The 2016 season is coming fast, and after a 4-12 season, there are tons of questions surrounding the Chargers. A question being asked by many, is how the defense will fare without veteran safety Eric Weddle on the field and in the locker room. In April’s Draft, many thought the Chargers would address the safety position, but the Chargers elected to go with Joey Bosa at 3rd overall, and ignored the position through the later rounds as well.
The Chargers got a taste of life without Weddle in week 17 of 2015, when the safety landed on the injured reserve list before the season closer. The Chargers defense went wild with turnovers including an interception by back-up safety Adrian Philips, something Weddle failed to reel in all season. During free agency the Chargers invested in safety Dwight Lowery, who averages four interceptions a year, and brings eight years of experience to help the young incumbent safeties. Together these safeties have the capability to gel and grow together to form a corps of safeties that gets turnovers consistently, but most importantly, gets the ball back in the hands of Philip Rivers.
Just as important as his production on the field was Weddle’s leadership and ability to rally his men on game day, and being the voice of the defense for years as a captain. This year it isn’t one man, but three who are budding as leaders on defense, and those players are Manti Te’o, Brandon Mebane, and Jason Verrett. Mebane was brought in during free agency to reinforce the defensive line , but has been latched onto by many young players who are eager to learn from the man who won the big game only three seasons ago. Mebane in response, has embraced the role and is becoming a veteran voice for any player looking for help on the team. He motivates and pushes the players to work hard and they follow his lead because they want to become world champs like he was in 2013.
Te’o is coming into a huge year in his short career. After three seasons he has shown much improvement, especially last year after being paired with Denzel Perryman, the two showed great promise being paired in the middle of the defense. Despite this, he has not been able to finish a full 16-game season,and is in a contract year, but is in a good position to succeed in year 4 . During the off-season, Te’o has been one of the rookies’ go-to guy’s for anything on defense, as well as any other player needing assistance on or off the field. This, along with him calling plays in the huddle, has led to Te’o becoming the new voice of the defense. In a big year for him, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him possibly be a team captain this year, as he has truly embraced the leadership role. Te’o is no stranger to leadership, as he was a captain at Notre Dame and has established himself as a leader in the Chargers locker room. The Chargers are counting on Te’o to grow into the leader he can be this year, and he is very capable of doing so if he can play a full 16 games this year.
Oct 12, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett (22) breaks up a pass intended for Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown (84) at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Last but certainly not least, Jason Verrett has quietly showed elite potential in his first two seasons and his consistency on the field has led to his peers respecting him greatly. His play itself, elevates his teammates around him and on game day this trait alone is priceless. We’ve seen his play keep the Chargers in tough games, and give the Chargers life, just as Weddle used to in his golden days in San Diego. Weddle did a lot for the Chargers, but as the offseason unfolds, we see the defense growing and filling the gaps that were gone briefly when the veteran signed with the Baltimore Ravens. Weddle was a great Charger, but the Chargers defense won’t have to live in his shadow during the 2016 season, everything they need to succeed is already on the team.