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Roster Struggles; Linebackers

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Jul 10, 2009.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    By Curtis Egan
    <em>BoltTalk Staff Writer</em>

    Training camp is on the way, the Hall of Fame game that heralds the new season is less than a month away. What does that mean; it means that the 2009 season is about the start, a season that should see the lightning bolts shake the NFL. The Chargers should enter the season without any major injury, providing that nothing ominous happens in Training camp or the Preseason. This is the time of year where the players strive to catch the coached eyes and prove to management that they deserve to avoid the dreaded Turk.

    I am an admitted linebacker homer. I see the linebackers as the game changers of the defense, and man I have to tell you that the Chargers linebacker corps in my mind are arguably one of the best in the NFL. This unit will probably prove to have quite a bit of competition in the upcoming training camp and preseason, and while I do not see a lot of change in the starting lineup, there will be players striving to prove they belong and player who don't want to be just another backup. There will be linebackers who want to prove themselves on more than the kickoff and punt coverage units.

    The Chargers linebacker corps has definitely been under the microscope of late. Suffering through a disappointing 2008 season and losing their inspirational leader Shawne Merriman for the majority of the season, this unit weathered some heavy criticism from the sports media and the fans. But in the upcoming season this unit may just be the brightest point on a lightning bolt that should glow with the intensity of the sun. The Linebacker corps has 42 man years of experience, in 13 players. There are only two players who have seven years of experience, so the group is still young, but it is well seasoned.

    AJ Smith, the Chargers General manager has infuse the unit with a dose of vitality with the use of the 16th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, taking Larry English, a two-time Vern Smith Leadership Award recipient, as well as picking up two undrafted free agent rookie backers James Holt, and Darry Beckwith. Smith has been able to land undrafted free agents in the past that have gone on to start in the league.

    Last season the Chargers carried 10 linebackers on the active roster and had 3 on the practice squad. Currently the Chargers have 13 linebackers in camp. Just two being undrafted rookies. That could mean we could see very little movement in the linebacker unit, giving Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera, and Linebackers Coach John Pagano much needed stability in the unit that is arguably the heart of the 3-4 defensive scheme.

    That said let's look at how the team has fleshed out as it stands now, however let's start with the coaching staff, the men who will be training, directing and evaluating all of these young men as they struggle for the elusive starting position.

    <strong>Coaching:
    <em>Defensive Coordinator:</em></strong>
    Ron Rivera took over a defensive unit that was struggling half way through the season last year. He was promoted when the Chargers let the incumbent defensive coordinator, Teddy Cottrell go during the bye week. At the point Cottrell was let go the Chargers the defense was struggling, coming off of a 37-32 loss in England to the New Orleans Saints, the Chargers were 3 and 5 trying to figure out what was happening and how the season could be getting away from them in this manner.

    After leading the NFL with 30 interceptions and 48 takeaways in 2007, the Chargers had only created 16 takeaways though half of the season, 6 interceptions and 10 takeaways. In 2007 they had 42 sacks, while they had 17 at the halfway point through the season in 2008. Ron Rivera had a large task ahead of him, the Chargers defense ended the season ranked 25th overall in the league. Not what the fans expected.

    However, Ron has had a full off season to install his approach to the game. The scheme is not changing for the most part, but according to OLB Shaun Phillips, the manner in which they approach the game and the level of aggressiveness will be where the changes occur.
    <strong><em>
    Linebackers Coach:</em></strong>
    John has been an assistant or position coach for the Chargers since 2002. He is the brother of the Ravens secondary coach, Chuck Pagano.

    In 2005, John oversaw the development of Merriman during his rookie Season. In that season, Merriman was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press after leading the team and all NFL rookies with 10 sacks. He also pitched in with seven tackles for loss, second-most on the team, and 54 solo tackles.

    In 2006, Merriman and Phillips combined sack total (28.5) that outnumbered several teams and as a group, the outside linebackers were responsible for 33.5 of the team's 61 sacks. The Chargers led the NFL in sacks in '06, and their total was the team's highest since 1980. Merriman was selected as a starter for the Pro Bowl and received a host of other postseason honors after setting a career high and leading the league with 17 sacks. His sack total was the second-highest in team history and the most in a season by a Charger since 1992. Shaun Phillips, who was in just his first year as a starter, burst out under Pagano's tutelage, recording career highs with 11.5 sacks and 63 tackles.

    In 2007, under Pagano, Merriman was voted to his third Pro Bowl in as many seasons and the Chargers' outside linebackers combined for 27 of the team's 42 sacks, including a team-leading 12.5 by Merriman and 8.5 by Phillips. Merriman also logged a career-high 96 tackles and led the team with nine tackles for loss.
    <strong>
    The Roster as it stands now: </strong>

    46 Beckwith, Darry; ILB, 6-0, 242, Louisiana State, Rookie
    48 Bakhtiari, Eric; LB, 6-3, 285, 1Univ. of San Diego, 1 years
    51 Dobbins, Tim; ILB 6-1 246 4 Iowa State 4 years
    52 English, Larry; OLB, 6-2, 255, Northern Illinois, Rookie
    53 Holt, James; OLB 6-2 223 R Kansas Rookie
    54 Cooper, Stephen; ILB 6-1 235 7 Maine 7 years
    57 Wilhelm, Matt; ILB 6-4 245 7 Ohio State 7 years
    56 Merriman, Shawne; OLB 6-4 272 5 Maryland 5 years
    59 Siler, Brandon; LB 6-2 239 3 Florida 2 years
    90 Applewhite, Antwan; LB 6-3 246 2 San Diego State 2 years
    94 Tucker, Jyles; OLB 6-3 258 3 Wake Forest 3 years
    95 Phillips, Shaun; OLB, 6-3, 262, Purdue, 6 years
    99 Burnett, Kevin; LB, 6-3, 240, Tennessee, 5 years

    <strong>46, Darry Beckwith,</strong>
    <em>6'o", 242 lbs. Louisiana State, Rookie, Undrafted Free Agent 2009</em>
    He was signed by the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2009. An experienced player, Beckwith's strength is his instincts and how he approaches the game. He is able to read and react to plays they develop. He can play in the middle or the weak side. He is known to maintain his gap responsibility and is a good tackler in the open field. He is able to close on the play quickly and deliver a hit.

    He does a good job in zone coverage due to his instincts. He reads quarterbacks well and can move into the passing lanes. He has a good backpedal for a linebacker.

    Beckwith's biggest liability is his lack of great lateral quickness, he is not the type to play from sideline to sideline. He could excel however as a 3-4 inside linebacker where he can concentrate on controlling a gap instead of playing sideline-to-sideline. In college he was not known for putting a lot of pressure on the quarterback and was rarely a threat to blitz.

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    (2:08, Derry Beckwith sack, 2:49 Beckwith intentional homicide of a QB)

    <strong>48, Eric Bakhtiari</strong>
    <em>6'4", 225 lbs. San Diego State, 1 year veteran, Undrafted Free Agent 2008</em>
    Bakhatiari has spent time on the practice squad of both the Chargers and the 49'ers. Picker up by San Diego last season as an undrafted free agent, Bakhatiari was released by San Diego last September, and was picked up by the 49'ers. He was resigned by San Diego in January of this year.
    Bakhtiari signed with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2008. He was released by the Chargers on August 30 during final cuts, but re-signed to the practice squad on September 10 when linebacker Shawne Merriman was placed on injured reserve. He was released again on September 23.
    After finishing the 2008 season on the practice squad of the 49ers, Bakhtiari was re-signed to a future contract by the San Diego Chargers on January 7, 2009.

    <strong>51, Tim Dobbins, </strong>
    <em>6'1", 246 lbs. Arizona, 4 year veteran, 5th round 2006</em>
    Tim Dobbins pushed Matt Wilhelm for playing time last season, and saw playing time in the remaining games after Shawne Merriman was put on Injured Reserve. Chargers.com lists the following bio for Tim:

    A fearless competitor who's become a solid contributor on special teams, Tim Dobbins' 12 tackles in 2007 tied for third on the squad. Dobbins is a compact and powerful inside linebacker that the Chargers selected in the fifth-round of the 2006 NFL Draft. While his defensive reps have been limited, Dobbins has become one of the team's top special teams players. <a href="http://www.chargers.com/team/roster/Tim-Dobbins/0e925a92-cd31-40b8-958d-22f26544a25f" target="_blank">http://www.chargers.com/team/roster/...d-22f26544a25f</a>

    <strong>52, Larry English </strong>
    <em>6'2", 255 lbs. Northern Illinois, Rookie, 1st round 2009</em>
    Larry was a productive member of the Huskies, he was named the Mid-American Conference's Most Valuable Player two years in a row ('07 and ''08), also named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior. He owns the Huskies career sack record. He had two seasons with double digit sacks, having a collegiate career high of 12 in 2006.

    English is known as a pass-rush specialist hustles on every play and has a non-stop motor. He typically plays with good leverage to get the most out of his strength. He is very productive and has a great work ethic. He is a very good tackler who is also known to like to lay big hits on his opponent.

    Some of the scouts have questioned his agility to move laterally. He has sometimes taken himself out of running plays by going straight for the quarterback. He is not experienced in pass coverage, most likely due to how he was used in his college scheme. The Huskies rarely had English drop back off the line in zone coverage. He has had some injuries in the past, including a torn pectoral muscle as a senior, as well as a torn ACL as a sophomore.

    English's stats (32.5 career sacks and 57 tackles for a loss) make him desirable prospect for a 3-4 team that is looking to improve upon their ability to get to the Quarterback. He has good straight ahead speed and a knack for getting to passers. As a senior, he only had 37 total tackles.

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    <strong>53, James Holt,</strong>
    <em>6'2", 223 lbs. Kansas, Rookie, Undrafted Free Agent 2009</em>
    Shared the Big 12 lead with 15.5 tackles for loss, as well as six fumbles forced. KU's best at applying pressure off the blitz, and Holt was a big part of that, leading the team with 97 tackles.
    Two-year starter awarded all-Conference honors as a senior after leading Kansas in tackles with career numbers of 105/19.5/10 and one pass interception. Junior year numbers included 99/13/2.

    Holt is athletic, even if a bit undersized, he is a linebacker who makes plays sideline-to-sideline. He gets depth on pass drops, quickly changes direction, and covers a lot of area on the field. He breaks down well, effectively uses his hands to protect himself, and quickly changes direction. Something that is greatly desired in a 3-4 defense. He easily runs downfield with ball carriers or tight ends in coverage, and has a closing burst of speed. He fires up the field filling gaps in run defense and nicely redirects the ball handlers.

    He is not known to be strong at the point of attack, and at times, easily taken out of the action. He has shown only marginal skills in pass coverage.

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    <strong>54, Stephen Cooper</strong>
    <em>6'1", 235 lbs. Maine, 7 year veteran, Undrafted Free Agent</em>
    Cooper had a solid 2008 season despite missing the first four games due to suspension. He finished with 98 total tackles and lead the team with four interceptions from the inside linebacker spot.

    Stephen Cooper told the NFL Network analyst and former offensive lineman Brian Baldinger earlier this year, which this team is the best he's ever been on:"This is the best team I've been on; the guys are coming back off of injuries, everybody is healthy. That's the biggest thing about this team. Shawne [Merriman] is coming back and he's looking better than ever."
    Cooper led the Chargers with 179 tackles during the 2007 season, when they made it to the AFC championship game. He has been a workhorse for the defense and a true journeyman since joining the team as an undrafted free agent. Last season after serving his four game suspension he came back and had a good season for the Bolts which included, 72 solo tackles, 26 assists, 1.5 sacks, 6 passes defensed, 4 interceptions.

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    <strong><em>57, Matt Wilhelm</em></strong>
    <em>6'4", 245 lbs. Ohio State, 7 year veteran, Undrafted Free Agent</em>
    Chargers linebacker Matt Wilhelm patiently waited five years for his opportunity to start in the National Football League, and when the time finally came, Wilhelm made the most of it. He started 14 games in 2007 and finished second on the squad with 144 tackles. He also recorded three interceptions, a sack and four tackles for loss. His production dropped a bit in 2008 when he registered 41 solo tackles, 10 assists, 3 passes defensed and 1 interception.

    Matt should continue to be pushed for playing time and will have to make the most of every opportunity he has to remain in the starting lineup ahead of Dobbins.

    <strong>56, Shawne Merriman</strong>
    <em>6'4", 272 lbs. Maryland, 5 year veteran, 1st round 2005</em>
    In just three seasons, Shawne "Lights Out" Merriman has become one of the NFL's preeminent superstars. In 2007 he earned his third Pro Bowl invitation in as many professional seasons and he continued to strike fear in opponents as one of the game's most feared defenders. While Merriman takes pride in all facets of his game, getting to the quarterback is his specialty. Despite regularly facing multiple blockers, Merriman still managed to finish tied for sixth in the NFL with 12.5 sacks, and among linebackers, only Dallas' DeMarcus Ware (14) had more.

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    Merriman is reported to have a fire in his belly and a desire to show everyone that his career is not in jeopardy after missing all but one game in the 2008 season. He will be expected to retake the position of on the field leader and motivator for the Chargers as they enter the 2009 season with something to prove.

    Shawne is playing for more than just his pride, more than just the team. He enters this season with a contract that will see him become a free agent next season. He will be playing to show the Chargers, or whatever team is interested that he is a premier defensive player.

    <strong>59, Brandon Siler</strong>
    <em>6'2", 239 lbs. Florida, 3rd year veteran, 7th round 2007</em>
    Siler, a late round draft pick has done what is expected contribute on special teams including a special teams touchdown in 2007 against the broncos in Denver. However Siler did much more than that. He excelled in the kicking game. Siler led the Chargers with 21 special teams tackles in 2007. For his efforts, the former Florida Gator earned All-Rookie honors from Pro Football Weekly and the Pro Football Writers of America. Siler saw more action on defense as the season moved on and could see his role increase in 2008.

    Siler benefited in 2008 from the four game suspension of Stephen Cooper, in which he saw more playing time with the Defense. Siler will push some of the incumbent starters at the inside position for playing time this season.

    <strong>90, Antwan Applewhite</strong>
    <em>6'3", 246 lbs. San Diego State, 2nd year veteran, Undrafted Free Agent 2008 </em>
    Antwan Applewhite was waived during final cuts in 2008 but was re-signed to the team's practice squad. One game into the 2009, he was signed to the active roster after linebacker Shawne Merriman was placed on injured reserve. Applewhite profited from the injury to Shawne Merriman and accumulated 16 solo tackles, 4 assists and .5 sacks in the 2008 season.

    Apple white was also the recipient of the ‘Holy Crap, he is huge!' award when on the first day of training camp in 2008, Turbo_Turtle mistook his large shoulders as shoulder pads-

    <strong>94, Jyles Tucker</strong>
    <em>6'3", 258 lbs. Wake Forest, 3rd year veteran, Undrafted Free Agent 2007</em>
    In 2008 Jyles Tucker was one of five nominees for the Diet Pepsi NFL Rookie of the Week award in Week 17. He recorded three tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles and a touchdown in the Chargers' 30–17 win over the Oakland Raiders. Tucker was awarded the Week 17 AFC Defensive player of the week for his performance against the Oakland Raiders.

    Tucker was another of the linebackers who benefited from the injury of Shawne Merriman and the suspension of Stephen Cooper.

    <strong>95, Shaun Phillips </strong>
    <em>6'3", 262 lbs. Purdue, 6th year veteran, 2nd round raft choice, 2005</em>
    Shaun ‘The other guy' Phillips was the focus of most of the offenses in 2008, with Shawne Merriman going on Injured Reserve, Philips left as the sole focus of the Chargers pass rush. Pillips maintained the level of production he had in 2007; in 2008 he had 52 solo tackles, the same as in 2007, 22 assisted tackled, which was 6 more than 2007, he also had 7.5 sacks which was just one less than he had in 2007 when Merriman was active.

    Phillips has been able to maintain his role of field general. He was instrumental in the Chargers recent success over the Indianapolis Colts, as he moved the defense when ever Peyton Manning audibled. Phillips has developed into a premier outside line backer and in the 2009 season with the return of Merriman, he should be even more effective.

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    <strong>99, Kevin Burnett, </strong>
    <em>6'3", 240 lbs. Tennessee, 5th year veteran, First round pick 2007</em>
    Burnett left the Dallas Cowboys earlier this year to join the Chargers, for whom he played the past four seasons after being drafted in the second round in 2005 out of Tennessee. Burnett, who also plays special teams, had 38 tackles and two sacks in 2008, and his 19 special teams tackles were second on the Cowboys.

    Burnett a native of Southern California joins the Chargers to add leadership and depth to the unit. In his four seasons with Dallas he compiled 70 solo tackles, 23 assists, 4 sacks and an interception.

    It is believed that Burnett will be able to step right in without missing a beat as he comes from the Wade Philips 3-4 defense which is very similar to the system ran in San Diego, the system Wade installed under Marty Schotenheirmer.

    Burnett is a powerful linebacker who has a muscular frame with great speed and strength. He has an explosive burst coming off the edge and while he does show good hand placement, will sometimes try to overpower the offensive linemen, resulting in struggles attempting to shed when working in-line. He is a very confident athlete that loves the challenge. He has made good improvement to play under control, but needs to improve his read and react ability near the line of scrimmage. His reactionary problems arise when he has to play man and zone coverage, as his stiff hips prevent him from getting good acceleration coming out of his backpedal and he is slow to react to the thrown ball. He plays better when working in space, as he can generate a good thud behind his hits when attacking ball carriers in the open. Burnett stays focused and carries out his assignment in run force.

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    <strong>CONCUDAN'S SHOE IN'S:</strong>
    I do not think there will be a lot of turnover in the linebacker ranks this season, however I believe that there will again be 10 on the roster and 3 on the practice squad. These are the players who I feel confident will be wearing Bolts and playing for the Chargers this season:

    <strong>51, Tim Dobbins</strong>
    Quality depth player on the verge of wresting the starting position from the incumbents.

    <strong>52, Larry English</strong>
    Helllloooo! First round draft pick with a work ethic of a champion!

    <strong>54, Stephen Cooper</strong>
    Journey man production and quality player, he is a Charger.

    <strong>56, Shawne Merriman</strong>
    Even with the public displays of displeasure Shawne received from the Iron GM, AJ Smith, he is still a premier defensive player and he is a Charger- At least until next year, one bridge at a time...

    <strong>59, Brandon Siler</strong>
    Too much production and potential to fins his head upon the Turk's chopping block.

    <strong>95, Shaun Phillips</strong>
    He is arguably the best linebacker on the squad. He is going nowhere.

    <strong>99, Kevin Burnett</strong>
    He has a season to prove he belongs, I hope he carves his name into the Charger records.
    <strong>
    ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN:</strong>

    <strong>46, Darry Beckwith </strong>
    Unfortunately I see Darry as camp fodder, or practice squad material. He has the preseason to prove me wrong.

    <strong>48, Eric Bakhtiari</strong>
    Already cut by the Chargers, camp fodder. He gets this season's red shirt award. That is he is the player who is like the red shirt security personnel from Star Trek, no last name and there is a salt sucking vampire out there looking to make him the next meal. The Turk is definitely watching this one.

    <strong>53, Jame Holt </strong>
    Probably destined to a season on the practice squad.

    <strong>57, Matt Wilhelm</strong>
    I know some are going to not like this, but Matt's production fell last season and there are younger players pushing for him playing time. He is in danger of finding himself relegated to the backup role again.

    <strong>90, Antwan Applewhite</strong>
    I like Applewhite, but he needs to find a way to get more playing time, be it on special teams or by displacing someone else.

    <strong>94, Jyles Tucker</strong>
    He has played well, but needs to continue to improve and find more playing time.

    Right now there are enough players on the camp roster to fill the roster spots. That is unless the Chargers go with less linebackers on the practice squad. If that is the case, then there could be as much as a two spot drop from last season..
    Let us not forget that there are but 8 allowed practice squad spots available each year. These spots cannot be set until early September, so as the month of August closes out, we could see some drama as we try and anticipate what is going to happen to the players and the positions.

    That is my opinion, what is yours?

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