It was different to see the San Diego Chargers’ strength as a team lie on the defensive side of the football last season as opposed to the typical offensive superiority. Heading into the 2013 season, however, that strength is ready to become dominance, especially along the defensive line.
The majority of the Bolts’ depth chart doesn’t scream talent laden, but the defensive line is the lone exception. Both Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes are primed to have big seasons for the Chargers, and at least some of the credit for that has to go to defensive coordinator John Pagano. As the lone holdover from the Norv Turner era (read: error), Pagano has played an integral role in cultivating the talent of Liuget and Reyes.
Typically, defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme are nothing more than glorified blocker occupiers who don’t really do much in the way of stats. This duo doesn’t subscribe to that notion as Liuget was second to only the over-hyped J.J. Watt in pass deflections among defensive linemen last season and Reyes had a 3.5 sack performance of his own late in the year against the New York Jets. Their total numbers were just as impressive as Liuget amassed seven sacks, six quarterback hits and 20 hurries along with 11 tackles for a loss. Reyes added 5.5 sacks, seven QB hits, and 20 hurries in barely half of the team’s defensive snaps as a rookie.
Clearly both of these guys are long way from reaching their ceilings as far as player potential is concerned, and the play of their teammate on the defensive front, Cam Thomas, will dictate just how much their numbers improve in 2013. If Thomas can demand double-teams inside, either Reyes or Liuget will be one on one which is certainly a matchup that favors either one of them.
These two are each at different stages of the careers even though they were just drafted one year apart. That extra season was clearly a big stepping stone for Liuget last year as he became a force for the San Diego defensive line. Reyes could accelerate the learning curve a bit, but the excitement over his potential breakout season should be tempered. He still needs to learn the nuances of the game and become a stronger run defender as Liuget did one year ago.
As a first round pick in 2011, Liuget certainly had some serious expectations following him into the league. Reyes was a projected first rounder by many analysts prior to the 2012 draft, but he slid to the Bolts in the middle of round two which may have hinted as his learning curve entering the NFL. Regardless of where they were drafted, both Liuget and Reyes are fixtures on the Bolts’ defensive front now on a mission to make a big impact this season. Something tells me when the 2013 season concludes, the Chargers will be telling each of them ‘mission accomplished’.