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Draft Preview: The Defense

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Apr 16, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    Casey Pearce
    Posted Apr 15, 2009

    With the draft less than two weeks away, Chargers.com takes a position-by-position look at the team’s defense and what areas may be addressed with San Diego’s nine selections.
    Many of the faces will be familiar ones, but a Chargers defense that finished 25th in total yards a year ago will likely look a little different in 2009.

    Ron Rivera, who was promoted to defensive coordinator midway through the season, will embark on his first full year calling signals. Linebacker Shawne Merriman will be back after missing 15 games in 2008 due to a knee injury. Kevin Burnett was added to compete at inside linebacker, and young defensive backs such as Eric Weddle and Antoine Cason are expected to cash in on the valuable experience gained a year ago.

    Realistically, one could make a case for adding a draft pick at every layer of the Chargers’ defense simply to create some competition and bolster the team’s depth. Here’s a look at the current state of the defense with an eye toward which areas may be addressed.

    Defensive line

    After battling injuries early in the year, Jamal Williams had another Pro Bowl-caliber season and the 12-year veteran returns to once again anchor the middle. Left end Luis Castillo started 15 games in 2008 and returns for a fifth season with the Bolts.

    The Chargers opted to let Igor Olshansky leave in free agency, so they will have a new starter at right end in 2009. Veterans Ryon Bingham and Jacques Cesaire played in every game last year and have been reliable, versatile reserves at both end and nose. They’ll be in the mix to replace Olshansky in the starting lineup.

    Versatile veteran Ian Scott joined the Chargers in late September and appeared in four games. He can play both end and tackle and will be counted on in 2009. After a year and a half on the practice squad, Keith Grennan was promoted to the active roster in November but suffered a season-ending injury in his first game. He could provide depth as well, and two-year practice squad member Andre Coleman will try to earn a job in training camp.

    For shear numbers sake, the Chargers may address the defensive end position at some point.

    Inside Linebacker

    Despite missing the first four games of the season, Stephen Cooper had a stellar campaign in his second year as a full-time starter. Matt Wilhelm and Tim Dobbins split time beside him, while Brandon Siler also had a role, particularly near the goal line. The Chargers signed Burnett in March to compete with Wilhelm and Dobbins at the “Mo” position.

    Because the team runs a 3-4 system and the fact that linebackers are often counted on to fill key roles on special teams, the Chargers carried as many as 10 linebackers in recent years. Factor in that the Chargers don’t have any huge pressing needs, they have the luxury of going in a number of directions, and inside linebacker could be one.

    Outside linebacker

    Shaun Phillips led the team with 7.5 sacks and will be back at the “Will,” while Merriman’s return will likely bump Jyles Tucker (43 tackles, 5.5 sacks in ’08) to a reserve role. Tucker still should see plenty of time, particularly on passing downs. Antwan Applewhite was a key special teams contributor and was used in a variety of ways on defense. Coaches are excited about his future.

    The top four outside linebackers appear to essentially be in place, but again, the team could carry as many as 10 linebackers. It’s a position where depth could be added.


    The top four cornerbacks from 2008 are back. Quentin Jammer had yet another solid campaign, while Antonio Cromartie hopes a return to health means a return to Pro Bowl form in 2009. Cason turned in a solid rookie campaign as the top nickel back, and Cletis Gordon’s speed and ball skills make him an asset. DeJuan Tribble, a 2008 draft pick, spent most of the season on the practice squad and is back.

    Cornerback isn’t the team’s most pressing need, but it’s another area that if the right player is there, General Manager A.J. Smith could pull the trigger.


    Weddle’s second NFL season was his first as a starter, and the 2007 second-round pick got better as the year progressed. He shared the secondary with Clinton Hart, who fought through hand and neck injuries throughout the year. Third-year pro Steve Gregory cracked the starting lineup late in the year and continued to excel on special teams. Paul Oliver made the move from cornerback to safety last year and saw his playing time increase as the year went on.

    The Chargers could look to add depth at the position along with contributions on special teams.
  2. Buck Melanoma

    Buck Melanoma Guest

    If Mr. Pearce doesn't see DL as our #1 priority, he's out of touch.

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