10 Offseason Targets to Fix San Diego Chargers’ Suspect Pass Defense
10 Offseason Targets to Fix San Diego Chargers’ Suspect Pass Defense
The first 12 weeks of the 2013 NFL season were hard to watch for any fan stuck in an era of hard-nosed defense for the San Diego Chargers. The Bolts were sliced up in the secondary and had numerous gaffes in coverage which forced the offense to play out of their minds to just keep up on the scoreboard. Though the defensive abomination subsided somewhat in the waning weeks of the season, the Bolts still have some serious work to do to correct these issues.
Obviously the first place to begin is with the secondary, and there is plenty of work still left to do in that back-third of the defense. The Derek Cox signing is proving to be a complete whiff as he was benched multiple times this past season, and Richard Marshall looked like he is on his last legs as a capable corner. Shareece Wright came on at the end of the year, but he really didn’t look very promising early in the season so a regression must be guarded against in 2014. Rookie Steve Williams never got onto the field thanks to a preseason torn ACL, and he could be an instant fixture as the nickel corner next season.
As for the safety play, Eric Weddle was fantastic as always with his chameleon capabilities to play anywhere from corner to linebacker to the traditional deep safety look. His counterpart, Marcus Gilchrist, looked out of place many times in his transition from corner to safety. Undrafted rookie Jahleel Addae was a pleasant surprise, and he could easily be the starter when next season rolls around. Former third-round pick Brandon Taylor missed the entire season with a lingering knee injury, and that will likely end his time with the Bolts.
Clearly the secondary is liable for the issues in coverage, but the linebackers need to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks to make their job at little easier. That aspect was really absent from the defense all season with injuries to Dwight Freeney, Larry English, Melvin Ingram and even the offseason departure of Shaun Phillips all taking their toll. Adding another pass rusher into the mix to pair with Ingram next season could be a great way to cure the coverage issues by not giving quarterbacks time to survey the field.
With all of this in mind, the Chargers will undoubtedly be searching for answers to their pass defense which surrendered 258.7 yards per game on average, ranking 29th in the league. Their paltry sack total of just 35 on the season also likely contributed to these issues, and that’s why these 10 players could be valuable additions to a defense desperate to turn the corner in 2014.
10. Louis Nix III, DT – 2014 NFL Draft
The likelihood of Louis Nix III being available when the Bolts are put on the clock at No. 25 overall is relatively low at this point, but there really isn’t a huge market for 3-4 nose tackles in today’s NFL. San Diego still employs the somewhat archaic defense, and they have been lacking a true plugger up the gut since Jamal Williams’ heyday nearly a decade ago. The odds of him getting to the Bolts are slim, but Nix would help the secondary by forcing opponents to be one-dimensional and abandon the run game altogether due to his immovable presence inside.
9. Khalil Mack, LB – 2014 NFL Draft
This is perhaps even more unlikely with plenty of talk saying the Buffalo stud will go in the top 10, but landing an impact pass-rusher would greatly aid the secondary next season. The Chargers really missed the pressure Shaun Phillips applied to opposing quarterbacks, and Khalil Mack would bring that back to San Diego. There may be some hesitance to draft another player from the MAC so high after Larry English turned out to be an epic bust for the franchise, but Mack is going to be a good one at the next level.
8. Brent Grimes, CB – NFL Free Agent
Obviously landing a playing of Brent Grimes’ caliber should rank a bit higher on this list, but his positioning is taking into account the likelihood of the Bolts actually adding him. After stellar season on a one-year deal with the Miami Dolphins in 2013, Grimes is likely to get a handsome payday somewhere this offseason. San Diego could be in the market for the 30-year-old defensive back on a short-term contract, but a long-term deal for an aging player is not an idea they should entertain. There’s no doubt his lockdown ability would look awfully nice in their secondary, though.
7. Jason Verrett, CB – 2014 NFL Draft
Size is the biggest impediment to Jason Verrett being ranked higher on this list of possibilities for the Bolts. At just 5-foot-10 and 176-pounds, he is nearly a carbon copy to Steve Williams who the Chargers just drafted last year. Although he is an absolute ball hawk with great instincts and a willingness to get in on nearly every tackle, Verrett would be a bit redundant considering the team’s depth chart already. Unless there is a serious shakeup in terms of players departing it would be somewhat surprising to see him in lightning bolts.
6. Corey Graham, CB – NFL Free Agent
Corey Graham had the best season of his career in 2013 with four interceptions and 12 pass deflections in the Baltimore Ravens’ secondary. He also recorded his first career sack with a career-high 74 total tackles for a defense that went through some ups and downs. He will be 29 years of age by the time the 2014 season begins, but a friendly short-term deal would be a wise investment for the Bolts. They really need a physical presence on the outside in coverage with the big receivers in the AFC West, and Graham fits the bill at 6-foot, 196-pounds.
5. Vontae Davis, CB – NFL Free Agent
Speaking of big and physical, Vontae Davis would be an absolute gem for the Chargers to slot in on one side at cornerback in 2014. Though the Indianapolis Colts are expected to make a hard push to bring him back, the 5-foot-11 206-pound 25-year-old former first-rounder could look to get paid elsewhere after another nice season to add to his already impressive resume. Davis is a former No. 25 overall pick for a reason, and he has plenty of talent that would be a true asset for the Chargers. He will likely get a substantial raise from the mere $1.86 million he made in 2013, but the Bolts should make him a priority if they can afford it.
4. Bradley Roby, CB – 2014 NFL Draft
Perhaps an even better addition would come in the form of Bradley Roby. The former Ohio State Buckeye is also an early entry to the draft, and his world-class speed is what will make him so attractive to teams. He is terrific in coverage at sticking with receivers and using that speed to break on the ball at just the right moment to break up passes or come away with interceptions. What makes him somewhat questionable as an addition is his tendency to allow the short completions rather than break them up which is what the Bolts already suffer with. Roby could develop into something special at the next level with some coaching, though, and the Bolts could do a lot worse than to add him to the mix.
3. Marcus Roberson, CB – 2014 NFL Draft
At 6-foot, 195-pounds, Marcus Roberson would add that size element that the Chargers desperately seek on the outside. This former Florida Gator is an early entry to the draft with blanket cover skills to warrant his decision to make the jump. He has terrific instincts to jump routes and break up passes, but sometimes that can get him into trouble due to being overaggressive. That seems like an oxymoron after what the Bolts saw in coverage this past season, and landing a player of Roberson’s caliber would be a nice get at No. 25 overall.
2. Justin Gilbert, CB – 2014 NFL Draft
It’s hard to find a more physical corner coming out in the draft than Justin Gilbert, and this Oklahoma State Cowboy would look great in lightning bolts. He excels in man coverage due to his great closing ability and willingness to mix it up with guys at or near the line of scrimmage. Though some could see his propensity for unnecessary penalties after the whistle as a drawback, that type of edginess is what the Chargers are missing in their cover guys. Gilbert has been linked to San Diego in many early projections for how the draft may play out, and the team would be very happy if it worked out that way in May.
1. Charles Tillman, CB – NFL Free Agent
For a team that had trouble creating turnovers last season with just 17 on the entire season – only two teams forced fewer – there is no one better to add into the mix than the turnover producing machine himself in Charles Tillman. Peanut is still one of the league’s best defenders at taking the ball away from opponents even though he will turn 33 by the time next season begins. He only played eight games this past season for the Chicago Bears due to injuries, which is a concern, but he still managed to force three fumbles and haul in three interceptions. Though he won’t be a player that sticks around for a long period of time, perhaps the Bolts could convince him to spend his golden NFL years in sunny San Diego producing turnovers for a defense that dearly needs help in that department.