Vinson lost two fumbles against the Houston Oilers. After that, Ron Rivers began to get more playing time, and he edged out Vinson for the final running back spot by playing well in the Chargers' last two preseason games.

Vinson also steadily dropped weight during summer camp, getting as low as 215 pounds, about 15 below his playing weight at Towson State.

"They wanted me to lose weight to increase my speed, and it hurt my strength. I couldn't break tackles like I'm used to doing," said Vinson, who signed a one-year, $65,000 contract. "They figure I can add more weight and speed with a year on the developmental squad."

Vinson carried 14 times for 59 yards -- a 4.2-yard average -- in the preseason, including a 25-yard run against Houston. But when the Chargers went to Berlin to play the New York Giants the next week, Vinson's role was on special teams.

The past two months have taught Vinson much about the differences between Division I-AA ball and the NFL. He estimates that the San Diego playbook is four times thicker than the one he studied at Towson State. Everyone is faster in the NFL.

"A year with our strength coach will do Tony good," Beathard said. "He's probably a little disappointed that he didn't play much after the Houston game, but he's got a future in this game."

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