Chargers Review: Defensive end

The return to health of Marcellus Wiley was part of the projected resurgence of the defensive line. Ray Lee Johnson and Adrian Dingle would support the opposite side in some sort of rotation and add in sacks and quarterback pressures. The heat from the ends never materialized in a consistent fashion and it left the secondary gasping for air and struggling to keep up in coverage.

Marcellus Wiley proclaimed himself healthy for the 2003 season. Coming off a subpar performance the previous year, Wiley planned on winning back the hearts of San Diegans with sacks and pressures.

Too bad his mouth was bigger than his bite.

Wiley came up with a grand total of three sacks, a year after he posted six and two years after he posted 13. That kind of production out of your highest paid player is the reason the defense suffered.

The defensive line is tied directly to the young secondary. Without pressure up front, the youth struggled.

Wiley was the key to this. Marty Schottenheimer tells us that Wiley played well. He was solid against the run and was close a number of times to getting the sack.

Unfortunately, Wiley's rush around the edge was neutralized by runs over right tackle, or more specifically, in the zone Wiley occupied at the start of the play. The early run troubles were a direct result of edge rushing, pushing the defensive ends, insert Wiley here, wide and allowing the running backs to scoot untouched through the hole. With the secondary in man coverage early on, they would have their back to the rusher before realizing it was a running play. The inability of Wiley to contain the corner was instrumental in allowing big gains.

Wiley never adjusted his game. Rarely did he show an inside move and when he did he was bottled up quicker than Pepsi.

Compounding the issue, this is not a game of grenades. Close does not equate to sacks and it is hard to see where either point has validity from the coach.

Wiley's official stat sheet reads: 51 tackles, 38 solo, three sacks, 4.5 stuffs behind the line, two forced fumbles, one recovery and four passes defensed.

An unnamed rookie posted the same numbers in every category, adding 10.5 sacks compared to the paltry three Wiley posted.

Wiley was not worth the money he garnered in 2003 and should give money back. His pride will make it tough for him to accept a pay cut in 2004, but it is expected the Chargers will ask him to do just that.

Adrian Dingle supplanted veteran Ray Lee Johnson early in training camp. Dingle was seen as the future. He had shown his wares in the rotation the previous season and was primed to start. Facing him opposite Wiley, the Chargers envisioned a guy who would stop the run and create pressure.

Dingle signed a three-year deal in the offseason and was looking to deliver. Surprising many, Dingle outperformed his counterpart. Dingle was far more responsible on his side of the field, seemingly recognizing run plays and staying in his zone.

While his numbers were slightly down from Wiley in terms of tackles, 31 solo, he produced eight stuffs behind the line of scrimmage. Dingle used his size and a variety of moves to get into the backfield and reroute the opposing runner. Without any help, his numbers look worse than they are and Dingle was predominately a two down player while Johnson was healthy in passing situations.

Dingle didn't have quite as many pressures as he hoped, but did come through with six sacks to lead all defensive ends. Ironically, Dingle had his best game against Pro Bowl left tackle Willie Roaf.

The weakest point of his game is getting his hands up when he was not close enough to get pressure. If you are thwarted at the line, you must put a hand in the lane to throw off the quarterback.

Ray Lee Johnson was relegated to a backup role in '03. The idea was to keep him fresh for the long haul and use his best asset, the pass rush, in the right situations. Johnson battled some injuries and eventually was placed on injured reserve, having played in just nine games.

Johnson was the main sub used on passing downs and responded with four sacks and two forced fumbles in spot duty. He clearly isn't the same player he once was and his production was below his market value in San Diego. The main thing Johnson has lost is his speed. He is still crafty enough to get by, but can no longer edge rush effectively. He is at his best when he is fully rested, but even that was not enough.

Otis Leverette has always been one of those guys with potential. The tallest player on the defensive line, his wingspan was seen as an asset. Leverette became the third man in the rotation when Johnson went down for the season.

Leverette saw action in seven games and used his long arms to make 23 tackles on the season, 17 solo. The problem with Leverette was his ability to shed blocks. He showed great hustle, but too many times he allowed a back to slip past him and was wrapped around his waist getting dragged three yards downfield before bringing him down. He was credited with just 1.5 stuffs on the season.

Lack of game experience was one of the contributors to that. In the future, Leverette will likely be able to spin off his blocks into the running lanes, rather than trailing behind.

He didn't get many hands on balls but was more active with them, trying to throw a hand up in throwing lanes. His recognition through playing time will likely lead to more batted balls in the future.

Omari Hand was a member of the practice squad for most of the season. He was released in week nine and re-signed a week later. His only game experience came in the season finale versus Oakland and his two tackles came in the fourth quarter.

Hand showed some nice skills during preseason, but is still a year away from contributing on a more regular basis. It is unclear whether that will be with the Bolts.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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