SAN DIEGO -- Antonio Garay has been around a while for being a guy who arrived in the NFL at the age of 31.
San Diego Chargers
In a rare story of extremely late NFL development, Garay emerged as one of the better nose tackles in the NFL last season following several non-descript years as a professional.
Garay entered the NFL in 2003 with Cleveland, where he stayed for two years (though he did not play in a game in 2004). He was out of the NFL in 2005 and then played two seasons in Chicago. He was out of the league again in 2008. Last season, seven years after he entered the NFL, Garay started his first game in the league. He ended up starting 15 games last yearat nose tackle and emerged as a Pro Bowl-quality player. He played in 16 games last season. He played in a total of 16 games in five previous NFL seasons.
Garay quietly dominated several games as a replacement for the departed Jamal Williams in 2010. Garay had 48 tackles and 5.5 sacks. He was a force against the run and often collapsed the middle of the field.
Even though he’ll turn 32 this season, Garay feels like he is entering his prime.
“I’ve always been a late bloomer,” Garay said. “A lot of the guys I came in the league with are out now. I still feel like I got a lot of miles left in me.”
He said his time away from the game in 2008 gave him a chance to reflect and he promised himself he’d take full advantage of his next opportunity, which came in San Diego partially because several of his former coaches in Chicago were on the San Diego staff.
“I was hell bent on doing what it takes to being successful,” Garay said. “I feel like I’m just starting out.”
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. doesn’t think Garay’s 2010 season was a fluke. He thinks Garay is a difference maker. Williamson said San Diego should consider moving Garay out to defensive end some to save him from the constant grind of playing nose tackle.
“He has great aggression and he is a leverage player,” Williamson said. “He’s a heck of a player.”