Manusky would likely have been the front-running candidate to take over the defensive coordinator reigns here in San Diego. But with his departure, along with the major loss of Wade Phillips, the Chargers are now in a difficult position of finding someone to run the 34 defense and to continue building on the success that Phillips had here.
“There is no question that this hurts,” AJ Smith said. “I don't know if it's a setback. I don't know. I know the system is in place. We've got good players.”
The new defensive coordinator will have some premier players at his disposal to play in the front 7 with players like Shawne Merriman, Shaun Phillips, Jamal Williams, and Luis Castillo. These players loved Phillips and his scheme because he was known for putting his playmakers in positions to make plays. Just ask Shaun Phillips:
“He’s a player’s coach. He knows how to utilize everyone’s ability and get the most out of them. I’ve never been around a coach like that before. I know he’s going to do a good job in Dallas because Wade is a great coach and they have a lot of talent.”
While the front 7 was excellent at making plays using Wade Phillips' schemes, the defensive backfield was usually a quiet bunch. Standouts like Free Safety Marlon McCree and Cornerback Quentin Jammer carried the secondary on their backs and were the primary playmakers back there. Fans were generally annoyed with Wade Phillips' insistence on playing soft prevent defenses at some of the most crucial times. The 'bend don't break' mentality seemed to work to an extent, but it caused one to wonder what success the defense could have by playing more aggressively.
Maybe the scheme was such because Wade Phillips lacked the athletes to do certain thing within the defense. AJ Smith has drafted excellent players to fit the 34 defense in the front seven, but really hasn't done much tweaking with the backfield until last season.
Marlon McCree was brought in as a free agent last season and provided an immediate impact as a leader in practices during the offseason. As the regular season rolled around, McCree made several impact plays that directly effected the Chargers in the win/loss column. Huge hits against the Raiders and Bengals, an interception against a tough Steelers team, and a crucial fumble recovery for a touchdown against the St. Louis Rams were some highlights that McCree provided. He was also a presence in the blitz, recording a sack and a few QB pressures - something I haven't seen from a Chargers defensive back in a long time. The development of Quentin Jammer can also be attributed to finally having a trustworthy safety providing over the top help. This was something I pointed out early last year, and it played out accordingly.
But after Marlon McCree, the talent at the safety position drops off significantly and is easily the weakest position of the entire defense. Starting Strong Safety Terrance Kiel never quite lived up to his billing as a second-rounder and has had multiple run-ins with the law this past year. His backup Clinton Hart is a solid special teamer but is a spot starter at best. Backup Free Safety Bhawoh Jue can officially be labeled injury-prone as he has been hampered with injuries almost his entire career, and certainly during his tenure as a Charger.
Certainly the Safety position must be addressed, and I fully expect AJ Smith to draft some help. While its difficult to know what prospects will be available for the Chargers first pick (30), a day-one Safety is all but guaranteed. In my Mock Draft v.1, I had the Chargers jumping a bit early on Aaron Rouse. An interesting athlete, he has the size of a linebacker but the speed of a safety. He brings versatility to the Strong Safety position by being an excellent matchup against Tight Ends as well as a stout run defender against big backs like Larry Johnson. A hybrid player in a similar vein as a Shawne Merriman and Antonio Cromartie, Aaron Rouse fits the Chargers theme of drafting big, physically imposing athletes.
Rouse played the Rover at Virginia Tech, a position that combines the duties of a safety and linebacker into one position. While the Rover is more often seen in 4-4 defenses, having a player like an Aaron Rouse could make things interesting for the new Defensive Coordinator. I certainly hope the new coordinator continues the development of the 34, while at the same time incorporating fresh ideas and a more aggressive mentality from his secondary. With AJ Smith reloading that backfield with Antonio Cromartie, Marlon McCree, and some help in the draft, I have high hopes for the Chargers and can see them becoming a top 5 defense.