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Defensive struggles ultimately did in Bolts

Discussion in 'American Football' started by boltmanbz, Jan 16, 2009.

  1. boltmanbz

    boltmanbz Well-Known Member

    Oct 16, 2006

    ANALYSIS: While the team improved in the second half, it still finished 25th in the NFL in yards allowed. Look for up to three new starters next season.

    Kevin Acee (Contact)

    Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Defense wins championships.

    For all the reasons the Chargers are home right now, look no further than that cliché.

    The Chargers finished the 2008 season ranked 15th in the NFL in points allowed, 25th in yards allowed and 31st in passing yards allowed.

    Now, it was a strange year.

    Linebacker Shawne Merriman, perhaps the most disruptive player in the league, played just one game before succumbing to two torn ligaments.

    Coordinator Ted Cottrell and his players did not handle the loss of Merriman well. Cottrell was gone at midseason and replaced by inside linebackers coach Ron Rivera.

    The statistics and results were greatly improved once Rivera's changes set in.

    But there remain holes. As many as three positions could see a new starter in 2009.

    Following is a position-by-position look at what happened and what might yet happen, in order of offseason intrigue and importance:


    Looking back: Clinton Hart lost his starting job in December. Steve Gregory played aggressively but the results were negligible. Eric Weddle, in his first season starting at free safety, was up and down – mostly up at the end. Paul Oliver finally saw the field late in his second season, and he showed promise.
    Grade the Chargers' performance each week and compare your scores with Union-Tribune columnists Nick Canepa and Tim Sullivan.
    Start your report card

    Looking ahead: Hart signed a five-year contract extension last spring that based on the money clearly did not guarantee him the starting job for long. And that tenure is now over. Gregory was likely an interim solution, as he still needs some seasoning and there is thought in the organization he might always be best as a role player. This seems a likely free-agent target, though General Manager A.J. Smith might think he can find a college safety on the draft's first day. Weddle is too smart and too prideful not to get better. There is a slight possibility Weddle could move to strong safety and cornerback Antoine Cason, who showed good field awareness and ball skills, could be shifted to free safety.


    Looking back: Days before training camp, Luis Castillo became one of the game's highest-paid defensive ends. He hurt his back in training camp and then spent a good portion of the first half of the season on his backside. Nose tackle Jamal Williams had a host of ailments keep him idle in the offseason, and he took a good month to shed that inactivity. Once he got back to speed, there was little on Sundays to make anyone think he couldn't play another 10 years. The Chargers played predominantly nickel and dime in the final month, rendering Igor Olshansky more of an afterthought than he already was, as the Chargers often went with just Castillo and Williams or had Ryon Bingham play.

    Looking ahead: Olshansky is gone, and Bingham could be his replacement. Bingham has improved each year he's been in the league, while being asked to fill in for both Olshansky and Williams. Castillo has shown too much promise and it's too important to him to not rebound strong. And while Williams is still going strong, he will turn 33 in April and carries 360 pounds and a variety of ailments. His long-awaited heir could be a draft target.


    Looking back: Stephen Cooper didn't play until October because of suspension but by November was outstanding. Matt Wilhelm lost his starting job in October, pretty much splitting time with Tim Dobbins after that. Wilhelm improved, and Dobbins was a pleasant surprise, but neither made anyone forget what Donnie Edwards used to be.

    Looking ahead: Wilhelm likely has another season to show he at least deserves a role in this defense. Dobbins will return, too. Brandon Siler has been a force on the goal line and with a good offseason he could get into the mix. Anthony Waters, who played outside this season, could return to the inside as well. But it isn't certain any of them will be the starter next to Cooper. Free agency could be a possibility.


    Looking back: What happened to Antonio Cromartie? No one knows. Honestly, no one knows. In his defense, he played the entire season with what he called a fracture in his hip. In just his third season in the NFL, he had to learn how to practice and play with an injury. But many suspect there was also an element of humiliation after he was torched at Denver in the season's second game. He rebounded with two interceptions the next week but did not have another one the rest of the season. Imagine if Quentin Jammer, who just keeps getting better, had not had his best season. Cason made some big mistakes, but he was overwhelmingly solid in his rookie year.

    Looking ahead: Cromartie has gone from perhaps about to become the highest-paid corner in the NFL to fighting for his job. He likely has one more year to get back to being productive, or he won't get that big contract, or even hold off Cason.


    Looking back: Merriman played one game on a bad knee – and the rest is history. No matter how hard or how well Shaun Phillips played, he missed his Michael Jordan. After getting 20 sacks in his first two seasons as a starter, Phillips had 7.5 this season, and four of those came in two games against Oakland. Jyles Tucker got hurt three weeks after the man he replaced went down, and he was never going to be Merriman anyway. The pleasant surprise was the emergence of Antwan Applewhite, who was called up from the practice squad to replace Merriman. Rivera started using Applewhite more and in a specific role, and Applewhite showed he is a decent player with a nose for the ballcarrier.

    Looking ahead: The Chargers will essentially get the equivalent of a marquee free agent with Merriman's return. That will inevitably help Phillips. The team could try to lock up Applewhite this offseason to one of those team-friendly deals that gives the player security, a la Tucker.


    Looking back: Mike Scifres, the league's best punter, had one of his best years, though it still didn't get him to the Pro Bowl. Scifres had a team-record 40.9-yard net average and just 23 of his 51 punts were returned. His performance in the wild-card round essentially won that game. Darren Sproles finished eighth in kickoff return average (26.0) and punt return average (11.3), one of just two players in the league to finish in the top 10 in both. Nate Kaeding made a career-high 27 field goals but had his lowest percentage (84.4) since his rookie season.

    Looking ahead: Scifres and Kaeding are under contract for another three and four years, respectively. The Chargers want to keep Sproles and continue using him to return kicks and punts. If he leaves, Cromartie and Buster Davis are among the replacement possibilities.
  2. nickelbolt

    nickelbolt Fuggedaboutit

    Aug 20, 2006
    Cason to safety? Now that's an interesting scenario. Dude has show an ability to find the ball. And Weddle is a solid tackler, so I'd have no problem with him at SS.

    Trumpy likes to think that Hart can play FS. But he just doesn't have the range. Sorry Trumpy... even without the neck roll the dude is toast.

    Still, if Cro doesn't grab his sack and pick up the slack... Cason is taking his spot and Cro can play nickel.
  3. Enormo

    Enormo BoltTalker

    Jul 22, 2007
    We should have been looking to grab Jamal's heir apparent a few years back. Unless we find a gem in the draft there could be significant ramp up time. If Jamal is out again our defense will regress again. A gem is not out of the question though... one of the benefits of an 8-8 season.

    Olshansky? he has never really produced. Castillo? He's a mystery. Has played well in the past before going down to injuries. Disapeared this year. Why? The scheme? No Merriman? Personal slump? Not as good as we thought? I certainly don't know.

    Cason at FS? I would rather see Cromartie. You don't dump a promising rookie CB into a safety position because you need to upgrade. That's value out the window. Cro deserves another shot at CB next year as well. Fingers crossed that with through a sophomore slump. Need to kick his tires. Still, Cro at FS? With his range and ball skills? Hmm... could he learn to hit?

    Fingers crossed that Merriman is back to form. Still, should the loss of one player result in such a huge drop off in performance? That says a lot about the remainder of our front seven. Obviously we need someone else who can be disruptive up there from a position besides NT.

    McNeil with back troubles. I guess one of the reasons we got him at such a bargain basement price. Clary struggled. Deilman to the Pro Bowl but why? Need to bring in fresh meat for Goff. A potentially dominant OL suddenly looks like it's struggling to become average. We need a line coach who can do a lot with a little. I've heard of this guy... Houck. He's supposed to be good... oh wait... nevermind.

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