The regular season isn’t too far away at this point and it seems like the perfect time to assess some potential pitfalls for the Bolts along the way in the 2010 campaign. After now seeing three of the four preseason contests, the main area that sticks out as a possible weakness for this club is the secondary.
Cornerback will certainly be a focal point for the Chargers defensively this season having traded away former first round pick Antonio Cromartie in the offseason to the New York Jets. Cromartie had become a distraction to the team and his well documented off-field issues with seven illegitimate children to his name just became too much for the team to tolerate. Clearly his subtraction means that someone else on the Bolts roster will be asked to step up and take on some more responsibility at the corner spot opposite Quentin Jammer this season.
Many believed that this would be 2008 first round draft pick Antoine Cason’s opportunity to finally break into the starting lineup, but now it appears to be an open competition for the gig. Through the first three preseason contests, no one has really emerged as a front runner for the job with blown coverages and miscommunications making for a calamity of errors in the Bolts secondary. General Manager A.J. snapped up Chicago Bears castoff Nathan Vasher almost immediately after the team released him in March, but he hasn’t even secured a roster spot to this point with some questionable techniques in coverage and blown assignments in simple zone looks. The Bolts even added former New York Jets corner Donald Strickland into the mix for competition in the nickel, but he hasn’t overwhelmed anyone either looking pedestrian at best in coverage. And their latest addition, cornerback Fred Bennett formerly of the Houston Texans, has yet to show Chargers fans what he's capable of.
All of this leads to the stalwart Jammer as the number one corner on the roster and how far he has come since the inconsistencies of his younger years at the position. As a fan, Jammer’s inconsistencies and propensity to look for the big hit rather than defending an oncoming pass have been troubling since day one, but he has slowly evolved into an intelligent defender on the edge. When Jammer first began playing corner for the Bolts it looked as though he would be more successful as a safety throwing his body around and gambling for the big play rather than making the smart reads to limit the damage. Now Jammer is a true veteran who knows his limitations and caters to them rather than allowing them to be exposed by opponents. He may still have hands of stone and rarely haul in an interception, but Jammer brings a consistent effort day after day and can be counted on as a solid player in coverage for the team.
Still, a team needs more than one corner on its roster and the Bolts are in a pickle when it comes to deciding just who is the least dreadful on that other side. Cason has the great read and react skills in the mold of Jammer and plays well in man to man, but the Bolts play primarily zone coverage and knowing assignments is crucial to success. Cromartie was troubled in these zone looks as well preferring to defend man on man and eliminate his player from making receptions rather than covering an entire quadrant of the field. General Manager A.J. Smith attempted to put the proverbial band-aid over a bullet wound by signing Nathan Vasher after he was cast off by the Chicago Bears in March. Vasher has a connection with Bolts defensive coordinator Ron Rivera from his Chicago days, but he hasn’t shown much promise in San Diego and is on the fringe of even making the 53-man roster at this point. It seems as if safety help over the top in the form of Eric Weddle may be necessary on a regular basis to ensure that whoever holds down that starting gig on the corner doesn’t get hung out to dry in coverage.
Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera has been a savior in San Diego since taking over the reigns from the floundering Ted Cotrell midway through the 2008 season. His various blitz schemes and knowledge of the Tampa 2 from his days in Chicago have slowly found their way into the Bolts defensive looks and been quite successful. Rivera is going to have to be creative this year with his blitzing in order to force opposing quarterbacks into some ill-advised throws and take some pressure off of the guys in coverage. Thus far, Rivera has been masterful at tailoring the Bolts defense to the personnel out on the field and knowing his limitations within that scheme, but there are legitimate concerns whether that can continue this season.
Let’s get some feedback. Will Antoine Cason be able to survive on the corner this year or will another name emerge as a starter opposite Quentin Jammer? Have General Manager A.J. Smith’s drafting priorities hurt the Bolts secondary failing to take a corner in the last two drafts or will the team persevere despite this perceived weakness? Can Ron Rivera dial up the proper blitzes to get this defense to the quarterback or will he revert to being tentative on third and long hanging the secondary out to dry? Give your take in the comments section below!
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