General Manager A.J. Smith showed his hand early this offseason when discussing where he wanted to see the team improve. In each and every conversation, GM Smith was quick to point to the defensive side of the football and say the team needed to add talent. With his signings in free agency and his selections in the NFL Draft showed that he does believe defense still wins championships, so both he and the Chargers’ organization have to be happy with the additions that were made.
While there is still plenty to play out when it comes to the assemblage of the Bolts’ 2012 defense, signs point to the club being much improved on that side of the ball from a year ago. Pass rush (or lack thereof) has been one of the biggest problem areas for the Chargers’ D in recent years and the front office really put a tremendous effort into rectifying that problem over the past few months.
The addition of Jarrett Johnson from the Baltimore Ravens in free agency certainly brings a lot to the team and will finally give Shaun Phillips some consistent push on his opposite side. Antwan Barnes, the team’s sack leader in 2011, is back as well and should see plenty of playing time. Add in the first round draft choice Melvin Ingram and this club has a fearsome looking group of linebackers to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Flexibility on defense is a term that gets thrown around an awful lot, but it will be hard to find a team more malleable than the Bolts as the 2012 campaign nears. Don’t forget the team also drafted Kendall Reyes from Connecticut in the second round who played inside at defensive tackle during his collegiate days. This hybrid system will allow the team the chance to play both Ingram and Reyes together on the defensive front in passing situations. Both players can simply tee off on opposing quarterbacks and try to make life miserable for any teams that the Bolts face in the year ahead.
While Reyes will likely be transitioned to a 3-4 defensive end in the Bolts’ base system, the team is in no rush to make him an every down player. The same can be said for Ingram who will be transitioned to a stand-up outside linebacker in the 3-4, but he can still play with his hand in the dirt during the coming year in nickel and dime defenses. With Reyes inside along with presumably Corey Liuget and Ingram and Barnes perhaps rushing off the edges, that quartet will have quarterbacks running for their lives.
Now clearly the front seven doesn’t solve all of the team’s defensive woes as last year was somewhat pitiful in the secondary as well. The Bolts do feel that at least some of those struggles can be attributed to a lack of quarterback pressure and that the guys in the back third of the defense were just asked to cover for too long.
No significant changes were made to the secondary, but Steve Gregory is gone replaced by Atari Bigby in the interim and hopefully third round draft pick Brandon Taylor for the long-term. Certainly corners Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason had down years in 2011, but this should be a bounce back season for each of them as they are asked to cover for much shorter time periods than last year.
Perhaps the most significant change taking place will be philosophically where the team never got going in 2011 after the departure of Ron Rivera. Greg Manusky’s system never fit with the Bolts’ personnel and there is no one more familiar with that personnel than his successor, John Pagano, who has been with the team for the past decade in some capacity and coached the linebackers since 2005. His outlook on defense will likely be much more aggressive, featuring more third down blitzes and far less shell coverage looks on the most critical down of all.
One or two of these changes alone may not have been enough to turn things around for the Chargers’ defense this year, but with each element coming together at once, fans should be excited about a new look unit this season. Look for more aggression, less passive play, plenty of sacks, and more forced turnovers this year as the Bolts look for a defensive revitalization in 2012.
It’s your turn now! Do you think A.J. Smith’s defensive draft and free agency acquisitions will make a big impact this season? Can the Chargers get to the quarterback with more regularity this year? Do you see big things from Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes in their rookie seasons? Will the new defensive philosophy brought by John Pagano be a big boost for the unit this year? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!
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