Ready to Soar: Bront Bird Q&A
Check out all of our exclusive camp coverage in this training camp tracker. Bront Bird grew up under the bright lights of West Texas football. After playing for the Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas -- the subject of the book and movie Friday Night Lights -- Bird moved on to Texas Tech. He thrived on the college level, recording 165 total tackles, 10 pass breakups, three interceptions and three sacks -- yet still found himself out of football after a brief stint with the Chargers in 2012. Bird moved to North Dakota and oversaw a wastewater treatment business that he started with several former teammates. But in late November, as injuries were mounting, the Chargers gave him a call offering him a spot back on the team. For a guy used to the hype -- the lights, the pressure to succeed -- Bird had no problem easing his way back onto the field. In five games, Bird put up 18 tackles, three pass breakups and his first career interception. Bird enters this year's camp with the taste of success from the end of last year still lingering, but his goal remain simple: Survive the final round of cuts for the first time. He tells us how he can get it done in this exclusive interview. Brian Ducoffe: What's the difference between Friday nights in West Texas and Sunday mornings in San Diego? Bront Bird: Oh man, obviously getting to this level is pretty awesome, anytime you get to be with such elite players. But growing up in West Texas, the Friday night lights is the real deal. I'd have to go with the NFL just because of the stage it is, but both are awesome experiences. BD: You went to Permian and then Texas Tech. To have such success and then end up in out of football, and then make it back to the Chargers, how did that affect you? BB: It's kind of one of those things. Nothing in life is easy or fair, so I just had to persevere through it. I was happy to get my call back and I told myself I would make the most of the opportunity. It's what I'm trying to do again right now so I have to do everything I can to make the final 53 and help this team win. BD: You ended last season on such a great note. How has that changed this training camp from the previous two? BB: Every year you've got a new class of rookies coming in and the competition is so stiff every single year that you've got to really play well and have some things go your way in order to make the final 53, unless you're a higher round draft pick. But anyone in my situation, you've got to play really well in the preseason and hope things work out for you. BD: With that, the Chargers took Manti Te'o in the second round. What's it been like to have Te'o come in? Does that increase competition at practice? BB: I'll tell you what. Obviously, when you're a first or second-round draft pick, they (the coaches) want to get you in the playbook. If they're going to spend that kind of money on you or that high of a draft pick they want you to succeed. But he's picked up everything really fast. A lot of times as a rookie, you see guys struggle at least a little bit with the playbook, but I don't know if he's messed up a play yet. It's pretty impressive. The guy really knows football. He's doing awesome so far. BD: At Texas Tech you ran both a 4-3 and a 3-4. Did that help you transition to the Chargers' 3-4? BB: We ran a 4-3 my first three years and a 3-4 my senior year, but we didn't really get to run the 3-4 so much because every team's in the spread, and against the spread -- I don't want to say it's impossible to run it, but it's pretty close to it. But it didn't really help because in the Big 12 you only really see the spread. Every once in a while you'll see a team like Oklahoma or Texas that'll put two tight ends on the field, but that was maybe once or twice. So coming here, that's almost every single down, 21 or 12 personnel, it was a little bit of a struggle to just understand the basic concepts of the offense. Everything that I had seen was four wide. So it was a little bit different but I've picked up on it now. BD: The team lost some strong veteran leaders on defense. Without Shaun Phillips and Takeo Spikes, how has the linebacker corps responded? BB: Jarret Johnson, obviously. He was one of our great leaders last year. He shows up every day to play. Donald Butler is also a guy who they're (coaches) putting into that role, and they're trying to mold him to be the leader of this future defense. And then any time you've got a guy like Dwight Freeney, who's a future Hall of Famer, it's pretty nice to have that in your room as well. So we could learn a lot from those guys. BD: Last year got started for you when too many players started to go down. When you see injuries to starting linebackers like Ingram, what goes on in your mind as a guy fighting for minutes? BB: What the outside, maybe not the media but the fans don't realize, is it's so hard to stay healthy in this business. It's such a big deal for a guy like me. Anytime you're on the fringe, one week where you miss one or two practices can set you back. It's just one of those things where you try to maintain yourself and keep your body healthy because a guy like me can't afford to have any type of setback. Seeing other guys around you get hurt is very unfortunate and your heart goes out to them. It's not a good feeling but it's a part of this game, BD: Last year the defense was one of the top ranked in the league against the run. Are you continuing from where you left off or do you have to take a couple steps back for the new guys? BB: I think we're continuing. We've got guys like Cam Thomas at nose guard who's playing lights out right now. He played really well last year, but especially this year. It's almost like he's come into his own. Anytime you've got a guy like that making a presence at nose makes it a lot easier on the linebackers. Then you've got the best safety in the league with Eric Weddle, who is one of the leaders of the defense. He keeps things pretty fun. BD: Joe Barry is one of the coaches that stayed on from last season. How has your relationship with him grown since last year. Is there a stronger level of trust? BB: Absolutely. The first year everybody's just trying to feel each other out. Now that we've played a full year together, and this is our second training camp together, I think there's a level of trust now, but with everybody. Everybody understands each other better and understands the way he coaches and what he expects. BD: What can fans expect to see from you this season? BB: Preseason, I'm going to come out here and make as many plays as possible. Then during the season, obviously you play a major role on special teams, and then however I can help on the defense. Whether that's backing up or starting, whatever it is I'm going to give it my all and try to make plays. What kind of impact will Bird make in '13? Talk about it inside the message boards. Brian Ducoffe is in his third year of covering San Diego sports. He has been published on Fox Sports San Diego and University Link Magazine. Follow Brian on twitter @brianducoffe.