Trip to the Trenches -- Defensive Line

The byline on defense is swamped with the defensive backfield, for good reason. However, as most fans recognize, it all starts up front in the trenches, and the San Diego Chargers 2003 defense will live or die by the line play as much as the upheavals in the backfield.

Defensive Line

If you did not throw away your 2002 Charger's media guide, kindly turn to the defensive page and you can save yourself the trouble of learning new names.

Productivity from both Marcellus Wiley and Ray Lee Johnson at the corners was way down from 2001, mostly because Wiley was hampered all year with groin and abdominal muscle tears that most super humans could not endure. Wiley has gone through the surgery and is expected to be a full throttle coming into training camp. Wiley professes to be back to complete health, and was certainly moving well in mini-camp to suggest he is not blowing smoke up anyone's backside. Look for him to put up good sack numbers. If not, we need a massive refund.

Johnson will do a serviceable job at the other bookend, and the only issue for him is if Adrian Dingle makes a run for his starting spot. By reworking his contract, I think that it is unlikely that Raylee will be a roster causality. Adrian Dingle's new three-year contract is a consequence of his play in the latter part of 2002, and if his flashes start demonstrating greater persistence, he is going to carve out more playing time. Dingle was one of the few positives when it came to getting deep penetration and exerting pressure on the opposing quarterbacks last year. Keep an eye on Dingle, especially in the 3rd down defensive packages.

Otis Leverette, Jacques Cesaire, and Omari Hand are the rookies trying to steal a position on the line. The jury is out on the entire trio at this point. Hand and Leverette made noise in mini-camp, but training-camp is the only forum that is going to provide any further prognosis.

Jamal Williams was back in mini-camp, and it was good to finally see that number 76 on the field upright. Williams has a history of injuries that can render the interior line play compromised at best, and possibly scary. Jamal looked good in mini-camp, and hopefully he can stay healthy all season.

The challenge is to find another interior mauler like Williams to line up on his right shoulder. Doug Sims is a 6'3' 340 pound DT that was hurt in camp last season. Before he was injured, he demonstrated very quick feet and good leverage. The Chargers have brought over his college line coach from Hawaii, and the snapshot of action he had in mini-camp, looking no worse for the wear and getting great leverage inside. He took the lion's share of the snaps at left tackle. If Sims can fill the other half of the tandem on the defensive front, then the coaching staff and front office will have guessed right. If not, then Jason Fisk is going to have to step up in a huge way.

Fisk was billed as the Parrella replacement. That did not happen. Fisk was struggling with a high ankle sprain last year, and his production looked like it. He was moving well in mini-camp, and the issues now are his "bilities"…both dura and capa. Leonardo Carson and Dequincy Scott are rotational players that can contribute. Unfortunately both were not at mini-camp because of injuries, Scott with an ankle problem and Carson hampered by a knee.

Scott Pospisil saw duty in NFLE, but what his role is for the Chargers is not solidified. Kris Dielman and Tim Love are the rookies trying to make the defensive team. Dielman look very good in mini-camp, and training camp should reveal more about the likelihood of him sticking on the roster.

Here is the recipe to a productive defensive front this season and emerge from training camp:
? A healthy Wiley, Williams, and Fisk
? 16 or more solid games from Wiley and Williams
? Better performance from Fisk
? Level of play that is worthy of a starting role from Sims
? Continued steady play from Johnson
? Improvement and production from Dingle
? Depth

Let's see if training camp can fill that list of deliverables. The defensive backfield is going to show flashes of brilliance and dark shades of green. The key will be consistency and performance from the line to allow the youth and speed injected to learn and flourish.

Jeff Sturgis can be reached at sturgisjg@netscape.net

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