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It's Primarily the Secondary

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Jul 10, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    By P.S. Hamilton

    <a title="Chargers secondary" class="imagelink" href="http://bolttalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/07/PrimarilySecondary.jpg"><img width="230" height="204" align="left" alt="Chargers secondary" id="image2463" title="Chargers secondary" src="http://bolttalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/07/PrimarilySecondary.jpg" /></a>All the off-season talk seems centered on Philip Rivers and his lack of NFL starting experience. However, common sense indicates that with his talent, leadership ability and supporting cast he will be just fine. What's murkier is the status of the Charger's defensive secondary.

    After ranking 28th of 32 teams against the pass last year, the secondary is now about as solid as alphabet soup. There are currently 16 defensive backs on the roster. Cromartie and Jammer may be the future at corner, but what about the safety position?

    To think that Troy Polamalu was on still on the board at #15 when the Chargers traded down to get cornerback Sammy Davis (who's been officially declared a bust), and journeyman safety Terrence Kiel. Davis plus Kiel do not equal Polamalu! Polamalu has proved himself to be a havoc-wreaking force on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. He is a hard-hitting, route-jumping, fumble-causing, hair-flowing nightmare for opposing teams.

    Remember when we had Rodney Harrison prowling the secondary, punishing every player that came within ten feet? If a receiver was brash enough to make a play in his vicinity, they had to pay a toll. That toll usually bought them a trip to the team physician by the end of the game. Harrison is a shutdown safety; one hit and bodily functions shut down.

    The Chargers have been without this type of safety for too long, but McCree could change that. He is a good open-field tackler and can apply a monster hit, but it remains to be seen if he can rise to Harrison or Polamalu's stature.

    The Chargers signed McCree to a five-year, $16 million dollar deal. Barring injury, he will start. Most prognosticators have him lining up at Free Safety. That is logical since he gets blown out in the box on occasion. If a player gets pushed off the line he probably isn't great against the run there either. Playing Free Safety would allow him to set up 10-15 yards off the line of scrimmage. McCree likes to get a running start. It's typically the free safety's responsibility to read the offense and communicate with the rest of the secondary, and he appeared to be taking on that role in mini-camp. McCree is a converted linebacker, and hits like one. He relishes taking out a player on a slant route. He's good in deep coverage, and has good ball skills. He's also very good at reading the quarterback and can jump routes when he sees a play developing. McCree is smart and has good instincts. His skill set appears tailor-made for the Free Safety position.

    Rumor has it that Clinton Hart, listed at Free Safety, could actually be the front-runner to win the Strong Safety position. Hart is 6'0", 205 lbs and started at Free Safety in week thirteen last year for Kiel, who had an ankle injury. Hart is a fan favorite who graduated from the school of hard knocks, overcoming long odds to become an NFL player. Hart is an exciting player, with a nose for the big play. As a back up in the New England game last year, Donnie Edwards intercepted a Brady pass and flipped it to Hart who ran it 40 yards for a touchdown. In the December game against Oakland, he picked off Kerry Collins and zigzagged 70 yards for a touchdown. He also forced a fumble in that game. He has quick reflexes, is speedy in coverage and can lay the wood when he gets a chance. Hart has the "it" factor -- he's a playmaker. He also has a darned good shot to start the season at Strong Safety if he continues to shine during training camp.

    Terrence Kiel is good in run support, is strong and aggressive at the line, and has good leaping ability. He also seems to get burned in coverage from time to time. There is much talk among fans that his inconsistent play is negatively affecting the progress of the cornerbacks. It is the safety's responsibility to stick with a running back, receiver or tight end that squirts out past the linebackers. If the safety misses him, the cornerbacks have to run to assist. If it happens regularly, a lack of confidence can develop, severely limiting the ability of the corners to risk jumping a route. I don't find it a coincidence that secondary play really improved toward the end of the season when Hart took over for Kiel at safety. Kiel's ankle injury certainly slowed him, but for a second round draft pick he appears to be under-achieving.

    Bhawoh Jue has shown that he can be very good, especially in pass protection. He started last season at free safety and had 3 interceptions and 4 passes defended. Jue was drafted in 2001 by the Packers and started the last 7 games of his rookie season. He did a great job, and in fact received the Packer's Defensive Rookie of the Year award. The question is, can he stay healthy? After a great rookie season, Jue sustained a rib injury and subsequently lost his starting job. In 2002 he played just four games due to a nagging groin injury that turned out to be a hernia. He had surgery, which required that he miss all of mini-camp in 2003, and then toward the end of the season he was injured again. He missed games with shoulder and knee injuries in 2005 and missed mini-camp this year to recover from knee surgery. If I were the Chargers, I would be concerned about investing too much more time in Jue as a starter. With a history of injuries, and his ability to play both safety and cornerback positions, he may be more valuable to the team in backup and nickel roles.

    Jammer has cemented his place as a starter at left corner by virtue of hard work and perseverance. He raised his level of play in mini-camp and receivers did not fare well against him. Jammer is big and strong with very good coverage skills, and led the team last year with 17 passes defended. His main weakness has been the lack of interceptions, but he's been running receiver routes so that he can better anticipate and jump balls. He also played "catch" with Drew Brees this off-season to improve his receiving skills.

    Drayton Florence has been slow to improve at the right cornerback position. He became the starter in 2004 and ended that season with four interceptions. In 2005, that number was down to one. He will be entering training camp with a giant-sized chip on his shoulder. The draft of Cromartie was seen as a personal affront, as evidenced by the background music on his personal website -- James Brown's "Payback". The right cornerback position is Florence's to lose and he better be ready to bring all he has to training camp.

    Antonio Cromartie is a real specimen. He's taller than most cornerbacks at 6'2". But it isn't just his size, it is what he does with it. Most players his size have trouble with quickness. It takes a few strides for them to get to full speed. Cromartie is quick and fast. He has incredible hands and uncanny instincts. His game highlights from Florida State are amazing. He made reads like he was in the huddle when the play was called. He has great timing and goes after the ball like a receiver. When Cromartie learns the intricacies of the pro game, he will absolutely be a star.

    If he is totally recovered from his knee surgery, look for him to start sometime after the middle of the season -- unless Florence really tears it up.

    With all the talk about Cromartie taking the right corner position, Markus Curry has gone practically unnoticed. Curry played cornerback for the University of Michigan and was on the practice squad in 2005. He was activated in the last game against Denver at safety but did not play. Curry looked pretty good in mini-camp and pulled down a few interceptions. Michigan secondary coach Ron English describes him as quick with good lateral movement, good eyes, and impressive footwork. He's good at the bump and run. Coach English was really impressed by his athleticism. "He really got himself in some freakish positions last season and he was still able to get out of them and make the play because he has such great body control."

    Curry is a polite character guy, which should make him a good fit for the Chargers. The five-foot-eleven, 181 lb. cover man finished his career at Michigan with 119 tackles, seven interceptions and 25 pass defenses. If he plays well in camp, Curry could be in the mix for a back up.

    Mitch Meeuwsen is a 6'3" player out of Oregon State. He was drafted as a safety, but the Chargers appear to be converting him to corner. His size will be useful at times against the Randy Moss/Terrell Owens type of receiver and big tight ends. Meeuwsen is intriguing since he can play both positions. He could provide the Chargers additional flexibility to plug holes if injuries arise.

    Raymond Walls is a six-year veteran originally drafted by Indianapolis in the fifth-round of the 2001 NFL Draft. If Hanik Milligan gets traded, look for Walls to take his spot on special teams and add a little emergency depth at cornerback.

    Cornerback Cletis Gordon could make the roster on special teams as well. This superb athlete is very exciting in the open field. He's tough and is considered a top return prospect, an area of concern for the Chargers. If he can handle punts, don't be surprised to see Gordon make the squad.

    Training camp will shine a little more light on the progress of the Charger's secondary. It's clear that any attempt at determining who has the inside track at what position is just speculation. I'll go out on a limb anyway with some predictions. I can see McCree starting at free safety with Jue as back up. Jue wasn't in mini-camp after his surgery and may not be full speed by training camp. The strong safety spot could go to Hart, relegating Kiel to the back up strong safety position. Jammer will start at left corner and Drayton Florence will probably open the season at right corner. Cromartie should see some time at nickel in within the first five games. Look for an all-out war for the starting right cornerback position by the middle of the season.

    As T.O. would say, "Bring your popcorn. It's going to be a show!"
     

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