Bolts Notebook: Pagano's Tall Task

The Chargers are talented, deep and explosive on offense. But if the defense cannot put up at least middle-of-the-pack production, it won't matter much in the long run. John Pagano has improved talent to work with, especially in the secondary, but as evidenced by San Diego's first two preseason games, the defense has a long way to go.

No unit on San Diego's roster has more question marks than the defensive line. That was made abundantly clear in Seattle, when the Seahawks averaged 6.6 yards per rush and racked up five rushing touchdowns.

The defensive line, which was thin to start with, is dealing with injuries to NT Sean Lissemore (ankle) and DE Lawrence Guy (shoulder). Additionally, Kendall Reyes has failed to live up to the hype he created in his promising rookie campaign, and rookie NT Ryan Carrethers appears a long way from becoming a contributor.

Tom Telesco made one move this week, picking up Doug Worthington off waivers from Washington, but the three-year veteran has played less than 50 defensive snaps in his career. More help is needed. Telesco hopes to make a slick pick-up like he did a season ago, when he acquired Lissemore from Dallas in exchange for a future seventh-round pick.

The problems on the defensive line only make things more challenging for the linebackers; as of now, it is tough to tell if Joe Barry's boys are up for the challenge.

Manti Te'o is dealing with his second foot injury in as many seasons. Dwight Freeney, at 34 years old and coming off a quad injury, has yet to play this preseason. And there are concerns about whether youngsters Jerry Attaochu and Tourek Williams are ready to supply the necessary heat off the edge.

The secondary, by contrast, is in good shape. The additions of Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett, who recently shed his red jersey, have solidified the cornerback corps. Marcus Gilchrist is more comfortable in his second season at strong safety, while Jahleel Addae has come on strong with his big hits and underrated range.

Unfortunately, if the play of the front seven does not get better, the improvements in the secondary will be wasted, like a new lure on the end of a busted rod.

Pagano will do his part to mask his unit's deficiencies. He has done very little of that so far this preseason, keeping his schemes purposefully vanilla. He showed some creativity last season, from having his defensive linemen stand up to using his linebackers and safeties interchangeably. He will need his best coaching performance in 2014.

No matter what Pagano does, if his players do not get off blocks and start making tackles, the defense will again be this team's undoing.

Lightning Quicks

--San Diego's regular-season opener, on the road against the Cardinals, is looking more and more favorable. Arizona this week lost Pro Bowl DT Darnell Dockett to a season-ending ACL injury. It is a huge blow for a defense that already lost LB Daryl Washington (year-long suspension) and Karlos Dansby (free agency). Arizona's biggest addition on defense is a player the Chargers are all too familiar with, CB Antonio Cromartie.

--Several young Chargers -- including Marion Grice, Branden Oliver, Tevin Reese and Chris Davis -- hoped to emerge as the team's primary kick returner, which would secure their place on the 53-man roster. Halfway through the preseason, it seems as though a pair of veterans will snuff out those dreams. Donald Brown and Eddie Royal appear in line to handle kick and punt returns, respectively. This would save the team from using a roster spot on a return specialist, although the veteran duo is unlikely to strike fear in the hearts of opponents.

--Preseason games are of little importance, although the third preseason game is the one where the starters get the most run. That should make this week's visit to San Francisco interesting, as the 49ers and Chargers are both coming off terrible showings. San Diego and San Francisco each played one of last season's Super Bowl participants last week, with the Chargers falling in Seattle, 41-14, and the 49ers losing at home to the Broncos, 34-0. San Francisco has yet to score a point in the new Levi Stadium and will be eager for a redemptive performance.



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Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.


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