One of the most basic building blocks of a successful 3-4 defensive alignment is a solid nose tackle to control the line of scrimmage and blow up running plays by opponents geared toward dictating the pace of the game. The San Diego Chargers believe that they have solidified that position for at least the next two seasons after inking their man on the nose, Antonio Garay, to a two-year contract late last week.
The last two seasons for Garay with the Bolts have been impressive as he has accumulated 105 tackles in addition to eight sacks. Still the production for Garay is not seen in the numbers as he is the man responsible for occupying blockers and keeping those players from impeding his fellow defenders when they are trying to make tackles. His ability to do just that is what makes him such a valuable resource for the defense as they try to improve in 2012.
For a player who began his NFL career as a sixth round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns, Garay has certainly made the most of his stay in San Diego. After catching on with the team in 2009 mainly for depth purposes following his dismissal from the New York Jets’ practice squad, Garay played a small role that season. His real emergence came in 2010 when he racked up 48 tackles with 5.5 sacks to lead all Charger defensive linemen. He backed that up with a strong performance in 2011 and has now become an essential piece of the defensive puzzle.
Still there are question marks about Garay that linger as he will be 33 years of age when the 2012 season starts and he did begin to look worn down in the latter half of last year. The fatigue factor will need to be monitored closely as the Bolts need to make sure they rotate their defensive front to keep everyone fresh and productive. In order to maintain his level of play, Garay needs to remain fatigue free as he thrives on applying pressure to opposing quarterbacks and disrupting plays in the backfield.
That rotation could be greatly helped if the team is able to re-sign veteran Luis Castillo who has reportedly been offered a contract by the Bolts in recent days. Castillo’s entire 2011 campaign was derailed by injury when he broke his leg in the season opener. Injuries have plagued Castillo’s career in San Diego, but when he has been able to remain healthy, the former Northwestern product has been a really productive player.
In switching gears a bit from defense to offense, another Chargers’ veteran has reportedly been offered the opportunity to stay with the club. Fullback Jacob Hester was given an offer by the Bolts to keep him in town and he should be considered a very important player at this point given Mike Tolbert’s departure to the Carolina Panthers. With Ryan Mathews’ durability questions still lingering, the Chargers must make sure that they are deep enough to endure the bumps and bruises of a sixteen game NFL schedule. The team did sign fullback Le’Ron McClain to a three-year deal which may make Hester a bit more expendable, but his do anything, Jack of all trades mentality is what makes him valuable to the Bolts and would be nice to keep.
The team may not have many glaring needs remaining given General Manager A.J. Smith’s spending spree in free agency at this point, but it appears that pass rusher and safety will be the main focus in the draft. In a mock draft that I took part in with the guys over at Bleed Green, in representing the Chargers the team was able to address both needs in that procedure.
The full results from that mock draft can be seen here http://www.bleed-green.com/blog/?p=13121, but the Chargers via my selections were able to land pass rusher Courtney Upshaw with the 18th pick and safety Harrison Smith in the second round. I made the choice to trade down out of the third round in order to pick up an extra 4th, 5th, and 6th round pick in 2012. Results like these in a few months would go a long way in solidifying the Chargers’ status as true contenders not only this coming season, but for many years to come.
Now it is your turn to be heard! What do you think of the team’s decision to bring back nose tackle Antonio Garay? Do you believe that Luis Castillo will be back with the team this year or will he move on? Is there room for Jacob Hester on the 2012 roster or would he be a superfluous signing? What do you think of the results I managed to secure for the Chargers in the mock draft with Bleed Green? Do you believe that GM Smith will go in a similar direction and do you think picks like these will help the team in the coming season? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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