Defensive Line Gets Makeover Before Training Camp

The San Diego Chargers’ defensive line is packed with youth composed of several players selected early in drafts over the past handful of offseasons. While that younger group says a lot for the future of this team, many wondered if the club would be content to move into the 2012 season with just those unproven players on that defensive front. That question was answered when the team chose to sign veteran nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin to a one-year contract.

Franklin may not be the component that puts this defense over the top, but his addition is certainly a welcome one to a group of less experienced players. At 32 years of age, Franklin isn’t going to be around for long and the team clearly knew that by signing him to just a one year deal. What this seems to say more than anything is that the Bolts aren’t ready to hand the starting nose tackle gig over to Cam Thomas just yet.

That reluctance raises some questions about just what the team’s strategy was looking forward to the season a few months ago as opposed to now. While training camp opening up on Friday certainly has to play into the decision to sign Franklin, the idea of adding a new starter at this point in the process still doesn’t sit well.

It may be a bit too early to write off Antonio Garay who was re-signed by the team earlier in the offseason at the nose tackle spot. He held down the starting spot last year and was quite effective in that role. Still the struggles defending the run combined with a lackluster pass rush have to be contributing reasons to why Franklin was added.

To put a more positive spin on things, this new face will give the team a three-man rotation at the nose tackle spot with Garay, Thomas, and Franklin which will allow them to stay fresh and more effective. In stopping the run, not being tired can be an overlooked element, but when tired players are forced to stay on the field they can be pushed around much more easily. All of these players are skilled at occupying space, eating up blockers, and freeing up the linebackers to make tackles which prevents runs from getting to the second level.

Each of those attributes is something the Bolts have been lacking since big Jamal Williams was let go a few years ago. His big body was so effective at clogging up the middle of the field for nearly a decade on the defensive front. The ability to anchor and stand up at the point of attack is a key feature the team’s trio of nose tackles has and that will be vital to the defense’s chances of success as a whole this year.

While Franklin is a definite plus for the roster, the team decided that perhaps bringing back defensive end Luis Castillo was not the right move. The club released the veteran again and will certainly be starting a new chapter at the end position as last year’s first round pick Corey Liuget figures to step in as a starter to begin 2012. Vaughn Martin will also be moved up the depth chart into a prominent role as a rotating player on the opposite side.

The pressure on these younger players to perform is definitely a good thing for their growth on the field, but it’s also scary for fans still not sold on their ability to get the job done. It is important that these inexperienced guys have confidence in themselves to perform how they know they are capable and that the coaches put them in the right position to do just that. Gaining some cohesion as a unit is nearly as important for a defensive line as it is on the offensive side so these players know where one another will be at all times on the field. Having that reassurance will allow them to grow together and play much more efficiently as a group rather than operating as individual entities.

So the fact that the team has made some late changes to its roster shouldn’t worry fans too much as this defensive line group still has plenty of time to grow. Franklin’s presence will provide defensive coordinator John Pagano with some much needed flexibility up front in directing his side of the ball during the year to come.

Now here’s your chance to be heard! What are your overall impressions of the Aubrayo Franklin addition? Do you think it is a reflection on the team’s lack of confidence in their personnel prior to making that signing? How do you see the three nose tackles performing as a group in 2012? Will Franklin be the long-awaited replacement for Jamal Williams in the middle on D? Are you sold on the younger players’ ability to get it done on the field? Please fill up the comments section below with your thoughts!

July 24, 2012

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Pete Spinning said... Jul 24, 2012, 1:53:00 PM

I think bringing in Franklin in was a good move. A lot of Saints fans are saying "Good luck w/ that, he sucked in our rotation". But, I feel like he was a beast with the 49ers, when he last played a 3-4 defense. Not sure he ever got used to the 4-3 New Orleans ran. (which is why it isn't always a good idea to try and convert a player.. eh-hem, AJ!). It will possibly give our young DE rotation a shot in the arm, too. We were a little thin at DE depth, and with Franklin & Thomas both being able to rotate in & out at NT... Garay can possibly get into the rotation for DE. I think Pagano knows that Garay can do that, and might be thinking this, as well. Either way... NICE SIGNING, YO!

RaiderHater said... Jul 24, 2012, 7:21:00 PM

Yeah Anthony...another good article brother! Ahhh yes remember the Man... Mr. Williams from not so long ago...a beast for sure! I love having Franklin in, and the rotations idea is on par with a D-Coach thinking about fresh and hungrey players in as much as possible, rather than tired and beat up dudes. I will also admit that I was never a Costillo that move faired OK for me. The youth in the middle is going to have to prove themselves a ton this year and having some vet experience to lean on for a year is a smart option, AJ and Coach are actually thinking this thing through!! I know you need some continuity on the line to be most effective, but if you are rotating the same group of guys depending on the probable Offensive play called, then they will gell just the same and be rested and ready. If they stuff the run plays and force a QB to throw, hold up the line enough to allow a LB to get pressure (or better a sack) on the QB...which then allows a safety or deep cover guys to be in all is Game Bro! The contests are on in pre-season...only so many get to stay...this should be an epic period to enjoy before the season opener...where the Raiders get embarrased on MNF with a Rivers led blow out!!!

triplook said... Jul 25, 2012, 11:30:00 PM

we have upgraded for sure

Pete Spinning said... Jul 27, 2012, 10:00:00 AM

I hope Rivers scores ridiculous points on MNF! I would LOVE to see him taunting Skeletor looking Raider fans in the crowd!

Nick in PB said... Jul 27, 2012, 10:21:00 AM

RH, Pete, that's totally it. I think the signing of Franklin was meant to provide some pass rush options. Garay can move on to the end positions where he won't have to deal with the middle of the line all the time... let the other wide-bodies do that and I think he will get some pressure from the end position! That dude can penetrate when motivated! Again, it also keeps the guys fresh. I like the move. Let's just hope he returns to his SF days, play wise and he will be a steal!

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