The 2010 campaign may have been a disappointing one record-wise for the San Diego Chargers, but statistically they achieved heights that many thought impossible on both sides of the ball.
Defense was perhaps the most unheralded half of that number one ranked duo as the Chargers eleven defenders weren’t loaded with big name players or huge numbers individually, but the collective effort allowed them to play solid all-around. One main reason for those impressive numbers was the leadership that the club possessed with great vocal presences in the defensive huddle.
With the man in charge of that defense, Ron Rivera, now the head coach for the Carolina Panthers, the Bolts will be searching for an identity under new coordinator Greg Manusky. That new identity may be forged without some key players as the team has some vital decisions to make on which players it will bring back and which are deemed to be expendable this offseason.
Arguably the most inspirational voice of the Bolts’ starting eleven defensively belongs to linebacker Stephen Cooper who has become the epitome of the heart exhibited by this unit as a whole. Injuries slowed Cooper during the latter half of the 2010 season forcing him to miss four games and it goes without saying that his best days as a player may be behind him with his 32nd birthday coming up in June.
That realization seems to have hit Cooper as this offseason wears on as he told the San Diego Union-Tribune: "I think I'm going to have an opportunity to test the market." Writer Kevin Acee from the paper agrees with Cooper’s assessment writing: “I love the guy. (But) I'll say it here first: I think Cooper's time in San Diego is done."
The writing appeared to be on the wall last offseason when the team drafted Donald Butler from Washington in the third round in hopes of him taking over some valuable snaps at inside backer. Unfortunately no one was able to see what the youngster was capable of last year when his season never even got started due to a torn Achilles tendon in early August. It seems like the club is leaning toward re-signing veteran Kevin Burnett who put together a solid campaign in 2010 and pairing him with Butler inside to begin the 2011 season.
If leaders are in flux at the linebacker level, the Bolts need desperately to keep things as they are in their secondary. That will be a challenge given the fact that safety Eric Weddle is a free agent and coming off of his best year as a pro in 2010. Still keeping Weddle in order to maintain at least some semblance of continuity and leadership in the secondary along with veteran cornerback Quentin Jammer who is a stalwart in the Bolts’ back third is a necessity.
Turnover is inevitable in the NFL with free agency and the draft now playing such a large role in the way teams assemble their rosters, but the Bolts have the core of a great group on defense that should be priority number one in upholding this offseason.
Speaking of the draft, defense has long been thought to be the club’s focus looking ahead to April’s annual selection ceremony and that continues to be the prevailing thought.
Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but (pat, pat) it seems more and more likely that the Bolts are targeting Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt in the first round at this point. General Manager A.J. Smith was in attendance for the Badgers’ pro day to witness Watt do nothing but dominate in each and every exercise. His remarkable 4.76 time in the 40 yard dash at 6’5” 290lbs. will only push his already hot stock to even loftier heights as teams marvel at his quickness and agility for such a large man.
Leave it to Watt himself to sum up his pro day the best as he said: “Hopefully we quieted some of the doubters who doubted my athletic ability. I’m very proud of how hard I work, but at the same time that doesn’t discount any amount of talent or athleticism that I have. Just because I’m a big Wisconsin kid doesn’t mean I’m not athletic.”
You can say that again.
San Diego’s defensive front was probably their weakest link on that side of the ball occasionally getting burned for some big yardage up the middle against the run. The addition of J.J. Watt would make so much sense with the Bolts ready for an upgrade from Jacques Cesaire on the end and desperately in need of some more depth on that front line.
Smith’s presence at the pro day isn’t a be all, end all for the Bolts in determining which direction they go, but it’s definitely a positive sign if you are a fan of Watt. A trade up may be necessary to ensure that they are in position to draft the former Badger, but the cost would be minimal comparatively considering the potential gain of a big-time run stuffer up front on the defensive line.
Now it’s your turn. Do you think the loss of Ron Rivera as the defensive coordinator is a big blow to the team’s defensive leadership? How important is Stephen Cooper to this team not only on the field of play, but in the locker room as well? Do you consider both Eric Weddle and Kevin Burnett must-sign players for the Bolts this offseason? Now that A.J. Smith is anxiously following J.J. Watt, do you think the Chargers are prepared to trade up for the former Badger and are you in favor of this move? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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