Chargers Get Offensive Thus Far In Free Agency

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!

March 20, 2012

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Lucasleonard said... Mar 20, 2012, 9:52:00 AM

I do think that the Chargers have made some good moves this off season with the new offensive additions. I think Meachem is a good pick up and i really like Royal as our new return guy. MCclain is an awesome fullback and i think he will for sure improve our running game. As far as defense i really like Johnson he is a solid linebacker for run defense. I'm not sold on Bigby and i don't think he is the answer for safety. We could use the draft to try and upgrade this area. Overall i am pleased with the signings so far but i have a feeling that we have to many holes to fill and that we lack in depth. I still feel that the OL needs to be addressed as far as depth is concerned. We now desperately need a strong pass rush especially with the addition of Manning to the Broncos. The DL and Coroners are relatively young and unproven so they are a ?. CB's i'm not sure about because it seemed that a lack of a pass rush could of made them look worse then they really are. Personally i would rather move Jammer to safety this year and have Cason and Gilchrist be our primary coroners, and pick up another CB in the 3rd. I think we could use help at every position but there are a decent amount of young defensive players and perhaps they will step up their game so i will say just having a better Pass Rush would be the most important. As far as contenders go i think that they are probaly not. Although they can improve with the additions through the draft i think that these players are simply unproven and we will have no idea how effective they will be next year. I think that Denver is ahead of us in that they showed that they have a relatively good defense and with the addition of Manning it makes them an offensive threat as well. But this of course all depends variables such as teams staying healthy, and players performing at their expected level. I just think that the Chargers need more defensive play makers that offensives fear and the only way to do that is to cross our fingers that maybe this year AJ won't miss....The Chargers need to be lucky unfortunately we haven't been in years past 

Pete Spinning said... Mar 20, 2012, 12:47:00 PM

Am I the only one that is nervous that we are hoping that we find Shawn Merriman's long lost twin brother in the draft? Isn't that a lot of wishful thinking? I am not saying Upshaw can't make an immediate impact, or that we don't need to draft an up-n-coming pass rusher to replace Philips one day... but, don't we have an IMMEDIATE need at pass rusher?

It's going to take time for a newly drafted player to get used to the NFL. Not sure if we can afford to take half a season or more to groom a rookie. Even if we do a spectacular job, and he excels... he will probably just "show promise" or "show potential" for elite status next season, at best. Can we PLEASE get someone with some notches in his belt for this position? Like a Cliff Avril, or someone like that? Someone who still has youth on his side, and will be good for the team in the long run?

I don't get it... but, then again... I'm not a football GM either.

sanford peisner said... Mar 20, 2012, 10:30:00 PM

While the Chargers have done well on the offensive side of the ball in free agency, the defense is scary. Jammer should be a safety. I don;t think a part time starter like Bigby is suddenly going to become a starter' The defense backfield is bad and the pass rush is worse. Cason was abused over and over again by bigger stronger receivers. To make matters worse with no rush the backfield is exposed. Lot of holes

Christopher Manriquez said... Mar 21, 2012, 12:10:00 AM

First, in regards to the article, Liegut and Martin both started last year and I thought they played well for first year starters, with almost a full season of game exp and a full training camp under their belts, I expect them to improve on solid seasons last year.  SP is thought to be our "primary pass rusher" however there is someone else on the roster that got after the QB last year.... think.... ill just tell you... Antwan Barnes led the team with 11 sacks..thats not a bad number considering SP missed 5+ games on the other side of the ball AND Barnes had to split time with Travis La Boyhe cant play.

I agree, hoping for the next "Lights Out" in the draft is not "signing Mario Williams" good, but it isnt a terrible strategy considering Super Mario wasn't going to happen because we would have blown our load for one player and left gaping holes in our team.

Instead, we were able to beef up our return game (Eddie Royal is top 5 in that department, IMO top three), replace the catches, yards and TDs we lost to tampa bay(VJ- 60 catches, 1000+ yards, 9 TDs) with Meachem(who is a bad man that had to share catches with 8 receivers in New Orleans) and Royal( who is a very dangerous slot receiver in space), and provide a true lead blocking FB for Matthews to utilize.  Do we notice whats going on here yet???? No more single back formation draw calls on 1st down.  Power run game!!! We are gonna let McClain blow up backers and let Matthews run through a real hole LT/ Lorenzo Neal-style.  This style of running will get us away from our notorious knack of having 3rd and long reserved for a Rivers magic bomb. This sets up play action for Gates(where he is most dangerous-in the REDZONE), shortens our down and distance yardage and kills clock so that we cant blow 20+ pointleads (ie Jets game last year)

As for the safety spot, I have to admit I would love to see Jammer move there...its just not going to happen. Bigby is a serviceable starter, and a big hitter. Stuckey is a solid tackler and a ball hawk since his freshman year in college..they will compete for the starting position and I personally think Stuckey wins that position and plays well(50+ tackles, 3 picks, 2 FF)

Finally, FYI, Double J(Jarrett Johnson) did not come here to rush the passer, he is known as a stout run stuffer that can cover TEs, period.  He will play in run situations and spell Antwan Barnes so that he is fresh to ATTACK THE QB.  JJ is a solid vet LB and a smart player that has a nasty style I hope will rub off on that side of the ball. SP stays healthy and Spikes and Butler do what they did last year, our linebackers corps is much better.  Cason and Jammer are good corners, they are simply in the position of being asked to do too much... we need to pressure throws and get to the QB for their skill sets to work to our advantage, not try to get them to cover huge fast receivers one on one for an infinite amount of time!!

I think over all: We have Philip Rivers, we've improved the roster, if we play better third down defense, get a stud pass rusher in the draft and have some luck in staying health, this charger team could be the team people thought they could be, not the team that lost weird games in weird ways and never panned out.

Christopher Manriquez said... Mar 21, 2012, 12:18:00 AM

P.S.  We need to sign Antonio Garay and Cam Thomas needs to step up again this season. 3-4 D has got to have a bull at nose tackle, and those guys together could be a nasty bull

Fbhansen said... Mar 21, 2012, 4:58:00 PM

Spot on! If we were going to rely on the draft that means we are rebuilding? I know one thing for sure and that's "if" Manning is playing at least 80% or his old self the Chargers won't be able to dig themselves into a hole and expect the Broncos to fold at the end of the''ll be over for us. So why are the other teams in the NFL picking up this or that top tier defensive free agent while AJ sits and does nothing? Same old AJ if you ask me! Sure he made some good (IMHO) pick ups on Offense and he did sign some of our own free agents but what the heck is he thinking for the defense?Pete - you aren't a GM but based on AJ's perfomance in the last two years the Chargers could save some dollars and pay one of us 1/2 of his salary to NOT get the team to the playoffs....any of us can at do that!

Cttdykicvfdcyufyg said... Mar 21, 2012, 7:49:00 PM

FOR THE #2 RUNNING BACK!  a lot of people r underestimating Battle! i dunno if everyone is looking at his overall in madden or what, but the guy has won games for the cheifs last year and past. hes played like 6 years for the cheifs and i'm sure he knows both the off & defense. Chemistry, i think plays a big part of it{new fullback Mcclain} and playing the div rivals twice a year and being familiar wil help.  Obviously Michael Bush or trading for Stewart or even ryan grant, sounds great but won't happen.  Money obviously the issue, tipical but count on drafting a running back in the mid rounds.

RaiderHater said... Mar 22, 2012, 1:39:00 PM

Dear Fellow Bolts Bloggers...I have had the privilege of spending this week in Denver on business...WTF!!!  The local media, the local papers, fans etc.  are talking crap like "I wonder who we will play in this year's Super Bowl"... "we will easily win the West, no doubt a sweep"... "I doubt we will lose more than 2 games all year"..are you Freaking Kidding Me!!!  I just shook my head over and over, and it is all over their news all day long!  COME ON MAN!  Manning is great...for a guy who hasn't played a down in over a year, is 36 years old, hasn't had 2 - 3 defensive players dump a few hundred pounds of "hurt" on him in a long time, has to now play in uhhhh weather and on grass in uhhhh weather (not Indy's dome on fake grass with a blistering 72 degrees every game & with no wind).  And the Broncos are going to be the national media's sweetheart all year so the pressure to win will add to it all.  And they got balls to say stuff like "we will sweep the West"...this is fuel for the Raiders, Chiefs and about a target on one's back!  Yeap, AJ needs to get off his ass and make some more FA buys on Defense...still need the QB eating guy up front...rookies in a draft may be nice for later but we need a Now Guy!  We need a quality CB from FA now more than before, Manning will be passing deep all day and we are weak out there (no rush=CB ineffective) so AJ we are waiting! 
  Sound off for me, do we think the West is rolling over for the Broncos now?  Will Manning go all year without injury?  Will Norv make it all year or gone early?  Will AJ add to the Defense with an impact player or 2 before the draft?  Will he trade up in the draft and why?
  I wish I had my Chargers hat when I was in Denver :)

Fbhansen said... Mar 22, 2012, 8:45:00 PM

I hear you RaiderHater but as much as I hate to admit it the Broncos improved themselves and we are just threading water. No pass rusher our CB's suck we need 1 maybe 2 and most of the FA's we picked up at other teams number 2's picked to be our number 1. I like the Royal pick up and JJ to help cover TE's but for the most part AJ is poison to this team and we aren't going to improve until he's gone. Billy Volek a Bronco as the number 2 are you kiding me...makes sense because "if" Rivers goes down this year we probably won't win many games anyway so AJ is rolling the dice and trying to free up some $ but if he doesn't use it they why??? I'm so frustrated with this team right now and refuse to believe the rhetoric from the Chargers beat writers that this team has me how!

Fbhansen said... Mar 22, 2012, 8:49:00 PM

Forgot to add that all AJ's banking on the other teams not having a quality QB has finally caught up with him. Why improve when you think you've got the only quality QB in a weak divison. My guess is all the turn over AGAIN will result in a slow start and this time unlike all the others Denver will not fold up like a tent and we'll end up second in the division by 2 games. Hope I'm wrong!

RaiderHater said... Mar 23, 2012, 11:47:00 AM

 I hope you are wrong too!  I agree need some "D" in my sandwich!!!  AJ needs to show me....i will await judgement until after the draft.  A lot happens even after within FA, so we shall see.  The battle lies on Norv's hands...if he calls plays "business as usual"...we are doomed.  But really, Denver is acting like the Jets did last year (we are going to the Super Bowl guaranteed Blah Blah Blah)....they need a reality check early in the season at least.  For once we won't be the media hyped Team, that plays well in our camp.  Now they (Bolts) have to earn their place in the ranks, not have it assumed:)

Pete Spinning said... Mar 23, 2012, 12:44:00 PM

Great to have you back, FB! Always good to get your perspective.

I sure hope that a rookie pass-rusher can make an immediate impact, cuz it looks like that's where we are going here. When you look at it, Barnes had a decent year, and will get better. Shawn Phillips will be healthy, and could return to form, if he can stay healthy. JJ can stop the run, and MIGHT get his sack count up... also, he could provide toughness & veteran experience to a rookie pass-rusher.This all looks ok on paper (sort of), but it doesn't exactly scream "we've fixed our pass rush... onto the next need". And, I thought pass rush was our BIGGEST need. Although, I don't feel like spending a bajillion dollars on Mario Williams would have been wise... why didn't we move on someone esle? Even Wimbley would have been a good choice. Why not get the guy who took out McNeil, and sacked Rivers 4 times last year? Once again.. if you can't beat em', sign em'.

I keep hoping that AJ will pull some surprise rabbit out of his hat, and make a deal that we had "No idea" was going on, and come up with a veteran pass rusher on the sly... but, I know that's probably just wishful thinking.

Fbhansen said... Mar 25, 2012, 5:50:00 PM

I have to agree that we won't be the media's darlings so that goes in our favor as players sometimes play better when they feel they've been slighted. Hopefully this years team is different from the past few years where we start weak and finish strong or start okay finish strong but lose the crucial game...if they play consistently through out the season and don't go into their normal slump for a few games then there could be a chance. Remember Peyton is going to have a chip on his shoulder and much to prove so this team can't play the way they have and expect to be close at the end...IMHO if Denver goes up early in the season they will most likely finish that way as well! We need to keep it close and play consistent! ;)

RaiderHater said... Mar 26, 2012, 7:06:00 PM

Yeah are starting to come around!  Pete was worried but I had faith in you!  I agree with you on the Peyton thang....but he could be in for a treat playing the West, outside, with new players.  It will be interesting and you are right, we need to keep close and not dick around like the usual Norv game (slow then hot or hot then flat then hot BS).  Thank goodnes we have been very consistant against Peyton for some time, we need Rivers to return to his old self plus the many new weopons at his disposal and we should be a scoring machine.  AJ needs to get some D going pronto though, or every game will be a shoot out!

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