December 30, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers defensive end Kendall Reyes (91) during the second quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
So far in this series we’ve discussed defensive backs and linebackers, so I thought it only fitting to round out the defense and talk about the D-line this time. The defensive backs were a little easier to make a case for; the linebackers were more challenging. Let’s see how the big fellas up front rate, as I make my case for why they will be better in 2013!
Who they were:
There are a many things I love about the Chargers D-line: they’re big; they’re tough; they’re fast; they’re nasty and, above all, they’re young. Last year we witnessed Corey Liuget’s breakout season. The former first round draft pick recorded 7 sacks (6 more than his rookie year) and 36 solo tackles (more than double his rookie year). Liuget is going to be a multiple Pro-Bowler and a force on the end for years to come.
On the other side we had another breakout! Although he didn’t put up the numbers that Liuget did, Kendall Reyes had 5.5 sacks and 16 solo tackles, but he did it in his rookie year! Now, given that most of his sacks (3.5) came in one game against the lowly New York Jets, I will try to temper my expectations a little, but I don’t think anyone can deny that Reyes was impressive in his debut season—he posted better numbers than Liuget did in his rookie year.
After that, there wasn’t much going on at defensive end. Vaughn Martin put up pretty below average numbers in 2012 after having a decent season in 2011. We wish him all the best in his future endeavors. Let’s move on to defensive tackle.
We had a very solid veteran rotation in 2012 to round off our line. Both Franklin and Garay did a decent job of plugging up the middle but couldn’t stay healthy for the whole year (especially Garay). Cam Thomas had comparable numbers but, unlike the others, managed to stay healthy for the entire season. This probably has a lot to do with youth and is, in my opinion, why Thomas has been handed the keys and Garay and Franklin are playing elsewhere next year. There were no superstars in the middle of the line, but overall they did a serviceable job and were a big part of the jump to number 6 in the league against the run.
Why they will be better:
Before we get into it, here’s a small fact: the average age of our three starting defensive linemen…is 24. That’s pretty awesome. Okay, now let’s talk about why they will be better!
DE: I think this is an easy one. We have a couple of beasts at defensive end. Liuget and Reyes are young guys, coming off of solid seasons, and they’re only going to get better. This could be the year that Liuget breaks into Pro Bowl consideration and becomes one of the better D-ends in the league. Reyes, hopefully, will build off of a great first year in the system and become a dominant force in his own right. The sky is the limit with these two.
DT: This is Cam Thomas’ time to shine. Last year, as I mentioned earlier, he was in a rotation with a couple of veterans. This year he’s going to have a lot more playing time and we’ll see if he can handle being a full time starter. He had a solid year in 2011 and we all thought he would break out last year. This didn’t prove to be the case but he still has a chance to redeem himself. This is his position to lose. He needs to forget about last year and live up to his potential. At 6’4”, 330ibs he can plug the middle for us and let Liuget and Reyes go to work on the outside.
Thomas is going into his fourth year so he has plenty of experience by now—Jamal Williams put up pretty average numbers until about his fifth season. He’s the oldest member of this unit, at the ripe old age of 26, and has already said that he is ready to take a leadership role this year. That’s what I like to hear, guys stepping up and leading by example. Thomas has all the potential in the world and, if he can live up to it, our line is going to be dominant for years to come. I personally think he can get the job done.
DEPTH: Normally having two undrafted rookies as your backup defensive tackles would be more than worrying, but the word on the street is that both Geathers and Jerideau are performing well beyond their undrafted status. These two guys were probably two of the best free agent DTs out there after the draft, if not two of the best players period. They are massive, strong and will only push each other to get better and better as the season draws closer. Whoever makes the team (if not both) they will be a more than solid backup for Thomas in the middle. Replacing Garay and Franklin with these guys continues the youth movement that we’re seeing all over the roster (which I am in favor of).
At defensive end the depth is a little shakier. If we can get a full season out of Jarius Wynn then he could be a decent rotational player. After that we have a few undrafted rookies and a second year player in Scafe, not a lot of solid options. When you look at it like that, then we have to hope that Reyes and Liuget A) don’t get hurt and B) don’t get tired. We do, however, have another option. Coaches McCoy and Pagano have already said that they will line Dwight Freeney up in different positions and let him do what he does best. This gives us a little breathing room at D-end. Don’t be surprised if you see Freeney lining up in a three-point stance from time to time. I also wouldn’t be surprised if TT adds another veteran player for depth before the start of the season.
So there you have it. We have three young linemen with all the potential in the world. I feel like they’re only going to get better. Depth is a little shaky but it’s not that much worse than last year. Plus, we have some young guys in backup roles that have great promise and one of the best defensive ends of all time to show them how it’s done. In a couple of years I wouldn’t be surprised if this unit is considered one of the best in the league, but that’s just how I feel, let me know what you think!