Chargers defense, lasting impressions

The San Diego Chargers moved to the 3-4 defense this offseason. Marty Schottenheimer made the decree in a nonchalant way during a press conference to confirm it. Since then it has been taking shape. What was a whitewash last year as the offense was regularly beating the defense has turned into a balance of the scales.

The defense has come out with a vengeance. They know how bad they were a year ago. They are doing everything to fix it. The secondary has turned a significant corner and are daring the offense to throw against them. They are back in the bump-and-run, a defense they feel very comfortable with.

The secondary is aggressive, but not to the point where they were left flat-footed as a receiver got behind them. Instead they are striking only when they are sure they can get at least a hand on the ball.

"(Drayton Florence) has made considerable progress," Marty Schottenheimer began. "Sammy Davis has made progress, as has Quentin Jammer. Kiel continues to impress. They are going to be much the better for the benefit of that experience that they've had."

It is a year under the belt for the entire secondary. With a new secondary coach in place they will be able to take the best teachings and put them into action. Instead of learning, they are reacting.

The growth is visible and Secondary Coach Brian Stewart deserves some early credit for bringing the unit into a group.

"Kiel didn't start until the last five games or so of the season," Schottenheimer reminded. "But, Quentin Jammer's confidence levels has to be up, as does Sammy Davis, and then you bring on the competition, that's Kevin House and Drayton Florence just to name a couple, and all of sudden you are looking at elevating the performance level I think of all of them."

The play of the linebackers in coverage has also seen improvement. Guys who were trailing running backs and tight ends as they came across the middle are now running in stride.

One advantage that became highly visible in 11-on-11 scrimmage during minicamp was the different looks the defense was able to show. The linebackers were hopping and baiting the linemen. Both outside linebackers would run up to the line as the snap count started and one or both would back off with the snap, but where the difference came was in drawing the offensive line offsides. With so many looks, the line was in a bit of a flux.

In a five minute span, the line committed four offsides penalties as different backers rushed the line as the count began.

It was a surreal sight as in the past there was very little movement on the defense. There is an air of confidence in the group and the success they have now by winning some battles on the field will only enhance their game down the road.

And for the offense it was a slap in the face, but one that is also teaching them, especially the younger players.

"It is definitely great going against a 3-4 where you have a linebacker running full speed, rushing every time," Courtney Van Buren said. "So, it is definitely great for my pass sets, my pass protection, because it will help me get ready for when I go against the speed rushers."

The hunger is there and rookies and veterans alike are picking up on the vibe.

For Shaun Phillips it is a learning experience as he has such speed that he will occasionally lose his edge as he tries to reach the quarterback.

"I think it is that I pull up more because I can't get to the quarterback. I just go and am trying to close fast to the quarterback. Sometimes you do get washed out. (The offensive lineman) gets a check just like I get a check. My thing is just that I want to win more battles than I lose. You are not going to win all of them, everyone is too good out here. I just want to win more than I lose. It happens sometimes."

There is clarity within the defense. They see that they need to grasp the aggressive attitude that Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips is preaching.

"But the young player, what you find happens is its two steps forward and one step backwards," Schottenheimer said to temper the early enthusiasm.

If they can take these lessons into the game, it will be a far different team from a year ago.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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