Archive for May 2012
Last week I looked at how the offense was shaping up going into this season (see http://mrnfl.wordpress.com/2012/05/03/san-diego-chargers-post-draft-offensive-outlook/) and now it’s time to look at the defensive side of the ball.
It seems almost impossible to think that the Chargers had the number 1 ranked defense in all of football just two years ago under former defensive coordiantor Ron Rivera.
But after Rivera leaft to become the Head Coach of the Carolina Panthers last year, the Chargers defense struggled and finished the season ranked 16th in the league.
To go from the best defense in the NFL to just about average isn’t something Chargers fans were hoping for. But with the introduction of new defensive coordiantor John Pagano and after several key offseason moves like re-signing Antonio Garay, signing Jarret Johnson and drafting Melvin Ingram, the defense is looking to bounce back this season.
So what will the defense look like in 2012? Let’s find out.
Starting with the defensive line and it looks like it’s going to be a mixture of veteran leaders with promising young players at defensive end.
The team drafted UConn defensive tackle Kendall Reyes in the second round of the draft and he’ll be asked to make the transition to 3-4 defensive end for the Chargers.
Reyes will compete with last year’s first round pick Corey Liuget to start at defensive end. Liuget will be looking to improve on an inconsistent first season during which he showed flashes of potential along with rookie mistakes.
On the other side of the line and the team welcome back Luis Castillo to the mix. Castillo was initially released but has since reworked his contract to stay with the team. If he can stay clear of injuries, he should continue to be a key player for the defense. Veteran Jacques Cesaire should serve as Castillo’s backup.
Projected DE Depth Chart: LE: 1- Luis Castillo 2- Jacques Cesaire RE: 1- Corey Liuget 2- Kendall Reyes
Defensive tackle is looking like one of the strongest positions on the Chargers defense.
Antonio Garay is the only true nose tackle on the roster and he was re-signed to a new two-year deal this offseason. He is a solid run stopper who is a real force inside but is usually replaced on 3rd down passing situations.
Aside from Garay, there are two improving defensive tackles waiting in reserve.
Vaughn Martin and Cam Thomas both made solid contributions on defense last year career-high numbers last year (Martin had a career-high 47 tackles and Thomas had a career-high 4 sacks) and both will see plenty of playing time again this season.
Expect to see Martin line up at both defensive end and tackle as he is a versatile d-lineman.
Thomas will be used more at defensive tackle and should step in to replace Garay on passing downs.
Projected DT Depth Chart: 1- Antonio Garay 2- Vaughn Martin 3- Cam Thomas
A couple of familiar faces return from last season along with a few new additions at outside linebacker.
Veteran Jarret Johnson was signed as a free agent acquisition from the Baltimore Ravens and is expected to start alongside Shaun Phillips. Johnson is an experienced run stopper and Phillips will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing year in which he had a career-low 3.5 sacks.
Waiting in reserve are rookie Melvin Ingram and Antwan Barnes. Barnes was the team leader last year with 11 sacks and should continue to fill in for Shaun Phillips as a pass rushing specialist.
Ingram will be used at a number of positions in his rookie year and could possibly have an Aldon Smith-type impact for the Chargers. Despite the fact that he isn’t likely to start, don’t be surprised to see Ingram finish the year with 10 sacks.
Finally we get to former first-round pick Larry English. English is entering his fourth season with the team and has just 7 sacks in his NFL career. He should see some playing time as a converted DE/OLB pass rusher.
Projected OLB Depth Chart: LOLB: 1- Jarret Johnson 2- Melvin Ingram 3- Larry English ROLB: 1- Shaun Phillips 2- Antwan Barnes
Both starting middle linebackers from last year stay in tact as Takeo Spikes looks set for a second season starting alongside Donald Butler.
Spikes will be hoping to follow up his successful first season with the team in which he had over 100 tackles. Butler is still improving and will only get better in his second year as a starter.
In reserve, Demorrio Williams and Jonas Mouton are expected to serve as backups. Williams is a former Kansas City Chief who was one of the Chargers first free agent signings this offseason and Mouton is hoping to bounce back from a rookie season ending shoulder injury and could see playing time on special teams.
Projected MLB Depth Chart: 1- Takeo Spikes 2- Donald Butler 3- Demorrio Williams 4- Jonas Mouton
Cornerback apears to be the weakest position on defense going into the season. Starters Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason have both had individual issues in the past.
Jammer will be 33 years-old by the time the season starts and is clearly coming towards the end of his career. Cason can often be exposed by better quarterbacks in the league and is still showing signs inconsistency despite being a four-year veteran.
Last year’s rookies Marcus Gilchrist and Shareece Wright are the only other cornerbacks currently on the roster. Both showed signs of promise but it is still unclear if they will ever develop into full-time starters.
The Buffalo Bills recently released former Drayton Florence and the former Charger may be worth bringing back to San Diego to compete at cornerback.
Projected CB Depth Chart: 1- Quentin Jammer 2- Antonie Cason 3- Marcus Gilchrist 4- Shareece Wright
And finally we get to the safety position where Eric Weddle returns as one of the league’s best.
Weddle has been an All-Pro for the past two seasons and is coming off another impressive season in which he had 7 interceptions. He will continue to start at free safety.
Moving to strong safety and the Chargers have three players fighting for the starting role. Darrell Stuckey has yet to start a game for the Chargers and should continue to act as a backup this season, perhaps moving to play behind Weddle at free safety.
Atari Bigby is another possible option. Bigby is another offseason signing and despite being injury prone in the past, he can still be a solid contributor when healthy.
The final candidate for the starting job is rookie Brandon Taylor. Taylor was drafted in the third round and should step in to start immediately at strong safety.
Projected S Depth Chart: FS: 1- Eric Weddle 2- Darrell Stuckey SS: 1- Brandon Taylor 2- Atari Bigby
So that’s my breakdown of the San Diego Chargers Defense. Check back next week when I conclude my breakdown of the Chargers roster with a brief breakdown of the Chargers special teams.
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Now that the Draft is finally over, it’s time to look ahead to the season ahead.
The Chargers are coming off the back of a disappointing 2011 season in which the team finished 8-8 and missed the Playoffs for a second consecutive year.
However, there is hope. The team retained head coach Norv Turner and also kept faith with general manager A.J. Smith. After a busy free agency and an impressive draft class, the Chargers are looking in good shape for this year.
Over the next three weeks, I shall be breaking down the Chargers roster for the upcoming season and this week begins with the offense.
So what will the offense look like in 2012? Let’s find out.
The Chargers leader on offense is undoubtedly star quarterback Philip Rivers who is one of the best passers in the league.
Rivers was uncharacteristically inconsistent at times last season and threw a career high 20 interceptions.
However, much of this was due to the lack of weapons at his disposal and I fully expect him to bounce back this season.
Long time backup Billy Volek was released by the team back in March and was replaced by a familiar face in Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst spent the last two seasons competing for playing time with the Seattle Seahawks and should provide solid backup for Rivers.
Projected QB Depth Chart: 1- Philip Rivers 2- Charlie Whitehurst
Starter Ryan Mathews is coming off his first 1,000 yard rushing season and appears to be developing into one of the NFL’s best running backs.
He still has some issues with fumbles and is often injury-prone but he should be in line for another 1,000 season once again.
There are several potential backups on the current roster including rookies Edwin Baker and Michael Hayes but it’s Curtis Brinkley who is expected to win the job. As a backup, Brinkley isn’t going to be a speedy change of pace back like the way Darren Sproles was but he should still provide solid support for Mathews.
Projected RB Depth Chart: 1- Ryan Mathews 2- Curtis Brinkley 3- Edwin Baker
Former Kansas City Chief Le’Ron McClain was signed in free agency and he will serve as lead blocker for Mathews this season.
McClain is a former pro bowler during his time with the Baltimore Ravens and he should see some carries in goal line situations as a running back.
Jacob Hester will act as McClain’s backup and will also be one of the team’s key contributors on special teams.
Projected FB Depth Chart: 1- Le’Ron McClain 2- Jacob Hester
The current group of wide receivers are looking dramatically different to the ones that ended last season. There are only two recievers left on the roster (Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown) that had a catch last year. So what’s changed?
For starters, long time number 1 receiver Vincent Jackson has left the team after signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in free agency. Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish and Michael Spurlock were all signed in free agency to help replace his production.
Quarterback Philip Rivers couldn’t be much happier with this group of receivers and they should play a role in contributing to the offense this season.
Projected WR Depth Chart: 1- Malcom Floyd 2- Robert Meachem 3- Vincent Brown 4- Eddie Royal 5- Roscoe Parrish 6- Richard Goodman
Although he is coming towards the end of his career, Antonio Gates is still one of the top tight ends in the NFL. In fact, when healthy, Gates would rank behind only New England Patriots’ Rob Gronowski and New Orleans Saints’ Jimmy Graham as the league’s best. (In my unbiased opinion)
Gates has been injury-prone over the last few seasons and so the team were busy this offseason in acquiring some competition to provide depth at tight end.
Kory Sperry and Brad Taylor return from last year’s roster but I don’t expect either of them to make the final cut this time around. Veteran Randy McMichael was re-signed on a one-year deal and should serve as the primary backup to Gates.
In a surprising move, Ladarius Green was drafted in the fourth round and will bring some added speed to the tight end position. He isn’t much of a blocker but with tutoring from Gates and some solid coaching, he could go on to become a key player for the Chargers.
Projected TE Depth Chart: 1- Antonio Gates 2- Ladarius Green 3- Randy McMichael 4- Dante Rosario
Unlike other areas on offense, the offensive line looks like its going to be pretty much the same as the one that ended last season.
On the left side of the line, Jared Gaither will start at tackle now that Marcus McNeill is no longer with the team and Tyronne Green will replace retired Kris Dielman at guard.
The right side will be the same as it has been for the past few seasons with Jeromey Clary at tackle and Louis Vasquez staring at guard.
Veteran Nick Hardwick was re-signed on a three-year deal and will continue to start at center.
Overall, the offensive line looks to be set and there is also plenty of depth with 15 offensive linemen currently on the roster.
Projected OL Starters: Left Tackle- Jared Gaither Left Guard- Tyronne Green Center- Nick Hardwick Right Guard- Louis Vasquez Right Tackle- Jeromey Clary
Projected OL Backups: T- Mario Henderson T/G- Brandyn Dombrowski G/C- Rex Hadnot C- David Molk
So that’s my breakdown of the Chargers offense. Check back next week for the breakdown of the defense.
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