The defense of the 2016 Chargers will most likely have a completely different look than that of this year’s squad. With multiple coaching changes possibly on the horizon, including at defensive coordinator, we’ll all have to wait and see how that plays out.
Some of the needs on the defensive side of the ball are quite obvious, finding a replacement for free safety Eric Weddle, while others may not seem to be as high on the priority list, adding a defensive end opposite of Corey Liuget.
The defense has some nice pieces in place that the team can build around, including cornerback Jason Verrett, defensive end Liuget and inside linebackers Manti Te’o and Denzel Perryman.
Here are the defensive positions I believe are worthy of being upgraded as we head into the 2016 offseason.
Nose tackle – Talking about the Chargers’ defense needing a nose tackle seems incredibly redundant, as the team hasn’t been able to find a true nose tackle since the days of Jamal Williams.
Yes, it has been that long.
If the organization continues to employ John Pagano as its defensive coordinator (which they shouldn’t), general manager Tom Telesco and his scouting staff must find a player to man the middle of the defensive line in this 3-4 alignment. The Chargers run more nickel and multiple-defensive-back sets than they do their base defense, but a lot of that has to do with available players, down and distance, the NFL being a passing league and playing from behind far more often than not.
Although second-year defensive tackle Ryan Carrethers has flashed some ability, he is inconsistent and his durability is in question. Carrethers lost a bit of weight during the 2015 offseason, but he may benefit by losing even more weight and sliding over to the defensive end position.
Sean Lissemore was acquired in 2013 from the Dallas Cowboys in exchange for a seventh-round selection. He has made plays here and there, but he isn’t necessarily built to take the wear and tear of an NFL nose tackle. He would be better suited to play end. The six-year vet has ranked third in tackles among the team’s defensive linemen over the last two seasons.
Finding the optimal, space-eating nose tackle could be seen as a top priority for the team, but Telesco will need to be careful over-drafting a player due to position of need.
Free safety – Similar to the Antonio Gates’ situation, writing about the team needing to replace free safety Eric Weddle seems unfathomable. After all he has contributed to the Chargers after being taken in the second round of the 2007 draft, the organization decided that they would not be extending Weddle’s contract during the offseason or regular season in 2015.
Being in the last year of his contract, No. 32 is set to test free agency in 2016. Replacing a savvy player like Weddle will be exponentially difficult to do. You cannot bring in a rookie to fill the void left by Weddle’s imminent departure. That is not to say that you can’t find a rookie or young player to groom at the position, but do not expect the same impact that the nine-year veteran provided, especially when looking at his multiple years as an All-Pro and Pro Bowler.
Strong safety – As if the task of finding a free safety isn’t daunting enough, the defense may also need to find a long-term solution at strong safety.
Starter Jahleel Addae has struggled in coverage and gets beaten far more often than one would like. He may provide the threat of a big hitter, but he tends to miss tackles, going for the monster hit as opposed to wrapping up.
The strong safety spot has been neglected since the days of Rodney Harrison. Like Jamal “The Wall” Williams, Harrison set the bar extremely high when it came to finding his successor. It has been way too long since the team had a true enforcer in the secondary.
Defensive end – Due to the lack of a dominant nose tackle and little help at the other defensive end spot, Corey Liuget is not having the impact that you would hope for from a guy who just signed a multi-year extension worth $51 million. Now that Liuget has been placed on season-ending injured reserve, the team has been rolling with Kendall Reyes, Ricardo Mathews, Damion Square and rookie Darius Philon at the defensive end spots.
Pass rusher/Edge – Although outside linebackers Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu have started to heat up as the season has progressed, the team still lacks a dominant pass rusher.
As the Chargers enter Week 17, the team is currently tied for 24th in the league with only 30 sacks (only six teams are posting lower sack totals). Ingram leads the club with 9.5 sacks, while Attaochu is sitting at 6.5 quarterback takedowns.
The Bolts have finished in the bottom-third of the NFL in sacks for the better of the last half of a decade. Simply put, in a passing league such as the NFL, that is clearly not good enough.
Finding a legitimate threat as a pass rusher should be paramount for Telesco entering the 2016 draft.
Due to the fact that I truly believe Jason Verrett is the “answer” at cornerback, and Patrick Robinson is more than capable of taking over the second corner spot, I didn’t include corner on this list. Steve Williams seemed to come on as he saw more playing time.
Truthfully, the selection of Craig Mager in the third round is still mind-boggling, but who knows at this point. Perhaps a switch to one of the safety positions would allow Mager to shine as a member of the Chargers’ secondary.
Not-so-breaking news: Liuget really needs help along the defensive line. The prime of his career will be wasted if the team does not do what it takes to ensure he isn’t asked to do too much.
I like Ingram and Attaochu, I really do, but I just don’t see opposing defensive coordinators losing sleep over the duo while game planning for the Chargers. Adding a viable third option to the position, again, should be a major focus during the offseason.
I hate to say it, but Pagano has to go. He hasn’t shown that he can change games with his defensive game plan often enough to overcome the defense’s inability to tackle properly, create pressure or force turnovers.
As you can tell from this post, there is a lot of work to be done, and that is only on the defensive side of the ball.
I’ll be writing about the offensive needs in the next few days.
Thanks a lot for reading.