It may now be official that the Chargers picks in the upcoming NFL Draft will again be primarily focused on the defensive side of the football. Given the team’s moves in free agency to land a number of offensive weapons and re-sign several key components along the offensive line, defense will have to take priority in April’s selection process.
The team did begin to address the defense over the weekend however by signing former Green Bay Packers’ safety Atari Bigby to a two-year contract. While Bigby may not be the big name player that many were hoping for at the safety spot, he has been productive during his career and has the big-hit ability that the Bolts have been missing in the secondary. Bigby will likely be in competition with Darrell Stuckey to start alongside Eric Weddle in 2012.
Still there is plenty of work to be done on every level defensively however beginning on the defensive line where depth will be an issue given the release of Luis Castillo earlier in the offseason. Younger players will be expected to take on expanded roles as Corey Liuget likely elevates to a starter, Cam Thomas will have high expectations at the nose tackle spot, and Vaughn Martin will certainly see more of the field this year as well. These players may be unproven as of yet, but the team has lofty aspirations for each and all three were solid contributors in stretches during the 2011 campaign.
At the linebacker level, Takeo Spikes will be back for one more season while Donald Butler tries to back up his impressive Bolts’ debut with another solid showing in the coming year. Shaun Phillips is back as the primary pass rusher, but after him the team really lacks anyone capable of applying consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Finding that energy player who can give the club a shot in the arm at any given moment with a sack or forced fumble will be vital to improving the defense in the coming year. The signing of former Baltimore Ravens’ outside linebacker Jaret Johnson could provide that type of impact, but there is no doubt that the team still needs more in the pass rush department.
The search for that sack artist will likely be centered on the NFL Draft where the Bolts have been linked to both Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw and Illinois standout Whitney Mercilus over the past few months. Either player makes a lot of sense for the Chargers with the 18th overall selection and one of the two is highly likely to be available when the Bolts are put on the clock. Plugging an energetic rookie pass rusher into a developing defense is a strategy that this team has employed before back in 2005 with Shawne Merriman and the results in the upcoming season could be very similar if all goes according to plan.
In the secondary, the team has at least added some competition with the Bigby signing, but few believe that will be enough for General Manager A.J. Smith. He has been thought to have real interest in Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith in the second round of April’s draft and with his big frame and tremendous instincts, he would make a great fit to pair with Weddle.
As for the cornerback spot, Quentin Jammer will be 33 years of age when training camp gets underway and many have thought him long overdue for a move to safety. He appeared to lose a step in the latter half of 2011, but the team will most likely still rely on him for one more season as a full-time starter. Antoine Cason has been average at best and regularly abused by bigger, stronger, more physical receivers in the past. There is no doubt the team needs some depth at corner and hopefully that can be found at some point during the draft.
For now, at least this year’s moves in free agency appear to be a bit more impactful on paper than those from an offseason ago. The Bolts have retooled their receiving corps and gone further to add depth to some thinner areas of the roster even before the NFL Draft. All of this should bode well for their chances to change the recent downtrend of two straight seasons watching the playoffs on television.
Here’s your chance to weigh-in! Are you surprised with the offensive focus in free agency or do you think GM Smith is onto something with his acquisitions thus far? Will the addition of Atari Bigby be enough to solidify the safety spot, or will the Bolts take another in next month’s draft? Which level of the defense do you think needs the most help; D-line, linebackers, or secondary? Can the ability to pull the right strings in terms of personnel help the Chargers become contenders again in 2012 or will they continue to flounder in the coming season? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!
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