All for the 3-4

With the hiring of Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator, the San Diego Chargers answered one question and raised another. They now know who will attempt to lead the defense back to a state of dominance not seen since the Joe Pascale era…but they don't know which scheme he will employ in his attempts to do so. While Wade Phillips has been successful using either scheme, he has openly stated that he prefers to run the 3-4.

His indecision thus far concerning which system the Chargers will utilize hints at the fact that change is likely coming.

Phillips has said that personnel will make his decision for him.

"Personnel dictates what you do," Phillips said. "There isn't a big difference (between the 3-4 and the 4-3 defensive alignments)... It's really how you utilize your personnel, whatever front you're playing."

The Chargers plan on rebuilding their defensive front seven this off-season, so the front office will dictate which personnel fit the defensive scheme. This is all a round-a-bout way of saying that if Wade Phillips wants to bring his 3-4 tactics to San Diego with him, he will have every opportunity to do so.

This change would suit the Chargers quite nicely. First, it would mask their lack of talent and depth at the defensive tackle position. Jamal Williams has the size and strength to be an excellent run-stuffing nose tackle in the middle of the line. This would also allow Jason Fisk to move to the back-up role he is better suited for.

Marcellus Wiley has played end in this type of defense before and put up double digit sacks, which is no small feat in a defense that calls for the ends to be run stoppers first.

Also, this scheme will show off Adrian Dingle's run-stopping ability, and mask his lack of closing speed coming off the edge. Another benefit is that sack specialist DeQuincy Scott can move outside to end where he will no longer be undersized, allowing his playing time to expand.

In order for this to work, however, the Chargers will need to make significant upgrades to their linebacker corps. Luckily for them, this is a great year to do so.

They can start by adding Clark Haggans, an unrestricted free agent, who dominated in spot duty from the weak side linebacker position while playing in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense last season.

Talk from a source in the Pittsburgh camp states, "There is some talk of re-signing Haggans, but such talk has been lukewarm. The Steelers may be posturing in hopes of retaining Haggans on the cheap."

Haggans would start in that same position in San Diego, and would bring a lot of sacks and a lot of attitude with him. This would allow Donnie Edwards to move back inside, where his tackle and interception stats would rival even the great Ray Lewis. While he is undersized for inside duty, this position would show off his sound tackling and amazing pass coverage abilities.

Provided there is money in the coffers, Al Wilson would look great at mike linebacker next to Edwards on the inside. As nickel packages become so prominent in todays pass happy NFL, the role of the classic middle linebacker has decreased, so the Chargers may be able to get a steal here. Wilson has the size and speed to dominate in the running game from the inside position he would assume.

Ben Leber has shown great ability to pressure the quarterback since his debut in his rookie season, so running the 3-4 could really lead to a breakout season for him. Special teams ace Carlos Polk, last year's fourth round draft choice Matt Wilhelm, and undrafted surprise Stephen Cooper would provide solid depth.

The 3-4 defense is know for pressuring opposing quarterbacks, and producing turnovers. The Chargers biggest problems last year were that their lack of a pass rush exposed their young secondary, and they could not get opposing offenses off the field, thereby getting superstar LaDainian Tomlinson back on it.

It sounds like the 3-4 is the perfect fit. If nothing else, any change from last year's debacle has to be considered a positive.

The Chargers as a team have nowhere to go but up, let's just hope they get there soon.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at

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