SAN DIEGO -- One player consistently emerging from the pile after a tackle in the San Diego Chargers' win against the Arizona Cardinals last week was inside linebacker Nick Dzubnar.
The undrafted rookie free agent out of Cal Poly finished with five tackles and a sack against the Cardinals, standing out as one of the training camp surprises at Chargers Park.
"Nick is a young guy out there just running around trying to hit somebody," fellow linebacker Donald Butler said. "And looking at the young guys, that’s what you want to see -- a high-energy, high-effort guy.”
At 6-foot-1 and 240 pounds, Dzubnar is a Southern California native who played at Mission Viejo High. Dzubnar grew up wrestling and playing ice hockey, which explains his tough, relentless nature. He set a school record with 167 tackles his senior season last year.
The Chargers were one of five teams that attended Dzubnar’s pro day leading up to the draft. He tested better than expected, running a 4.67-second, 40-yard time and showing good lateral quickness, confirming his production on tape.
Dzubnar is old school -- he doesn’t wear gloves or elbow pads on game days. He said that even though he played at a smaller school in college, his approach remains the same. He’s picked up San Diego’s defensive scheme quickly, which has helped him play fast in practice and games.
"A lot of it is attitude, effort and hustle really," Dzubnar said about his play. "And a lot of it has to do with the way you play, your instincts and the stuff you rely on to make plays out there. Obviously that stuff carries over -- you’re just going up against bigger and faster guys.
"The attitude is still the same. The hustle still is the same. And I think if you continue to do that, you’ll be successful no matter what. So that’s what I try to do every game."
Dzubnar said at Cal Poly he played middle linebacker in a 4-3 defense, with a little 3-4 package mixed in, but nothing like the 3-4 defense preferred by Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano.
"He’s a very competitive person, and that helps him a lot," Chargers linebackers coach Mike Nolan said. "That really is a trait that helps a lot of the good players in the NFL make it, and become even better. As much as you would like to think that all professional athletes are competitive, everybody has a different degree of how competitive they are.
"He’s an intelligent guy, he’s got instincts and he’s competitive. And those three things, along with the fact that he’s got decent ability, has made him shine a little bit as far as practice goes, and even in the game."
Tight end Antonio Gates compared Dzubnar to someone he watched as kid growing up in Motor City -- former Detroit Lions middle linebacker Chris Spielman.
"He’s back in the backfield making tackles," Gates said. "He’s just gritty and dirty -- what you think of in a middle linebacker. He has that. I love him."
With starting middle linebacker Manti Te'o nursing a shoulder injury, fellow rookie Denzel Perryman and Dzubnar should see more time on the field when the Chargers host the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday.
"I’m going to try and outwork everyone, no matter what happens," Dzubnar said. "I want to get to every single ball, and that’s how I’m going to play every single down."