Chargers defense growing tentacles

The commotion that is going on in San Diego has nothing to do with the upcoming Comic Con convention but it is the advancements with the San Diego Chargers new 3-4 defense. It is the introduction of Doctor Octopus as the swarming defense extends its many hands and no offense knows for sure which one will strike.

The web has immersed young and new, experienced and inexperienced alike. They are all working their respective playbooks as the entire team moves towards a defense that very few have played.

"The quality of this off-season program, I think, has enhanced that and maybe reduced that learning curve, but let's not make any mistake about it, we're making a major change conceptually in what we are doing defensively and that's going to take some time," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

For those that recall, Schottenheimer had claimed the learning curve throughout much of last year and carried the crutch that they were not learning from their mistakes as he thought they should.

For him to speak in a positive light this early is expected but what is making him believe is the team concept. There are no factions attempting to bring the coordinated effort down.

With a new 4-3 defense in place, but an old coach teaching rookies and veterans new tricks, the learning curve is global. Linebackers Coach Greg Manusky has only played in a 3-4 and this is his first year as a teacher of the discipline. Being able to lean on Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips has been a boost and has players talking about how much Coach Manusky is helping them out.

"It's going real good," rookie fourth round pick Shaun Phillips said of his personal move from defensive end to linebacker. "Coach Manusky is helping me out a lot and the veteran guys in front of me are helping me out a lot."

Donnie Edwards is one of those veterans who is pulling players under his wing, as is Steve Foley, perhaps the only man truly well versed in the 3-4.

But the tentacles extend beyond just the linebacking group and to the defensive line. They are the ones who will be relied upon to cast a web around the opposing offensive linemen to free up the linebakers.

Rookie Igor Olshansky recognizes that and has deferred his leadership role – for now.

"I will let the vets do the leading, like Jason Fisk and Jamal Williams," Olshansky said. "We have some great leaders and hopefully I can learn some things to carry on into my prime."

What has become obvious this offseason is a new era of Chargers football. Not only has the scheme changed, but the players are beginning to step up into a leadership role while others are being groomed. There is so much to learn and precious little time to do it.

Like Doctor Octupus, the Chargers new defense will have an element of surprise. When one arm is cutoff from the pursuit another will make its charge into the foray.

And as with every conversation with a member of the Chargers defense the talk returns to 2003, not for reflection but for motivation.

"You know after a 4 and 12 season, I am just excited for the season. I am excited to get back out there and get back at it, because I don't want to be 4 and 12 again," Quentin Jammer said.

And the thought of having an increased pass rush where the pressure is taken off the secondary?

"The defense is what it is. If I go somewhere else, I am going to have to play their defense," Jammer shrugged. "I am just excited to be a part of this, cause we are going to turn this thing around. I am just excited to be a part of it."

The role of the defense will play an important part in returning the team to respectability. The optimism is the same as it was a year ago when they turned in a 4-12 season but the difference this year is attitude.

"Wade came in with the 3-4 defense and he said that we were going to line up in these guys faces and we going to play bump and run defense," Jammer said with enthusiasm. "And last year, we tried it and, I guess, they weren't comfortable with doing it, so we started playing off the ball. And this year it's a whole different attitude. (The secondary) is either going to play it or they are going to get someone else here to play bump and run."

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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