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Department of Defense

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Jul 8, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://croceonchargers.blogspot.com/2006/07/entry-6-department-of-defense-ben.html">Croce on Chargers</a>

    By Ben Croce

    You don't need George W. Bush's intellect to know that a strong defense is key in any battle, be it against the Axis of Evil, Dr. Evil, or Evil Knievel. Battles on the gridiron are no different, because a strong offensive shootout is only as good as the field placement the defense delivers. It does not matter how many times the ball gets into the end zone and how many points you put on the board, if your opponent gets past you faster than Tom Cruise on a Katie Holmes induced frenzy you just will not win. Not consistently, anyway.

    In 2004, the Chargers ranked T-29 in the league with a measly 29 total sacks. To remedy this problem, the team had one major goal: put more pressure on opposing QBs. In order to accomplish this feat, they needed a powerful force, one procured when they drafted superfreak DE/OLB Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman with the pick acquired from the 2004 Rivers-Manning deal.

    Pla<a href="http://img210.imageshack.us/img210/7527/200620060607asmt257883uti09401.jpg"><img border="0" style="margin: 0pt 0pt 10px 10px; float: right; cursor: pointer; width: 200px" src="http://img210.imageshack.us/img210/7527/200620060607asmt257883uti09401.jpg" /></a>ying sam linebacker, Merriman got to the QB 10 times in 2005, an impressive number considering he did not even start until mid-season. Relying many times on pure athleticism, Merriman used every technique possible to get to opposing QBs, and quickly made his presence in the league known. By the season's end, he found himself holding a ticket to the Pro Bowl, as well as the Defensive Rookie of the Year title. Not bad for the former Maryland player who many scouts thought might have "character" issues when he entered the draft at age 20.

    Merriman already draws comparisons to OLBs such as the "original" LT, Lawrence Taylor, and Derrick Thomas, and despite having only one season under his belt, the praise appears to be well deserved. At 6'4," and 272 pounds, Merriman runs a 4.65 40. The physical aspect of his game astounds viewers, but Merriman also possesses a phenomenal mental grasp on the playbook. His play generally indicates self sacrifice in order to better the team's field position, though many times this sacrifice reaps its rewards via the league highlight reel.

    In addition to Merriman, 2004 brought the Bolts another controversial draft pick in Luis Castillo, the defensive lineman who tested positive for a banned substance before the draft.<a href="http://img490.imageshack.us/img490/5743/cast1mb.jpg"><img border="0" style="margin: 0pt 10px 10px 0pt; float: left; cursor: pointer; width: 200px" src="http://img490.imageshack.us/img490/5743/cast1mb.jpg" /></a> Claiming the substance was a steroid taken to expedite the healing process of an injured elbow, Castillo personally sent a letter to all 32 NFL teams explaining his situation, and guaranteeing to return his signing bonus if he ever tested positive for a banned substance again. Despite his apology, many teams dubbed Castillo a bad seed. Once Castillo was picked by the Chargers, a choice bringing strong criticism from many, the bad seed firmly planted himself on the defensive line and began making a strong impact along with fellow defensive rookie, Merriman.

    These two, along with the rest of the defense, managed to tie for fourth in the NFL with 46 sacks, a major improvement over the 29 they laid down in 2004. The more pressure the pass rush brought, the better the secondary should have been. Alas, the secondary phoned in the majority of 2005, with corner Quentin Jammer finally showing up for the second half of the season, doing just well enough to remind everyone why he was drafted in the first round of 2001 to be a premier shutdown corner. RCBs Sammy Davis and Drayton Florence were both injured at various times throughout the season, with Davis never making enough impression to retain his spot on the roster. He was ultimately dubbed a bust and traded in the off-season to San Fransisco for a WR. Though dimeback, Jamar Fletcher, was probably the second best CB, he never truly helped the defense improve.

    Unfortunately, safeties Bhawoh Jue and Terrence Kiel could not ease the pain for their teammates. While Jue delivered a solid performance as the starting free safety, he lacked the leadership qualities necessary to capitalize on his play. Kiel showed outstanding skills in run support, but his terrible pass coverage allowed him to be beat time and again by opposing WRS and TEs, and was rumored to have brought Clint Eastwood to tears.

    Inside<a href="http://img84.imageshack.us/img84/4011/godf7ky.jpg"><img border="0" style="margin: 0pt 0pt 10px 10px; float: right; cursor: pointer; width: 200px" src="http://img84.imageshack.us/img84/4011/godf7ky.jpg" /></a> linebackers, Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey, could have contributed more, as well. Based on his own standards, Edwards spent 2005 underachieving, yet then spent the off-season making requests for a new and improved contract to complement his tired and sub-par level of play. While he unofficially led the team in tackles, this claim to fame statistic fails to mention he also led the team in being dominated at the point of contact. Perhaps he allowed himself to be dragged by opponents because he is allergic to the grass on the field. Or perhaps his play is declining. Either way, there is a reason he found himself on the trading block in the off-season, and unless he has an outstanding 2006, he will be packing his bags and heading out of town or into retirement come 2007.

    Despite these weaknesses, the Chargers defense still managed to have arguably the best front seven in the NFL. Jamal "The Wall" Williams exemplifies the reason each team requires a strong nose tackle for success. Williams ranks as one of the top two NTs in the league, alongside Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton, and found himself rewarded last year with a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. As a group, Williams, Castillo and Igor Olshansky, seem to avoid receiving the credit they deserve for their play. This may very well change in 2006 as Castillo enters his second season and Olshansky his third, allowing them to emerge as one of the best DE pairs in the league.

    Even with Castillo and Olshansky poised to dominate, Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme requires the linebackers to work as the defensive backbone. WLB Steve Foley, hindered most of last year with an abdominal injury, finally appears to be back to full health. A scrap heap acquisition by AJ Smith, Foley, scary to face in person, has paid great dividends on paper. Another scrap heap veteran, Godfrey, returns in 2006 for what very well may be his last season. Godrey battled personal tragedy during the 2005 season after the senseless murder of his sister, prompting him to announce he would not return to the field in 2006. Since that time, Godfrey reconsidered and decided to return to the gridiron for one more season in hopes of finally hoisting the Lombardi, Jerome Bettis-style. Despite his increasing age, Godfrey continues to produce for the Bolts' incredible rush defense.

    Though 2005 showed defensive improvement for the Bolts, the team still managed to come up short when production mattered most. It seems that GM Smith remained true to his roots in the 2006 draft and off-season, carefully selecting players that will complement the already existing defense in an effort to fine tune it, as opposed to overhauling it. Reports out of mini-camps and practices indicate that first round draft pick Antonio Cromartie may emerge as a star in his first year, finally giving the Bolts the shutdown corner they sought in 2001 when they drafted Jammer. While some have dubbed Cromartie the next Deion Sanders, expect him to emerge as a player more akin to Ed Reed, an "offensive player on defense," if you will.

    B<a href="http://img80.imageshack.us/img80/7858/200620060607asmt257884uti09405.jpg"><img border="0" style="margin: 0pt 10px 10px 0pt; float: left; cursor: pointer; width: 200px" src="http://img80.imageshack.us/img80/7858/200620060607asmt257884uti09405.jpg" /></a>ecause Jammer continues to significantly improve his play, combined with a pack horse type work ethic, expect to see this veteran finally make his way to the Pro Bowl at the end of the 2006 campaign. Toss Jammer and Cromartie together with FA acquisition Marlon McCree and the Bolts field position will improve dramatically. They may also find themselves in the possession of an untouchable secondary that finally gives opposing offenses a reason to worry. That is, if offenses are not frantically biting their nails worrying about Merriman, who could easily have upwards of 20 sacks by the year's end if he stays healthy.

    Training camp will shine greater light on the defensive improvements made since December 2005, but with all things considered, the Chargers are built to be one of the league's most explosive and dominating defenses in 2006. Deciding whether the defense improves ultimately falls on the shoulders of the secondary. If Jammer and Co. cannot get it done, it will come down to the special teams to control field position, which could make for a season more painful than the re-emergence of Dr. Evil. I shudder at the thought.

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