Chargers Defense Another Story

Among the story lines that will come out of this weekend not named Philip Rivers, none are more interesting than the switch from the 4-3 defense to the 3-4. Veterans and rookies took the field for the morning practice on Friday and it was a chance for instruction.

The Chargers spent much of the day working on the newly installed 3-4 alignment that is going to be the staple of Wade Phillips' system.

From first impressions Friday, the Chargers will play more man-to-man and blitz more, will alternate between a 3-4 and 4-3 with an emphasis on the 3-4, and will try to confuse offenses by putting their linebackers and others in unpredictable alignments. The learning curve will be steep, even for veterans.

It is why the veterans made it out on the field for what is considered rookie camp, albeit for one practice. Veterans taking to rookies will be a little slow as they only had this one day together.

"I don't even know who's on the team anymore," Donnie Edwards said. "I just think we need name tags. Walk around with nametags and say 'Who are you? Oh, you're the starter, OK.' "

Some of those nametags will surely have to say "starter in training" until they prove themselves in camp.

"If God keeps me healthy and the coaches want me on the field, hopefully I can do some things to help us win some games," rookie linebacker Shaun Phillips said.

"We just have to play together," second year linebacker Stephen Cooper said.

Work ethic is also key among the new players. They will learn that from both sides of the ball.

"Pulling information from players like Donnie Edwards," safety Hanik Milligan says is one of the keys to learning the game as a rookie. "You are out there watching guys like LaDainian Tomlinson work, how their love for the game is and kind of just buying in."

That is part of the new philosophy instituted by Marty Schottenheimer. No cell phones in the locker room or meeting rooms and no food in meetings.

Others will be forced into the learning curve as well as change is in the air at Murphy Canyon.

Some of the coaches will have to learn the nuances of the system and the only coach who figures to be ahead of the curve is secondary coach Brian Stewart. That is good news for Chargers fans as the secondary was pummeled in the touchdowns against category. With more pressure up front, the secondary figures to be vastly improved.

Stewart is the only coach besides Phillips to have run in a 3-4 defense before.

Last year, Schottenheimer spent a lot of time with the secondary, watching with hands on knees as if he was ready to for the play to start so he could make a block.

This year it is evident Schottenheimer will split him time between the defensive line and linebackers, with an eye towards the quarterbacks.

Schottenheimer continually preaches the importance of positioning and that could be seen on the practice field. Already they are lining up in formations and working out the kinks. Who is set to blitz, who rolls over and who has the tight end. Over the next three months the defense will be charged with learning on the fly and eventually improving on substandard statistics from a year ago.

The new faces in the fold are looking quick but making early mistakes. Ironing those out will be the key to this team's ability to win. As with year's in the past, the rookies will be forced into action and the impact they make will define the franchise.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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