Open-door to the 3-4?

Jamal Lewis in BIG-trouble? Clinton Portis a Redskin? Keyshawn a Cowboy? Phillip Rivers THE target? Robert Gallery a RAIDER? The whirlwind is picking up and there is a whisper in the breeze. No, not Brees as in Drew Brees; an actual whisper in the San Diego Charger breeze. Something is a stirring on the defensive alignment front....

With so much going on in the NFL these days, little attention has been paid to an important question for the Chargers. Will it be the 3-4 or the 4-3 on defense? It‚s not an issue the Chargers are going to hold a press conference over, but inquiring minds want to know. The Chargers must surely know the answer by now. The combines are through, free agency is lurking in the shadows, and the Draft is closer than we think.

Most want to know what kind of soup they will cook before they set out to the store to buy the groceries. So what kind of groceries will Wade Phillips and company be shopping for? Will it be linebacker lentils, for lentil soup (3-4)? Or will it be chunks of defensive tackle beef, for beef and potato soup (4-3)? Hope Charger fans are vegetarians....

A league official has confirmed that the Chargers‚ brass have told him they will go with the 3-4 defense in 2004, "The Chargers are going to the 3-4 this year", the source said. "I talked to the top people just last week."

Wade Phillips is known to favor the 3-4, and in this case it looks like the right move. The Chargers would be the only team in the AFC West to employ the 3-4, which could pose problems for the Raiders, Broncos, and Chiefs (imagine that).

The Chargers personnel, particularly on the defensive line, may actually be better suited for the 3-4. Jamal Williams has the power and girth to be an effective nose tackle, though that remains to be seen. Marcellus Wiley started his NFL career in the 3-4. Jason Fisk is undersized at tackle but has some quickness, and as an end in the 3-4 his lack of size is no longer an issue. Adrian Dingle is stout against the run, and has also played inside on passing downs- he should hold up fine in the alignment. Then there's the youngsters. Jacques Cesaire played end in college, but the Chargers moved him inside last year. He is a tweener, which is what 3-4 ends are all about. Kris Dielman, another tweener, was juggled between defensive tackle and defensive end in training camp, only to finish the season as an offensive guard. Defensive End in the 3-4 alignment may be his best position. It should be noted that another big, nose-tackle would have to be brought in. The draft is loaded with some girth-toting DTs (Sopoaga, Tubbs, Washington, Childress, Kennedy, Edwards, etc.).

The potential switch to the 3-4 helps in other ways: "The 3-4 will effectively eliminate the Chargers need for a defensive tackle in the draft," said one NFL scout. "They can then focus on another need they had anyway, a speedy linebacker who can move sideline to sideline."

The switch would decrease the need for line help but increase the need for linebacker help. A free agent like a Marcus Washington type player, and a draft pick will have to be added. Luckily, there are some good linebackers to be had in the second and third rounds of the draft.

The oncoming breeze in San Diego appears refreshing, it looks like it's bringing in the 3-4. Now if they could just figure out what to do with that #1 draft pick.

Will Mortensen can be reached at

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