The Rookie Learning Curve: Corey Liuget

The draft is now more than a month in the rearview mirror and most of the opinions have settled as far as winners and losers are concerned. Most teams feel as if they have done a solid job each and every year given their allotment of picks and the way they have ranked and evaluated each and every player on their draft board. The Chargers are no exception from that consensus opinion and this year they feel as if they have landed an immediate impact player in the first round in particular.

Many pegged the Bolts as the prime landing spot for California defensive end Cameron Jordan if he was available at the 18th overall pick, but despite his ties to the 3-4 system already at Cal, the Chargers went with defensive tackle Corey Liuget out of Illinois. Projecting players to different positions from college to the professional ranks always sparks some vigorous discussion in the 3-4 alignment especially as often times guys will be switching positions when they arrive in the NFL.

Even though Liuget played inside at tackle during his days at Illinois, Chargers new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky says that it doesn’t take a genius to know a high-quality football player when you see one. When asked to comment on Liuget and his transition into the Bolts scheme this coming year, Manusky told “Quick. Strong. Fast. And can hold a point. For defensive linemen, if you find those characteristics in a player, you want to draft him. I don’t care if a guy weighs 400 pounds but he’s got great speed and great feet. Shoot, I’d have him playing corner if he could cover wide receivers for us. In regards to him being a 4-3 guy or a 3-4 guy, he’s got the attributes to be a pretty good defensive end. That’s where he is.”

According to the Sporting News when grading out the potential draftees prior to this past April’s festivities, Liuget ranked ahead of 3rd overall selection Marcell Dareus in several key areas. On a scale of 1 to 10, both Dareus and Liuget received 9/10 marks against the run, but Liuget outdid Dareus against the pass (9.0 to 8.0), in initial quickness (9.0 to 8.0), and pursuit and tackling (9.0 to 7.5) while the two tied in pass/run recognition skills with 8.5/10. Obviously pre-draft rankings aren’t the gospel of determining whether a player will be a success in the NFL or not, but it is encouraging to see just how favorably Liuget compares to Dareus in many important defensive elements.

Manusky’s enthusiasm should act as an extra motivator for the entire defense this year as his attitude is remarkably upbeat and infectiously passionate about football. In Liuget, that is one of the main attributes that drew the Chargers toward him as their pick in round number one as he has a real desire to succeed and joy in playing the game. The Bolts believe that this zeal for the game will lead to great things for him both on and off the field when it comes to studying and working hard to improve his craft.

The idea of football as a classroom is an element that Manusky says is crucial to the development of young talent into solid pros. With the ongoing NFL lockout situation, that thought of getting some important teaching time with the young players falls by the wayside. According the Manusky: “We don’t have them around here in the offseason, which is going to be a hindrance to them, but hopefully some part of next year they’ll be able to help us win a decent amount of games.”

When players leave college and become professionals at the NFL level, many of them may feel as if the days of cracking down on the books and cramming are behind them. That really couldn’t be any further from the truth according to Manusky’s theory of the game of football as an extension of the classroom. Even the most diligent of preparation throughout the week in the film room is of no use if it can’t be put into action out on the practice field.

When it comes to immediate dividends on Sundays for the Chargers’ team, Manusky feels that perhaps their time spent preparing may be the most critical piece to the development puzzle for rookies. He said: “They have to study the playbook. The studying part is the most vital thing of any defense because all we need is one loose cannon not doing his job and it reflects upon the other 10 guys. They’ve got to prepare each week like they’re starting. Even if they’re not starting they’ve got to prepare because it could take any fluke play to get them (into that role). So that’s what they’ve got to do.”

In a game with so many moving parts, all it takes is one misstep in the synchronized choreography to cause the entire unit as a whole to look foolish. Accountability is one thing that will quickly become a huge emphasis for young players trying to make a name for themselves on the Bolts’ defense. It’s hard to accomplish things alone in any phase of life, but in football, it’s virtually impossible.

Now it’s your turn. Was Corey Liuget the ideal pick for the Chargers in the 2011 draft or could they have landed a better fit by trading up or down? Do you think the Sporting News’ grades of Marcell Dareus versus Liuget are an accurate representation of their skills sets or were they a bit off the mark? What do you feel will be the most important aspect of Liuget’s development in the Chargers’ defense during his rookie season? Do you see Liuget becoming an immediate starter with the Bolts as a rookie or will he have to wait his turn in the rotation? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!

June 7, 2011

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