After somewhat of a writing hiatus, I am now back to the grindstone after the Chargers were ousted from the playoffs by the Denver Broncos. This season provided many ups and downs. Considering what Tom Telesco, Mike McCoy and company had to work with the 2013 season can definitely be considered a success.
As you all know, the Bolts advanced past the first round of the playoffs and eventually fell to Denver. During that game, and many others throughout the year, San Diego’s flaws became quite obvious. In this post I’ll breakdown the team’s needs all over the defensive side of the roster.
Despite improved play in the secondary, it is clear that the cornerback position must be addressed during the offseason. The Chargers finished with the 29th ranked passing defense. That is not going to get it done. Shareece Wright played hard and was tough during certain stretches of the year. But he was a bit inconsistent. Richard Marshall played admirably but was not a guy that you want starting in your defensive backfield. I am very interested to see what this year’s fifth round pick, Steve Williams can do next season after tearing a pectoral muscle prior to the season. The Chargers may look to address this need in both free agency and the draft depending on how the feel the play of Wright progressed as a starter on the outside. Wright had his share of plays and he was also exploited by some of the better quarterbacks in the league.
Sticking with the cornerback spot, the addition of Derek Cox was, without a doubt, a serious disappointment to say the least. After multiple benchings due to poor play, Cox was relegated to special teams play or occasionally coming in when another corner was injured. It has been said by Telesco that the team will try to work with Cox. But it would not be a surprise at all to see him cut in an effort to save a little bit of cash toward the salary cap.
On a high note regarding the secondary, the emergence of strong safety Jahleel Addae just might have eliminated the need to fill that spot in the upcoming draft or free agency. It is also seemed that Darrell Stuckey, who began to see the most defensive snaps of his entire career, is a solid backup. Oh, and there’s that one guy Eric Weddle. He’s pretty damn good. Adding a little depth to the safety spots wouldn’t hurt but the future there seems to be bright.
Sticking with the defensive side of the ball, we’ll work our way to the linebacking spots. Beginning with the inside backers, it is paramount that the team re-sign Donald Butler. He is a leader on this team and, despite a dip in play this year, he is a top 7 inside linebacker in this league.
Next to Butler is the highly talked about Manti Te’o; who it turns out has a real girlfriend, by the way. After missing the first three games due to injury, Te’o had a rough beginning to his rookie campaign. He had some issues adjusting to the speed of the NFL game and his inability to shed blocks was still the same issue he had in college. All of that being said, his play did improve over the season.
The Bolts have Reggie Walker, who plays both the inside and outside spots, Andrew Gachkar – special teams standout – and Bront Bird for depth at the inside linebacker position. Walker had a good year making plays when called upon. It might be necessary to upgrade over either Gachkar, Bird or both.
The outside linebacker position was hoped to be one of the strengths of the defense with Melvin Ingram entering his sophomore season and the addition of Dwight Freeney in free agency. The team already had a dominant edge-setter in Jarret Johnson as well. Then on May 2nd, the team’s second day of OTAs, Ingram tore his ACL.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, Freeney was lost for the year during the week 4 matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. The Chargers were then starting Johnson and rookie sixth round draft pick Tourek Williams. As mentioned above, Johnson is solid against the run and constantly disrupting running lanes to the edge, but he is not what one would consider to be a threat as a pass rusher. Despite the high-motor play of Williams, he was a rookie making the transition for collegiate defensive end in a 4-3 to an NFL outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. The learning curve appeared to be steep at times for the former Florida International product.
Without being certain what the future will hold for Freeney, the Chargers could look to add a future stud to the outside linebacking corps. Although Freeney is under contract through the 2014 season, there is no guarantee that he won’t retire or the team could even decide to part ways with him due to age and injury concerns.
Now on to the final portion of the Charger defense. Going into the 2013 season the defensive line was thought to be the strongest segment of the entire team. Although this would be the first year that Cam Thomas would be used as a starting nose tackle, he had the benefit of being flanked by both Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes.
The defensive line was a bit of a let down, as a whole, for a good portion of the year. Liuget had a good year and seemed to be playing through injury in the first few games of the season. He did begin to turn out it on and wreak havoc in the opposing team’s backfields as the season wore on. He put up respectable numbers for a 3-4 defensive end but 2013 showed that he needs better support from his linemates.
Thomas had a tough time making his mark and was bullied at the point of attack at times. The 2013 season could have been the last year that Thomas will be in lightning bolts. Michael Gehlken of UT San Diego has already been on record saying that he doesn’t anticipate Thomas will be re-signed by the Chargers.
The importance of a dominant nose tackle in a 3-4 cannot be overstated enough. For the 3-4 to be successful, you must have a space-eater that can take on double teams and win while collapsing the pocket. At this point, San Diego does not have anyone on the roster capable of doing a sufficient job at the position.
Then comes the play of Kendall Reyes. After seeing his outstanding play in 2012, this season was a let down of sorts for Reyes. He didn’t seem nearly as explosive and I didn’t see the same tenacity when engaging at the point of attack. He was able to make some plays but much more was expected of him. Again, this could be the lack of an impact made by Thomas in the middle. The hope is that we’ll see a rejuvenated Reyes in 2014.
In conclusion, the needs on the defensive side of the football seem to be obvious and the most prominent of those are at nose tackle and cornerback. There are some depth needs at inside and outside linebacker. The team may also need to look at adding another safety to the mix for depth purposes as well.
Thanks a lot for reading and in the next day or so I’ll be breaking down the needs for the Charger offense going into the 2014 offseason. This team overachieved in 2013 but it has a solid foundation to build upon for the future. I have complete faith in Telesco to do what it takes to bring the Chargers back into the upper echelon of the NFL. Hopefully he can get the Chargers back to the promised land and San Diego may bolt into the Super bowl and bring back the Vince Lombardi trophy to America’s finest city.
Only time will tell.