After all of the projections and presumptions about just where the Chargers would place their focus during the 2011 NFL Draft, one prevailing theme emerged as a true point of emphasis; defense. Of the team’s five picks in the first 89 overall, four of those selections were dedicated to the defensive side of the football.
Even though the Bolts were solid statistically when it came to defense during the 2010 season, many felt that weaknesses along the defensive front as well as depth at both the linebacker and secondary levels were in question. With California defensive end Cameron Jordan inexplicably sitting on the board when the Chargers were put on the clock by the Commissioner at pick number 18 overall, most had to believe that he would be a Bolt. The curveball from General Manager A.J. Smith to go against the grain and select Corey Luiget may have been unexpected, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right call.
Luiget has all of the tools necessary to be successful in the 3-4 alignment as a defensive end and is arguably much stronger at the point of attack than Jordan. His ability to anchor against the run was widely considered second to none among this year’s potential draftees and his ridiculously high motor. The Chargers got themselves a real workaholic in Luiget as evidenced by his dedication during the offseason leading into his 2010 campaign at Illinois during which he dropped 30 pounds to increase his stamina.
Both Marcus Gilchrist and Jonas Mouton in the second round will likely find immediate roles in certain packages with defensive coordinator Greg Manusky’s 3-4 scheme. The ball hawking abilities of Gilchrist were thought to be among the best in this year’s draft class while Mouton was a fast riser on many draft boards due to his wealth of versatility. Expect to see Gilchrist lining up as the nickel corner from day one with the club while Mouton could make a push to start at inside linebacker with his extremely gifted coverage skills.
The selections of wide receiver Vincent Brown of San Diego State and Shareece Wright from USC were home state selections for the Bolts and both considered moderate reaches by many analysts. Brown graded out as a fourth or fifth rounder according to most and Wright was a mid to late round grade as well. If utilized correctly however, both can make an early impact for the team with Brown likely seeing some significant time in three and four receiver sets while Wright should be expected to contribute primarily on special teams.
That theme seems to reign supreme across the board for the Bolts picks in this year’s draft with each of them helping to heal a special teams unit that was woeful in 2010. In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Bolts GM said: “These guys have special teams temperament. We have always looked for that, but we put special emphasis on (it) this year because of the embarrassment last year.”
What Smith is referring to is the season to forget in the kicking game that the Bolts endured last year having four blocked punts, one deflected punt, a punt returned for a touchdown and three kickoff returns for touchdowns all in the same campaign. The club lost special teams ace Kassim Osgood during last year’s offseason and failed to find any adequate replacement on the coverage unit leading into the 2010 schedule.
Later round selections are generally where those special teams gems are found and with the two sixth round picks being dedicated to depth on the offensive side of the ball selecting Michigan guard Steve Schilling and potential diamond in the rough Connecticut running back Jordan Todman, the seventh round was the final destination for a special teams dynamo. The Bolts think they found that particular player in Missouri linebacker Andrew Gachkar who was a relative unknown with the Tigers last year, but the Chargers saw a desirable quality in his game.
That sought after attribute that Gachkar possesses is a passion for the third phase and giving it his all on each and every snap. Those qualities are something the team felt they lost over the past few seasons and never properly replaced. According to A.J. Smith in his interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune: “We need to get it back and we’re going to get it back. This kid, we think, is going to be one of those guys.”
The newfound emphasis placed on finding special teamers wasn’t a surprise considering the team’s ineptitude in that department last year. What was perhaps the biggest surprise of the draft was the lack of trades for the Bolts GM as it was only the third time in Smith’s nine years as GM that the team did not make any trades during the seven round selection process. Especially considering all of his rhetoric about not being afraid to move around in this year’s selection, it is a bit unexpected that there were no trades from the Chargers in the three-day draft.
At the end of the festivities in Radio City Music Hall, the team managed to address all of its needs in one form or another at each phase of the draft by staying put. This keeps the 2012 slate of draft picks intact and goes against the mentality of GM Smith in recent years. Perhaps this is the turning over of a new leaf for the Bolts’ GM, but maybe that sort of proclamation has to be reserved until the first contract holdout takes place.
What do you think? Did you like the more passive drafting style of A.J. Smith this time around or would you have preferred more aggression? Did the team do enough to sure itself up on defense or will they need to make some acquisitions in free agency to finish the process? Will the attention paid to special teams in this draft pay dividends for the Bolts kick coverage units this year or will the coaching determine their success in that area? Give your own grade on the draft for the team and A.J. Smith in the comments section below!
Labels: NFL Draft 2011
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