Breaking Down The Roster - Linebackers

Continuing our breakdown of the entire Chargers roster, we focus this week on the all-important linebackers. The Chargers at one point had arguably the most talented group of linebackers in the league - can they regain their form? Hit the jump for Jeff Williams' commentary...

Less than a week until the draft! I seriously can't wait. My wife has already been warned that I will be unavailable for a majority of the weekend. And like any good wife, I can count on her to not complain about it until at least an hour into the thing. Gotta love her...

Anyway, just a few positions left to cover in our review of the current Chargers roster. Next up we look at the linebacker spot. Just last year I wrote that the linebacker corps is probably the deepest of any team in the NFL. Last year, the Chargers put that statement to the test and I'll admit that the results were mixed, if not entirely disappointing.

With Shawne Merriman taking a not-so-unexpected early exit from the season and Stephen Cooper serving a four-game suspension, the Bolts quickly put their depth to the test. Jyles Tucker replaced Lights Out and was a below-average to average player. If you look at it objectively, you have to admit that it would have been all but impossible to replace the league's best defensive player, but Tucker did nothing to earn him a reprieve from any criticism. Replacing Cooper was free-agent signee Derek Smith. Yeah, he was cut before the end of the season once Cooper was back in game shape.

You've heard it before, and you're going to hear it again (and again) - the Chargers defense was a different unit without Merriman. Shaun Phillips was average. Matt Wilhelm was exposed as a 2nd stringer, and began sharing more time with back-up Tim Dobbins. The rest of the much-heralded back-ups were no better than anyone else's back-ups, and our former Defensive Coordinator did nothing to adjust. Rather than create ways to rush the passer, our LB's were forced into pass coverage far too often, and they didn't seem to be very good at it. Ron Rivera was able to slow the bleeding, but the LB corps never found a way to plug the hole created by the loss of Merriman.

Going into the 2009 draft and season, the linebacker position has received a lot of attention. Merriman should be recovered from his knee injury (if you believe him, he'll be in the best shape of his pro-career). Kevin Burnett was signed to compete for a starting inside spot next to Cooper. Former 3rd rounder Anthony Waters was cut because he wasn't making the progress that the team had hoped he would. Now some "experts" and a lot of fans expect the Bolts to take USC linebacker Rey Maualuga, although recent reports that he may have torn a hamstring are likely to end that discussion. Beyond Rey, there isn't much 1st or 2nd round talent available at inside LB. The Chargers might draft a project later in the draft, but expect the competition for starting inside LB to be a three-man race between Wilhelm, Dobbins, and Burnett. I'm picking Burnett to earn the 1st-string spot.

April 21, 2009

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Anonymous said... Apr 21, 2009, 9:01:00 PM

you totally skipped out on king kong (siler) and believe if tyson jackson is taken with better go for REY.

Anonymous said... Apr 21, 2009, 11:00:00 PM

ummm...."beyond Rey there isn't much 1st or 2nd round talent available at ILB" ??? What about Laurinaitus? He might slip to the 2nd, but that will be a steal for someone. I agree that we probably won't be taking an ILB in the 1st, but at least represent the talent accurately.

Anonymous said... Apr 22, 2009, 9:29:00 AM

i still think RAY will be the best answer. With Ray and Merriman. They bring the lights out aka the sun out in San Diego. GO RAY!!!!

Anonymous said... Apr 22, 2009, 2:17:00 PM

Ray has a torn hammy??? that is not good news. he has had quite a few injuries. Gotta love his intensity but how much help will he be if he sidelined most of the time. Who knows who AJ will pick??? Sometime Saturday between 3pm and 330pm we will finally know. At this point the ideal situation is to trade down later in the 1st and pick up a 2nd rounder. there are alot of guys we can snag late 1st and in the 2nd. Lots of value there.

Anonymous said... Apr 22, 2009, 2:25:00 PM

I would love the chargers to get an even earlier pick in round 3 than 16. Since Sunday starts with the 3rd round, teams can regroup and find some great players like they used to in the 4th round. Some of the best value picks used to come in the 4th round after teams regrouped.

Anonymous said... Apr 22, 2009, 3:17:00 PM

if rey does really have a torn hamstring, I think we should go Aaron Maybin.

arnie said... Apr 22, 2009, 3:52:00 PM

Larry English. why? the 3-4 starts with the out side pass rush. and after last season, we need so more help in that area. besides if they don't re-sign merriman, he would be a decent fil-in. not great, but decent.

peace out

Anonymous said... Apr 22, 2009, 6:32:00 PM

I like how Applewhite came on late in the season. I expect more good things from him and Siler.

Jeff Williams said... Apr 22, 2009, 7:39:00 PM

By my standards, one prospect beyond Rey at ILB in the 1st/2nd round is the exact definition of "not much talent". Thanks for clarifying.

I haven't heard anything else about his hammy since the initial reports, so who knows if this is more misinformation associated with the draft.

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