One of our commenters on here (Julien Belair) asked me to write an article about what happened to Kendall Reyes this season. It’s always hard for me to write an article about why a player didn’t meet expectations. Especially if I happen to think he is a talented player, which I feel Reyes is. However, some fans have been wondering what the reason for his sudden drop in production was caused by. There are a few things that come to mind, when I look back on his performance.
There was an obvious drop-off in talent when Aubrayo Franklin signed with the Indianapolis Colts in free agency, and Cam Thomas stepped in at the nose tackle position. Also, Pagano didn’t always seem to play Reyes to his strengths. But, was that the entire reason, or was Reyes going through the dreaded “Sophomore Slump”? Perhaps it is a combination of all three factors. I have even seen one or two people suggest that Reyes might be a bust. I am not of that belief, but let’s take a closer look at his 2013 campaign, and we can all make our own decisions from there.
Let’s start out with some positives for the young man, before we dive into the details of this season. Reyes played in all sixteen games in 2012, and eighteen in 2013. For a team that is constantly sustaining major injuries which send guys to the IR, that has to be acknowledged. His strengths are his quickness off of the line, and being disruptive in the backfield on passing downs. Reyes isn’t built to put up a ton of sacks. He actually totaled half a sack less than he did last year, with more playing time. But, what I did like to see is that they were spread out over more games. Reyes had 3.5 sacks in one game against the Jets last season, when backup QB Greg McElroy almost got killed by our pass rush. Reyes had his best game this season when he had 3 solo tackles, 2 assists, and a sack. Other than that, there wasn’t a whole lot to get excited about.
There were some fairly lofty expectations for our DE’s coming into the season, and both of them were very pedestrian in 2013. There was even some talk from the media that Liuget was going to raise his level of play even more; possibly to elite status. Even though Liuget fell short of these expectations, he still had more of an impact on the field than Reyes did. Liuget had just a half sack more, but he beat out Reyes in every important category. He also added a blocked kick, and a forced fumble on top of that. So if you thought that Liuget was average (or below) this season, then you are probably concerned about Reyes.
One of Reyes’ biggest problems this season is that he disappeared for entire games. This may have been a result of other circumstances, but you can’t overlook the facts. In road losses against Oakland & Miami, Reyes failed to even show up on the stat sheet. He also disappeared in our road win against Denver, even though we pulled out the win there. If Reyes is going to continue to start, he can’t go missing for an entire game, no matter who is holding down the nose tackle position. If he is having another game where he fails to be disruptive, or even make a single tackle, then it’s time to put someone else in there immediately.
Another question would be was Pagano using Reyes to his strengths this season? I have my concerns that Pagano is sometimes forcing a circle into a square. We saw a little bit of that with the defensive backs, when he routinely played them 10 yards off of the receiver for two thirds of the season. The same can be applied to Kendall Reyes. Is he really that good at defending against the run? It sure didn’t look like it from where I was sitting. Not having a capable nose tackle definitely didn’t help. But, is he even that good at defending it to begin with? The answer is no. He is a big boy, but he isn’t really a factor against the run. But, for whatever reason, he remains on the field during running plays. Even if we get a nose tackle that can draw double teams to help our DE’s do what they do, Pagano needs to stop asking them to do what they DON’T do. That is half the battle right there.
If I had to define Reyes’ role on this defense, I would say that it should be “somewhat” rotational. There is this little voice inside of me that says he shouldn’t be asked to play so many snaps, even if we get a nose tackle. He’s quick enough to cause trouble if you line him up properly, but we should look at getting some solid depth at the position. The Chargers should handle it like they should handle Ryan Mathews. Get him some help, cut down his snaps a little bit, but name him as the main starter.
Something else to take into consideration is that Reyes played in a 4-3 defense coming out of college, so he was already working on getting used to the transition to a 3-4 to begin with (AJ loved to do this, for some reason). I think he can be a good player in this defense, but Pagano has to figure out how to use him more productively. It is almost certain that we get a new nose tackle this season, so we will see how much that helps things. But, if Pagano doesn’t come to terms with the fact that he needs to develop Reyes (and other players) more effectively, then I see only a slight improvements on defense from last year. I hope that this young man is given the opportunity to be the best player he can be, and have a more successful season in 2014.
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