"What's happened to the defense on third-down conversions? It seems automatic for the offenses now. It's been much too easy. They're dangerous, because they can break your spirit." - AJ Smith
General Manager AJ Smith recognized this hole in the defense back in November, and he'll do all he can to make sure the problem is addressed. Because after all, how would it look on the GM's shoulders to have publicly identified such a deficiency and for him to fail to solve it?
Its easy to hear the words "third-down conversions" an immediately point to the pass defense. Sure, the secondary struggled defending the pass last year, but they also struggled to defend the run. Not all of those third downs were third-and-longs. All too many times, the Chargers were faced with defending third-and-short, and they let running backs pick up those easy first downs.
To me it's been obvious for years now; Incumbent starting safety Clinton Hart is simply not getting it done. Hart seems like a really nice guy off the field, but the problem is he carries that same kind disposition with him onto the field. Hart simply is not intimidating, he is not physical enough, and he fails to make plays that he is supposed to make. When the safety is already on the ground before he even makes contact with the ball carrier, you have to strongly consider upgrading the position.
This year's draft class certainly has some talented prospects, but I would argue that the free agent market would actually be the better route in procuring a new starting-caliber safety to pair along the emerging Eric Weddle.
I think the Chargers need a veteran in the secondary to offset the talented, but young, defensive backs already on the Chargers roster. There are two veteran free agent safeties in particular who I feel could make an impact for the Bolts:
Height: 6-2 Weight: 220 Age: 29
7 seasons; 406 tackles, 3 sacks, 27 passes defended, 11 interceptions
BoltHype scouting report:
Positives: Very good in run support, big hitter, solid pass defender. Important part of one of the league's best pass defenses.
Negatives: not quite fast enough to play free safety. Will be turning 30 soon. Ended last season on injured reserve with a broken arm.
It's unclear at this time whether or not Tampa Bay will resign Phillips. That team is undergoing serious coaching changes and they also have Sabby Piscitelli waiting in the wings. Piscitelli has shown promise, and is already under contract. It'll be interesting to see what kind of offers Phillips gets on the free agent market; Tampa Bay is likely to let another team sign him away.
Height: 6-1 Weight: 220 Age: 26
5 seasons; 286 tackles, 1 sacks, 25 passes defended, 14 interceptions
Scouting report courtesy Brandon R. from NoLogoNeeded.com, a Cleveland Browns blog:
"The Browns are still trying to figure out what they have in Sean Jones. In his second year, in 2006, he came on like he was going to be All Pro. He was a ball hawk that could lay the big hit. Everyone was expecting the world from him. Last year, while his stats were similar, his play fell off. He was nicked up most of the season and was very susceptible to getting beat deep. The entire secondary seemed to drop off with the loss of leadership from Brian Russell.
This year he hurt his knee in preseason when Brandon Jacobs ran into him. He never seemed to get back on track. He lacks speed but can make a big play when you least expect it. He makes the big hit but also misses too many tackles. The Browns will try to sign him to most likely a low ball one year make or break deal. If there is any interest from another team that involves big money, the Browns will let him walk away.
He could still become one of the top safeties in the league but has to have a strong off season and stay healthy. The Browns just don't have the salary cap space to throw money at him when they have zero linebackers that fit their 3-4 scheme."
By adding a veteran free agent safety, the Chargers would free up a draft pick in 2009 and keep themselves in the running for USC's Taylor Mays or Tennessee's Eric Berry in the 2010 NFL Draft. They could also enter the season with confidence that the safety position has been stabilized and will no longer be the weak link on a promising Chargers defense. Both Phillips and Jones are excellent supporting the run and both players have also shown a knack for making the big play.