There is sure to be plenty of change within the San Diego Chargers organization this off-season, but one area that doesn’t need many alterations is the defense. The Bolts have some outstanding young talent on all three levels of their defensive unit and that is in large part thanks to the outstanding scouting and drafting job done by general manager A.J. Smith and company. Here is a look at that talent and what fans can expect from each of them looking ahead to the 2013 season.
Corey Liuget certainly headlines this group in just his second year in the league in 2012. he has shown terrific quickness down the line and the ability to both stuff at the point of attack as well as get upfield and rush the passer when necessary. Liuget really doesn’t fit the mold of a typical 3-4 end with his tremendous quickness and elite athleticism. He could excel in a 4-3 system as well given his ability to put pressure on the opposing quarterback. What gives him so much upside is his ability as a two-way defender capable of staying at home against the run or collapsing the pocket on the quarterback. Look for Liuget to only continued his upward trajectory in 2013 and the sky is the limit on his potential.
Kendall Reyes really played in spot duty for much of the year up until week 16, but his coming out party was quite a raucous one. His 3.5 sacks showed just how much athleticism he has as well for a near 300-pounder and he has great instincts for a rookie. Reyes has seen his playing time increase through November and December and those extra reps will greatly benefit him looking forward to 2013. He and Liuget have the potential to be an unstoppable force in the very near future.
Melvin Ingram obviously is the top dog at this level given his lofty draft status this past spring and he has brought his endless motor to the NFL. The relentless effort and edge that Ingram plays with suggests that he will only continue to grow as he gains more experience. He has also seen an increase in snaps during the month of December and that should translate into some accelerated growth once next season rolls around.
Donald Butler needs no introduction. He is technically in his third year removed from college, but is really only two-year player after losing his entire rookie season to an Achilles injury. He has shown the ability to be a tackling machine when on the field. With a real knack for being around the ball, Butler has all of the instincts and tools necessary to be an elite inside backer for the next decade. He will certainly benefit from having played next to veteran Takeo Spikes for the past two years as well in terms of maturity.
Marcus Gilchrist appears to be ready for the big time. Both Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason are free agents following this season and it’s certainly possible that neither one returns next season. That would immediately put Gilchrist into a starting role and I think he is more than ready. He has shown the ability to play instinctive in coverage and is a solid tackler for a corner. He reminds me quite a bit of a young Jammer with the desire to come up and make a hit in run-support when required. A full-time starting role would be a nice step toward further development for Gilchrist in 2013.
Brandon Taylor hasn’t gotten much exposure in rookie year, but has potential to be a big hitter. With more reps and some serious development in the offseason, Taylor will make a perfect partner for Eric Weddle. Weddle is more of a diagnostic freelancer in the secondary whereas Taylor would bring the physical presence and make receivers fearful of coming over the middle.
What does all of this defensive talent really suggest? Well, to me it says that GM Smith should be kept on board regardless of who the next coach is. The organization needs to allow Smith to continue building this personnel base in the right direction and put in place a coach that can get all of that talent on the same page in 2013.
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