Coming into the 2012 season, the San Diego Chargers’ main question mark was definitely on defense. The team was torched on third downs, blistered at the ends of halves and just outright abused in the secondary at times a year ago. That is all a thing of the past though it seems as the defensive coordinator switch from Greg Manusky to John Pagano has given this unit a whole new lease on life.
Safety Eric Weddle recalled the firing of Manusky and hiring of Pagano saying: “Then, it was up to us. We knew the focus and we knew the commitment. Now, it’s our turn to go make it work on the field.”
Much of the blame for the defense’s struggles was also heaped onto General Manager A.J. Smith who had seemingly failed to accumulate any top notch defensive talent in recent years. It just took a while for those players to blossom as clearly Weddle as a Pro Bowler, linebacker Donald Butler now a star on the second level and defensive end Corey Liuget in his second season are all coming into their own.
What has to excite fans the most is the new attitude that this team exhibits out on the field. Pagano spoke highly of the unit he is in charge of saying:
“We’re improving and we still have a long way to go. We’re creating an identity right now and we’re still building that identity as a defense. And when you play certain games, there are going to be good times and bad times. The biggest key for us is playing with effort and the turnovers that we created, those were guys stripping the ball, putting their helmet on the football and going and getting the ball when it’s in the air. That shows the progress of what we’re trying to build here. The way our guys attack the football is something to be proud of.”
The identity that this defense has is still in the process of being finalized, but toughness and an attacking mentality are certainly a part of it. Monday night against the Denver Broncos, the team will face a tough challenge against a familiar face in quarterback Peyton Manning. Beating Denver in their first of two divisional showdowns would provide a huge boost to the effort that this defense has put in thus far in 2012.
Weddle spoke about his side of the ball saying:
“We spend a lot of preparation time. Guys want to prove it. Guys get to work early and stay late. Guys study how offenses attack situations. Sure, plays will break down here and there, but you will never question the effort and preparation of guys on this defense. We have to do what it takes to get to the playoffs. That’s what this is all about.”
This team may be young on the defensive side of the ball, but they are still hungry to make it to the postseason. Some of these guys have yet to experience playoff football and that is what the Bolts have as their goal after missing the postseason the past two years. Coach Pagano’s influence can clearly be seen on the defensive side of the football and that bodes well for this unit continuing to improve throughout the remainder of the season.
Follow Anthony Blake on Twitter @AnthonyMBlake or on Facebook at Anthony Mizarkus Blake