Chargers to unveil the 3-4

The day has finally arrived when the 3-4 defense will be unveiled. Maybe this will be the white version and not as colorful as is to be expected when the season begins but all the offseason promises will finally be unveiled as the San Diego Chargers face the Indianapolis Colts at Qualcomm Stadium. The linebackers are beginning to see the progress an offseason has made, but will it show on the field?

When Wade Phillips was first brought aboard early in the offseason, everyone knew they would be changing defenses. He has a history with the 3-4 and whatever defense they used in the past was clearly not working.

The official announcement came with the signing of Steve Foley, termed "the ideal player for the 3-4" by head coach Marty Schottenheimer.

"The versatility of the defense," Schottenheimer pointed to as the reason for change.

Foley came over to the Chargers after spending a year with the Houston Texans. He led the nation in sacks back in college and the Chargers are hoping he can bring that speed off the edge to their newly instilled defense.

"It is like a big relief," Foley said of joining San Diego. "A joyful kind of feeling. It makes you want to stand up and shout and scream! Just to know that there is someone out there that believes in me and my abilities and believes that I still have plenty left in the tank and plenty to offer the younger guys and older guys. Just to know San Diego's heart – San Diego felt highly of me and thought I could really help this team. It is more than enough itself."

Foley has looked solid in camp, but the field finally beckons for the seven-year veteran. And he trucks out onto the field as a starter for the first time in his career. Plus, Foley is the only veteran of this defensive scheme and believes in it with all his heart. That has been infectious to his troops.

The team knew they would be switching long before the announcement was made. Players were already gearing up for the move.

"I knew in the offseason since our defensive coordinator changed," converted defensive end Omari Hand said. "I played a little bit last year at outside linebacker so they knew I had the ability and they gave me a shot and it is going pretty well."

That knowledge allowed the Chargers to look for players that would fit their scheme in the draft. They were in a position to target tweeners, guys who would not work as well as defensive ends in a 4-3 and would be oversized as linebackers.

Instead of shying away from those types of players, they were able to go target players such as a Roosevelt Colvin or Jerry Porter types. Guys who were abandoned by anyone playing the 4-3 but embraced by their counterparts. The result has been star quality players on the football field for other teams around the league.

In the fourth round the Chargers selected one such man. The former Boilermaker will be following the hosts of other players from the same program who have made the transition from end to outside linebacker.

"It's going real good," rookie Shaun Phillips said. "Coach Manusky is helping me out a lot and the veteran guys in front of me are helping me out a lot."

There is still an uncertainty that hangs in the air.

"You have a bit of an anxiety about this transition defensively," Schottenheimer said. "It is different. I think we have been able to do a pretty good job of picking that up."

No one will know for sure if that statement is true until the results bear the fruits of labor. The team has had its countless meetings and minicamps, has worked tirelessly in two-a-days at Carson training camp, but Qualcomm on Saturday will be the moment of clarity.

The team they will meet on Saturday boasts the top money earner in the league, Peyton Manning. He won't see much time on the field so the testing will be short.

But there is more to it. The defense, and offense, will finally get to meet up with a different set of players on the gridiron.

The benefit, however, has even made its way over to the offensive line. The unit believes they have been made better from its exposure to the new look defense. And nobody, perhaps, needed the quick study more than Courtney VanBuren, currently slated to start the game at left tackle.

"It is definitely great going against a 3-4 where you have a linebacker running full speed, rushing every time," VanBuren 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."

It was a spot that VanBuren has had trouble with in the past so the accelerated learning curve has been a welcome sight. Dwight Freeney figures to be the first look he gets on Saturday and Freeney is one of those speed rushers that VanBuren alluded to.

Ultimately, and this is not Marty talking, the team will live and die by its new defense. If they grasp the system and are able to apply it on the field the Chargers should be a much better team. Whether that shows up in the win-loss column is another story altogether.

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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