San Diego Chargers: Post-Draft Defensive Breakdown
Last week I looked at how the offense was shaping up going into this season (see https://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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