GM AJ Smith headed into this offseason intending to fix one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL; the signing of free agent linebacker Kevin Burnett was a move intended to help upgrade the Chargers' defense, particularly in third down situations. But is Kevin Burnett a situational player or do the Chargers view him as a starter?
Its not hard to catch the frustration in AJ Smith's voice when he speaks of his team's defensive struggles. A football man from the old school, Smith knows his team needs to improve defensively.
"I believe defense wins championships. I've said that a number of years and I'll never deviate from it. But we have to find out how to stop passing assaults on this football team. We've gotta get off the field."
Quietly active in free agency, the Chargers pursued Cornerback Drayton Florence, Safety Jermaine Phillips, and of course Linebacker Kevin Burnett. The Chargers were obviously looking to bolster their pass defense; San Diego has been the most passed against team the last five years and there is somewhat of a book written on how to attack their defense.
Burnett will see action early. Familiar with the system through his time playing for Wade Phillips, Burnett sees an easy transition coming to San Diego and expects to immediately contribute in the nickel package.
I asked Coach Rivera yesterday his thoughts on players who were so-called two-down linebackers. Is it crucial to have a guy who can stay on the field all three downs, or do you need to use different personal groupings in different situations?
"We try to get the best 53 players we can get on our roster that fit what we’re trying to do," Coach Rivera said. "We always try to get the best 11 players on the field that fit the situation at hand, including down and distance. All players fill various roles on the team."
Kevin Burnett arrived at the University of Tennessee as a free safety. Injuries to teammates opened up an opportunity at linebacker and Burnett seized the chance to play. He shined as a linebacker and went on to become a first team All-SEC outside linebacker.
Burnett was a highly touted prospect coming into the NFL. As a second round pick in 2005, he was expected to be a player in the league. Dallas, for whatever reason, never gave him a real opportunity to play, and Burnett is now chomping at the bit to showcase his skills. He is looking to come to San Diego and compete with Matt Wilhelm and Tim Dobbins for a starting inside linebacker job.
"I believe anywhere you go is open competition. I'm looking to being a player. I came here for the opportunity to play and that's all I can ask for. Your play speaks louder than anything. I'm ballplayer, and my job is to do whatever the team needs me to do. That said, nobody wants to be a backup. I guarantee the other guys don't, either."
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