There was quite a crowd for minicamp today. I posted up near the defensive backs to keep and eye on Cromartie, McCree, D-Flo, and Jammer.
They didn't disappoint.
Jammer was clearly the best player on the field today. That is saying a lot because of the talent level there. But Jammer went out there like he had something to prove - to show the doubters he can not only cover, but make the big play.
And he did just that with an amazing interception in the endzone during today's practice.
During one-on-one drills, Jammer was matched up with a few different receivers. On one play, he kept his man in front of him and was there to make the 'tackle' for a very short gain. On another play, he denied McCardell a catch. No receiver could shake Jammer - #23 was blanketing each and every receiver who he matched up with. Jammer has an amazing quickness about him and does a great job mirroring the wide receiver no matter how many moves the guy tries to make on him.
He was particularly impressive on drill where he covered WR Bryant(?) step-for-step into the endzone. The ball was thrown to the corner and Jammer reacted beautifully. He got a hand out to defend the pass, but then battled with the receiver to gain possession of it. In the end, Jammer was laying in the corner of the endzone with the ball in his hands. The crowded literally erupted in cheering, and an elated Jammer threw the ball out to the crowd and the fans showered him with praise.
The game seems to be really slowing down for Quentin. He is clearly a veteran out there and takes seriously the work he puts in to get better. Coach Schottenheimer in particular could be seen praising Jammer and seemed very pleased by how he played. Never did he get beat or was he out of place. The athletic ability is there. He has faced many receivers in this league and seems to have a much better understanding of what receivers and coordinators are trying to do to him. Now its just about putting it all together and to get doing what he does.
There are obvious question marks on the secondary entering this season. There has been zero stability with the Safeties for the past few years. It seems there are new starting safeties each upcoming season.
Quentin Jammer has been the most consistent player in the Chargers secondary. In fact, he is one of the few players on the entire defense that have been on the team since his rookie season, 2002.
Jammer has been criticized for lacking ball-skills, but people fail to realize the importance of having help from the safeties. Having confidence in each other and knowing eachother's tendencies allows Corners to gamble a bit for those INTs. Jammer doesn't put up the big INT numbers, but he doesn't get beat often and consistently locks down his receiver. His play cannot really be accurately reflected using traditional stats. You have to watch closely and dig a little deeper to realize how good #23 really is.
Last season (2005), the Chargers ranked 28th in the league for passing yards allowed. As a comparison, Denver allowed slightly more yards and they rank 29th.
Both teams allowed 20 TDs through the air. However, Denver intercepted the ball 20 times, while the Chargers only intercepted the ball a total of 10 times. Denver had two players in the secondary make the ProBowl, and the Chargers had none.
What does this tell me? INT numbers get you into the ProBowl, but making the ProBowl doesn't necessarily mean you did your job well. A closer look reveals that as a unit, the Chargers only allowed a Wide Receiver to gain 100+ yards a total of 3 times. Denver, on the other hand, allowed a Wide Receiver to go for over 100 yards a total of 8 times! So while Denver might have intercepted the ball more often, they did a poor job of shutting down the passing game because in half the games they played, the opposing Wide receiver gain 100+ yards on them. And as the numbers show, the allowed the same amount of touchdowns as the Chargers, and gave up more total yards through the air.
Jammer doesn't take as many gambles and go for the Interception, but that isn't his job. His job is to shut down his man, and he does a great job of it (as well as providing the most tackles out of the secondary group).
Finally Jammer has some skilled veteran help at Safety in Marlon McCree. Champ Bailey has John Lynch. Sheldon Brown has Brian Dawkins. Antoine Winfield has Darren Sharper. DeAngello Hall has Lawyer Milloy.
It isn't enough to simply take a corner at the 5 spot and expect miracles. You need to surround him with complimentary players. You cant have just one good player in the secondary. You need more than that. You need 2 really good corners at least, and hope to have 3. You need good safeties. You need a good pass rush.
The pieces are finally here for Jammer, and he is entering the prime of his career. Its hard to say that I expect 'big things' from Quentin because he is already good at what he does. He is going to put up the type of numbers he has since he started in this league. But with help, and with the pressure of doing everything in the secondary alleviated now, Jammer can be more free this year to use his talents and get more turnovers. Not just picks, but also forced fumbles.
Drayton Florence is holding firm his starting job. He looked sharp out there and will continue to improve. He also seemed bigger, which is an excellent thing for this secondary and defense as a whole. The AFC is full of big wide receivers and big running backs, so it is encouraging to see our guys step it up to match up better with our opponents. Florence had a great couple of practices yesterday, and had another solid one today.
McCree looked good as well. I hope Wade Phillips finds a way to move him around and allow him to make plays on the QB and running back. He could bring a hard-hitting presence back to group that was lost when Rodney left.
Terrance Kiel and Clinton Hart are neck-and-neck right now in terms of competition for a starting job. I would hope that one of them turns it up a notch and goes out and earns the job by simply out playing the other. But either way, we have good depth at Safety but lack a clear cut starter - which is good and bad.
Cromartie was up and down - typical of a talented rookie entering his first year in the league. Eric Parker absolutely schooled him on one play, but then again Parker does that to veterans all the time during the season. Parker has amazing quickness in his routes, and is excellent on not selling his breaks. He can cut one way and then another without giving away his route and committing. Corners have to be extra alert with Parker, because he can make you look silly, as he did to Cromarite in practice.
AC is a work-in-progress. He struggles a bit with the smaller guys and needs to learn more technique, but it was evident that Marty is willing to pay special attention to Antonio and coach him and develop him. One more than one occasion, I called out to Antonio telling him we need him to get ready, to get after it. It was encouraging to see him frequently talking to the coaches about how he can get better as a player. But Antonio Cromartie redeemed himself today with a great interception across the middle during the one-on-one drills. Shortly after Jammer had his pick, Cromartie stepped it up and snagged his. He followed Jammer's lead and sailed the ball out to the roaring crowd. The energy from the defensive backs today as a whole was excellent. They were the stars of practice.
The linebackers are the linebackers...Excellent. I know what to expect from them, and am not worried one bit considering the depth we have. Donnie Edwards practiced today in all drills. He is more a finesse player, and doesn't play with the power that guys like Dobbins, Foley, and Merriman play with. Gbaja-Biamila looks great out there. He is progressing nicely. He is like Merriman in that he matches up very well against big tackles. AGB has great height and arm length and shows patience for the play. He will lock out the tackle to keep him away, and can quickly shed the block using his long arms. A former Defensive End, he knows how to rush the passer from the outside. At this point, it is about learning out to drop back in coverage and playing the run from the OLB position staying home and keeping the play between the tackles.
Merriman looked excellent. He is unstoppable out there, and has some world-class pash rush moves. Watching him work different hand techniques was impressive. His training as a Boxer seems to have really help him.
Dobbins is going to be a killer in kick/punt coverage. He made some impressive plays today during the various drills and is exactly as advertised - nasty!
Special teams is a big part of practice and that is important for this upcoming season. Sproles did his usual thing of having some killer run backs. The coverage unit seems to have tightened up greatly however.
Rivers looked sharp and made some great throws. Whitehurst is looking amazing. Feeley is garbage and was picked off again today after hitting his lineman in the head on a bad pass. Elliot is nothing special. But Whitehurst is standing out and taking him in the third round could be a major steal for the Chargers down the road.
Parker and Keenan are pro's pros. They are just excellent in they way the approach the preparation.
Robert Ortiz is going to be a very good player. He had one of the best series of practices this weekend of anybody on the team. He makes all the catches, has Parker-type quickness, and really goes 110% during practice. That will impress the coaches and will ensure him a spot on the team.
There is no way Chase Page is only 285. He is a beast, very similar to Castillo's size. Its amazing how guys like this drop to the last rounds of the draft. He looks to be a perfect fit as a 3-4 end. Massey is also a giant. I see him backing up Igor and Page backing up Castillo. McKinney is a LOAD. Very wide and has good height. He will back up Jamal and will battle Bingham for the #2 role.
As for the other cornerbacks, Gordon, walls, and Curry all looked alright. It will be interesting to see who makes the final squad when all is said and done.
Jue wasn't at practice as far as I could tell.
Dobbins, Polk, and AGB are going to be on the roster but the other linebackers like Harris and Archer and Pollard are probably gone by the time the season starts.
Brandon Manumaleuna is huge. I he has got to be pushing close to 300 right now. He still runs routes though, which is fun to watch - a guy that big moving out in space like that. One very interesting thing I noticed was that they lined up Parker out wide and lined up Manumaleuna out next to him. Rivers threw the ball quickly to Parker, and Manumaleuna is right there in front of him for the block. It is almost like a designed running play being executed from the receiver position. Parker is hugging the sideline, and has a huge blocker right in front of him. These kinds of plays could sky rocket Parker's YAC numbers.
After practice, Jammer had a huge crowd gather for him. He got tons of love from the fans and signed a bunch of autographs. I saw D-Flo and told them both they had great practices. I asked Jammer if he is going to shut down Chad Johnson this year and he replied "Oh, fo' sho" with look of confident determination on his face.
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