San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle was supposed to be a permanent fixture in the local community and the anchor of the defense. He’s a tackling machine that’s expected to play every snap in every game of the season.
That was the plan until last summer, as team management rejected an offer to negotiate a contract extension from Weddle, who can become a free agent at the conclusion of this season. Then the other shoe fell, as the Chargers have seen life without their star safety due to Weddle missing playing time after suffering a groin injury in a Week 6 road loss to the Green Bay Packers. The results haven’t been pretty.
The Chargers secondary enters Monday’s nationally-televised encounter against the equally struggling Chicago Bears maligned with their own set of problems. Most of the concerns center around the unit’s competitiveness level, especially without their true leader still out of the lineup. Charger fans feel facing Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and his receiving corps is the perfect remedy for getting back on track, but the secondary has to play fundamentally sound football to achieve this goal.
It still isn’t clear if Weddle can play this week, as one of the other starters must take on more of a leadership role in his absence. Starting cornerback Jason Verrett has come to play each week by being active all over the field. He makes life difficult for much taller receivers than himself with tight coverage that doesn’t leave much room to make a play.
The rest of the Chargers secondary must take Verrett’s lead and become more aggressive in their own coverage technique instead of playing off the receiver. They cannot allow the Bears to take advantage of the underneath routes and soft coverage across the middle. This new approach to defending the pass could make life difficult for Cutler this Monday night.
The Chargers need a healthy Eric Weddle in the lineup and not a tentative player that moving gingerly around the field. His absence from the lineup doesn’t deserve all the credit for the team’s recent poor play, but the defense hasn’t been the same since his departure.
He’s a consensus Pro Bowl player that instills his confidence to others by imploring them to set the tone early, sustain the energy and maintain the passion until the final whistle. Weddle’s presence inside the lockerroom and on the field has been missing. No question the entire defense is lost without him, as the other starters rely on Weddle’s guidance to get them through a tight game.
This secondary needs to play with a certain degree of aggression late in games, but too often, they become spectators as coverage mistakes has led to leads suddenly slipping away in the closing minutes.
The Chargers front office are seeing they’ll be losing more than one of the top safeties in the NFL, but one of the true team leaders they have on the roster if Weddle walks this coming offseason. The Spanos family needs to rectify this situation and re-sign him immediately, but that ship might have sailed already.