Jan 5, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; San Diego Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) celebrates with teammates Reggie Walker (52), Manti Te
The Chargers defense started dreadfully bad this season. Players were out of position and injuries hampered the unit.
The team had used a new combination at linebacker for almost the first half of the year. Manti Te’o was injured to start the year and the team has to wait for his development. When he returned Donald Butler was hurt. Then Dwight Freeney went down with an injury and then Jarret Johnson was down for an injury. We weren’t even sure if Melvin Ingram would be back this season. We found out early that Bront Bird was not a starting middle linebacker. Reggie Walker showed some toughness and versatility and has become a nice part of the rotation. Thomas Keiser was signed and stepped in to become a pass rushing specialist.
Dec 29, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel (10) is tackled by San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te
Toward the end of the year, the linebackers starting getting healthy and we added Melvin Ingram back in the mix. Manti Te’o has consistently gotten better and has shown a lot more confidence on the field. Donald Butler came back and made his presence felt. Jarret Johnson brought his toughness back on the field as well. Having all 4 starters healthy at the end of the season has helped tremendously.
John Pagano is able to do more with all of these guys on the field. They are athletic and versatile. Having all of them back also has allowed Eric Weddle to roam around on defense a bit more. At the start of the year, Weddle had to play in the box to help against the running game. Now he is getting a little more freedom to play his free safety spot and is running all over the field.
Marcus Gilchrist started off the year as the starting strong safety. He wasn’t really cutting it there and now he has shifted over to the nickel position and is covering slot receivers. He has done much better at that spot and the undrafted free agent Jahleel Addae has stepped in at the strong safety spot. Addae has grown a lot from the start of the year, but now he has the trust from his teammates that he can get the job done at the safety spot.
Jan 5, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle (32) and cornerback Shareece Wright (29) celebrate during the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The Chargers defeated the Bengals 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Out at corner we started with Shareece Wright and Derek Cox. This was Wright’s first chance as a starter and there were a bit of growing pains. He has grown this season though. Where was A.J. Green last week? You can give props to Shareece for that. Derek Cox has since seen the bench and Richard Marshall has been given the starting gig. Marshall was the starting corner for the Miami Dolphins last year, but he was released in the offseason and we snatched him up. Marshall has been much more consistent than Cox and has shown the willingness to help out against the run. He has been a much more physical corner.
Up front, the Chargers started with Cam Thomas at the nose spot. He wasn’t getting the double teams that the team needed and it was showing. Sean Lissemore was picked up from the Cowboys in a trade in the offseason and has fought his way to get more playing time and eventually took over the starting job at the nose. He wasn’t able to play against the Bengals in the offseason, but he has helped things up front for the Chargers. Cam has picked up his play of late as well. With everyone back healthy on defense and others playing well, Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget have been doing a better job of fighting off of their blocks and making plays.
There has been a lot of movement on the defensive side of the football, but I think the team has finally found the right mix of players to put on the field. We are forcing turnovers now. It didnn’t just start last week against the Bengals either. Toward the end of the season, during our run to the playoffs, we have been able to force some turnovers. Now we will wait to see what the guys do against Peyton Manning on Sunday.