Chargers Defensive Problems: Linebackers
WHAT NEEDS TO IMPROVE:
The Chargers need a better job of utilizing their talent. The loss of Shawne Merriman not only affected their ability to rush the passer, but the defense also lost a four-down linebacker. Right now, the Chargers don't have enough four-down linebackers. You can make the case that Shaun Phillips and Stephen Cooper can play all four downs, but beyond those two, who else has that kind of ability?
Matt Wilhelm is a great backup and a good rotational guy, but he isn't a full-time starter. At least, he hasn't proved to be one yet. He came in to the year with the reputation of being a great cover-linebacker, but Wilhelm has been exposed by tight ends all year long. He's more of a finesse player who doesn't really player with power and leverage. Wilhelm is versatile (he can play outside and in), which is good to have in a 3-4 defense. But he doesn't excel in any one area which leads me to believe he is best used in a rotational role.
Antwan Applewhite has tremendous size and power, but he doesn't always use it. He plays to high and seems to be more of a natural defensive end. I have hopes for Applewhite, and was excited by his addition to the practice squad. But he is still developing into an outside linebacker and has some work to do on the fundamentals of the position. He does a good job of being aggressive with opposing blockers, but doesn't seem to have a ton of pass rush tools besides the bull rush. I'm not that down on Applewhite because I know he is stepping up due to injuries at the position. But he'll be a far better player in the coming seasons.
Another guy who does well in rotation but is struggling as a starter is Marques Harris. Harris is a high energy, speed guy who can come in every so often and make a quick impact. But Harris just isn't stout enough to hold up well against powerful tackles. He struggles against the run and is forced to take wide angles on passing downs.
Shaun Phillips and Jyles Tucker need to step up their game. I think both are good players, but they need to be great players. Without Merriman on the field, Phillips/Tucker are getting more attention and while they are pressuring the QB, they aren't getting enough hits on him. They are so close, too often. We need them to seal the deal.
WHAT WE NEED MORE OF:
Brandon Siler. Siler is one of the few guys on defense who plays with a consistent intensity. Brandon Siler plays with emotion and intensity, and players around him can feed off of that.
Schematically, Siler is best used on rushing downs. He isn't the most fluid runner and. The Chargers use Siler on special teams where he plays like a demon. Siler is also counted on in goal line situations because he doesn't let plays go through him. But he can be a dominant force in the middle and the Chargers need to get him on the field more. Siler is the type of player that the Chargers defense can funnel plays to. He is a big hitter who craves contact. The defense needs to mix up their rushing linebackers more, and I think Siler would be deadly as a rusher up the middle. He has the power to blow up the center and intimidate the quarterback. If the Chargers want to improve on defense, they need to get a player like Siler more snaps on gameday. (photo credit Tim Casey)
We also need Tim Dobbins to play more. He is a similar player to Siler in that he can lay the wood and is not shy about tackling. Dobbins is faster than Siler and is a little more savvy on defense. Dobbins reminds me of a heat-seeking missile. He is relentless in pursuit and can do a pretty job of blitzing. Again, he might best be used in run support but his ability to cover is under-rated. We've seen him make plays on the ball and while his range might be slightly compared to Matt Wilhelm, Dobbins is quicker to the ball and runs through people as opposed to dragging them down by their shoelaces.
As for Anthony Waters, its tough to get a read on him because he doesn't play enough. Is he an outside linebacker? Is he an inside guy? The fact that he can play both positions is a tremendous boost to the defense but without playing time, he can't get better and we won't know what kind of player he is. We need to see more of him. The Chargers invested a day one pick on Waters and those kind of players need to make an impact for your football team.
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