Last season, fans did not get to see much of the “Lights Out Dance.” You do remember the dance, don’t you? It went something like this: Quarterback goes down. Defensive player hops up. While jumping and stomping the ground, player pretends to pull a tattooed light switch strategically placed on his forearm. Oh, memories.
Chargers outside linebacker Shawne Merriman missed the 2008-09 regular season with injury. Unfortunately, the Chargers saved a bit of money on their energy bill. Rumors swirled regarding Merriman’s departure and vulnerability of the Bolts defense. Still, despite a rough beginning, the Chargers defense survived, barely.
Expect the Bolts defense to resurge in 2009. Sorry Spanos, SDG&E will have a hand on your money clip soon enough. Merriman has returned, flipped the intensity switch and is eager to charge up his teammates.
Merriman’s presence will foster an immediate improvement in the Chargers pass rush, which was at the bottom of the barrel in 2008. The additions of inside linebacker Kevin Burnett and first-round draft pick Larry English (OLB) will provide the team with the ability to send a few more skilled rushers, which will likely cause opposing quarterbacks to quiver, sacks to increase and turnovers to soar.
Granted, the Chargers have a difficult schedule ahead of them. It’s the season of The Birds for the Bolts and even Hitchcock wouldn’t know what to expect. The Chargers play the Seahawks, Cardinals and Falcons in preseason and host the Ravens and Eagles in Weeks Two and Ten, respectively. Other formidable opponents include the Dolphins, Steelers, Giants, Cowboys, Titans and Redskins, oh my. If you didn’t catch the underlying theme, most of these teams boast pretty good quarterbacks. Still, with the way AFC West opponents are looking, even a decent record will merit the Chargers another trip to the playoffs.
The Chargers defense will undoubtedly prepare for each opponent with equal reverence. However, save Philip Rivers, the quarterback lineup in the AFC West is a weak one.
Matt Cassel and the Chiefs could prove to be problematic. Cassel was quite mobile when the Chargers faced the Patriots last season (Cassel joined the Chiefs in the offseason). Still, the Chiefs offense does not boast the same arsenal as the Patriots and a quarterback can only scramble for so long. Jeff Garcia brings a little more leadership and experience to the Raiders offense. However, Raiders General Manager Al Davis did not provide Garcia and his soon-to-be understudy JaMarcus Russell with much support this offseason. (Russell will likely lose his starting spot to the seasoned Garcia early on.) Kyle Orton can manage a team and hit wide receiver Brandon Marshall with a few lobs. But then again, Orton has about as many weapons in Denver as he did in Chicago. We all saw how that worked out.
So, Coach, let’s get these boys on the field. And, please, bring the house.
Lightning Never Strikes the Same Place Twice
Skeptics may contend, but Larry English should prove a sound investment. If English fulfills his potential, the Chargers linebacking corps will be big, fast and physical. Moreover, the unit will be relatively young. So, should General Manager AJ Smith manage to keep Merriman on for a few more seasons, the Chargers defense will only get better, particularly under the helm of Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera, a respectable linebacker in his playing days.
AJ Smith continues to make the right decisions and has found another “football player” in English. Smith continues to push for players that appreciate the game for the game and are willing to do whatever it takes for their team to win. (See recent early picks such as Eric Weddle and Jacob Hester who possess both character and ability.)
If this doesn’t convince you of Chargers personnel being able to pick ‘em, perhaps this will. Over the last ten years, the Chargers have had more draft choices earn Pro Bowl honors than any other team in the NFL (Philadelphia Daily News). Of the last 20 draft picks, six ended the 2008 season as starters. Prove em right, Mr. English.