Chargers Training Camp: Linebacker lessons

The defense has definitely been able to win some battles, a far cry from San Diego Chargers camp of a year ago. The secondary is more settled with each player gaining valuable experience and the new challenge is bringing the linebackers up to speed. More than a few are learning new positions and the teaching at that spot has been upped a notch or two.

Carlos Polk did not have a good day on the field. His backpedal was a little off. In one set of drills for the linebackers, he turned the wrong way in anticipation of where the ball would be thrown. A linebacker in a backpedal must be facing right if that is where the quarterback is looking, but Polk moved to his left instead. The rest of his day was filled with mental errors and he did not look as crisp as he has early in the weekend.

"Reach with the shoulder, flip the hips," defensive assistant John Pagano called out to the linebackers. What he was referring to was a drill with three dummies and the idea is to go around each one, zigzagging between them and giving them a hard hand slap. It was followed by a similar drill with the dummies placed closer together where the idea was not to touch them, simulating sliding through a small hole along the offensive line.

It prompted Pagano to say, "Way to go Shaun (Phillips). We are going to call you ‘Slippery Shaun,' you are going to get through them."

Phillips is seen as a pass rush specialist. Someone who can come in on certain passing downs and contribute some pressure. The young linebacker did not want to talk about stats, however, but just wanted to contribute.

"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," Phillips said.

"If he overextends, I don't mind you going in but you better get up there for containment," Pagano would later be heard shouting. He was working with the outside linebackers and their pass rush. Last season the Chargers got burned by a number of outside rushes and Pagano impressed the importance of lane control. If an offensive tackle does go out wide and a linebacker is shooting the gap – he better get there before the running back reaches daylight, with a blocker in front.

Pagano spent almost all of last year working exclusively with the secondary. Now that they all have a year under their belt and have grown, he has changed up and has been working exclusively with Linebackers Coach Greg Manusky in order to shore up that position.

The team has a plethora of linebackers that have been broken into two groups, inside and outside. They also run different drills. With the switch to the 3-4 defense, their progression will be important to the overall success of the defense and the team.

How has the secondary grown?

Sammy Davis looked exceptional on the field. He was in position to make a lot of plays and batted down a few balls. On Saturday, Peter King of CNN/SI told us that he was talking to one prominent defensive coordinator and he told King, ‘Davis may be the best technical cornerback that he has ever seen.'

Drayton Florence continues to make plays on a daily basis. Marty Schottenheimer was so pleased with Florence that he has labeled him as one of the best in camp.

The only cornerback who has looked ordinary thus far in camp is Quentin Jammer. Exceptional in mini-camp, Jammer has been slow to respond in training camp. He has remained physical at the line but when he does not get a good lick at the line he can be beat. A few times on Sunday he got burned on curl and comeback routes that stopped short. At least he is not getting beat deep as he did on a regular basis when he faced off against Tim Dwight last year on the out and up routes.

The safety position is still up in the air. Terrence Kiel can be phenomenal. He just isn't yet. Kiel is working hard on his reads but will need to pick up the pace as camp continues. After watching a few days of camp, several wide receivers and tight ends have been able to get deep on go routes and deep outs. The rest of this squad is not settled. Hanik Milligan shows a lot of promise as his name is rarely in the picture on deep throws that are caught. When he is in the ball is generally dumped off underneath.

One unit down for Pagano and now he is working on the linebackers. He may not be a defensive assistant for long if he continues to mold a unit a year into something more.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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