Trying to predict players with breakout potential can be a difficult task when it’s a broad-based projection, but when considering just one team, that mission can be near impossible. For the San Diego Chargers however, the 2012 season is one where the club will be counting on plenty of different faces in some primetime roles. Despite how difficult it may seem to try and find the next big thing for the Bolts, let’s delve deep into the roster and find some players with real upside for the upcoming year.
There’s no use burying the headline. Cam Thomas is a player that I expect to see big things from in 2012 and could possibly even be a starter in week 1. The team did re-sign veteran Antonio Garay to a two-year deal this offseason, but much of his contract is backloaded and could be taken off the books if the team finds starter potential in Thomas. Last year was only his second year in the league after being a fifth round selection out of North Carolina in 2010. He put up solid numbers in less than 40 percent of the defensive snaps with 20 tackles, six tackles for a loss, and four sacks.
The Chargers’ defensive line as a whole is an underrated group which is still very young and has a lot of room to grow. This should be the year when many of these components come together and become a cohesive, solid unit that really improves the base of their 3-4 defense. Players like Corey Liuget entering his second year, Vaughn Martin in year four, and Kendall Reyes as a rookie will all see some significant time in the line rotation this year. Don’t sleep on the Bolts’ defensive front and Cam Thomas in particular who seems poised for a solid season manning the nose tackle spot.
This is another player from the class of 2010 who had plenty of expectations coming to the Bolts’ 3-4 defense as an inside linebacker. A preseason injury derailed his rookie season and could have set him back significantly as a player, but Butler seemed to learn off the field leading up to last year where he played a big part in all 16 games. His stats of 96 total tackles, two sacks, two pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and one interception clearly illustrate what a well-rounded player he has the potential to become.
With Stephen Cooper gone this year, Butler becomes the mainstay alongside Takeo Spikes at the inside linebacker spot. His ability to both fill the hole in the run and cover short to intermediate routes in the passing game make him a really valuable piece to a developing defense. While the guys on the outside will generate most of the sack numbers, Butler is the cog in the middle that will be the tackling machine in the running game. His strength in fighting off blockers and having a nose for the football are the two most important assets for the former Washington Husky. Don’t be surprised if he breaks the century mark in tackles this season and really plays a key role in the improvement of this Chargers’ defense.
Atari Bigby / Brandon Taylor
Yes, these guys are all defenders, but it seems most would agree that is where the Bolts need the most help if they want to improve from a year ago. Bigby was a relatively overlooked signing by the club, but his football intelligence and big hit ability make him a great addition to a club that lacked both physicality and smarts on defense in 2011. Steve Gregory left via free agency and Bigby will actually provide quite an upgrade from him in the defensive backfield.
While Bigby has been injury-prone during his career, the Chargers also drafted Brandon Taylor in the third round in case that situation arises. His game is in the same mold as Bigby with big hit potential and he will probably be an in the box type of safety who fills the hole in the running game quite regularly. With a Pro Bowler like Eric Weddle playing opposite either of these players, both have plenty of wiggle room to freelance and make things happen. Both Taylor and Bigby have tremendous instincts and will be great assets to the Chargers on defense where they desperately need players with a high football IQ.
Whether you agree or disagree with this bundle of players offering plenty of potential to the Chargers’ roster in the upcoming season, it’s easy to see eye to eye on the fact that this team needs someone to step up on defense in 2012. These players all seem likely to provide that necessary boost that can help push this club back into playoff contention.
Now it’s your chance to breakout! Do you see Cam Thomas becoming a starter and playing a large role on the defensive front or will he be stuck behind Garay for much of the year? Will Donald Butler have a true breakout year now that Stephen Cooper is gone or will he be exposed as merely a role player without someone to lean on? Can Atari Bigby and/or Brandon Taylor bring back the hard hitting safety mentality that this team has been missing since Rodney Harrison? Please fill up the comments section below with any breakout predictions of your own and thoughts on the ones mentioned above!
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