San Diego Chargers Diagnosis: Drayton Florence

When Sammy Davis went down with an injury a couple of weeks ago the Chargers knew they potentially had a volatile situation on their hands. Davis marked the second serious injury the team suffered and since San Diego was already susceptible to giving up big pass plays, the impact of this injury could have been extremely detrimental.

The young nickel back from Tuskegee University has not only filled the position nicely, but was instrumental in the big victory against the Denver Broncos. The new job solely belongs to Drayton Florence now and he is making the most of his opportunity.

No one in the organization has ever doubted Florence's ability. To the contrary, for sometime now many have speculated that Florence has more overall potential than Davis. Florence is an extremely explosive player and next to Quentin Jammer is the most physical corner on the team. Florence made a name for himself amongst the fans with his "high-light reel" practices during the summer. But despite his moments of brilliance he was also plagued at practice with moments of mental lapses. And because of this, Davis was deemed the starter and Florence was relegated to the nickel role going into the season.

As a nickel back Florence was very effective. He had two interceptions through six games and one in the last two weeks as a starter, tying him for the top spot on the team (Donnie Edwards and Jerry Wilson also have three interceptions). Florence likes to commit for the interception and consequently will find himself getting burned if he miscalculates. As a nickel, though, Florence's play has been relatively contained. The Chargers have been giving up big plays all year, but the lack of pass coverage was normally coming from the safety position and not the corners'. In fact, the Chargers have been very fortunate in their nickel and dime play throughout the season.

Florence made his presence known in his first official start of the year. He made a nice interception off Denver's first drive setting the Chargers up for the early lead. Up until this point the Chargers seemed plagued with mis-opportunities for key interceptions on defense. It is no secret San Diego's defensive scheme is vulnerable against a short passing attack. The Chargers play a lot of zone coverage and because of the sometimes non-existent pass rush they have given up big numbers. But since Florence made that pick the Charger defense has come up with numerous interceptions at critical moments.

Florence plays with constant energy that carries over into the rest of his teammates. And this energy was more than apparent against the Denver Broncos two weeks ago. Though he gave up some big yardage his coverage in those situations was as good as it gets. The defense, though, by design is to stop the run first and foremost and create turnover opportunities knowing that big pass plays are inevitable. When viewing the season as a whole the defense has done everything asked of them. Florence made an impact his first start with one of the biggest plays of the year. Mirroring the rest of the team, he assisted with an interception to seal the victory against Denver.

The game against Tampa Bay, however, revealed why Florence had been playing the nickel position all year. Since the Chargers play zone when they are in their nickel and dime packages, they were able to maximize Florence's big play potential but also minimize his relative inexperience being a cover corner. When drafted, many pundits speculated that Florence was more suited for the safety position on the next level, and his play against the Buccaneers was a clear example of why many anticipated it.

Florence needs to do a better job of learning when to bite on a receiver. Generally on first down he plays the line extremely close. Florence has a killer instinct that is ideal for a big play corner, but does not play with the every-down disciplines that separates the great corners from the ones that never live up to their potential. Florence got beat badly on two occasions for biting way too early on the receiver. In the basic cover-two defense the safeties will come up for cover support when needed. Unfortunately for the defense the receiver had more than enough room to not only make the catch, but one resulted in a touchdown. Jerry Wilson's support was negated due to Florence being beaten so badly.

For every mistake made Florence seems to redeem himself with a great play. During the Tampa Bay game, at times his lunch was handed to him. Other times he played looked like a lockdown corner. Florence did a very good job covering Tim Brown, and by the end of the day Tampa Bay found a more advantageous match up between Jammer and Michael Clayton. In addition, Florence did a solid job tackling. Early in the game he badly missed a tackle by going too low, but more than made up for it later on. Brown is an extremely physical corner who is hard to take down, but against Florence, he had virtually no yards after the catch.

Diagnosis for next week: San Diego will be expected to beat the Browns comfortably next week. What many have yet to factor into the equation is how the Chargers respond in a cold weather atmosphere. This will be a good test in preparation of an expected playoff birth. Florence needs to build upon his positives and begin to eliminate his deficiencies. A learning curve is inevitable but he has been in the league long enough to be able to quickly adapt. Mistakes will happen against the Browns but as long does not give up any big plays, and plays within the system, he should be able to get himself ready for the playoffs.

Diagnosis for the season: To say Florence will be tested after the Browns game is an understatement. If the Chargers win next week the schedule could not have been drawn up any better. Florence will be tested against two of the best offenses in football which should pay off for him in the playoffs. By winning the division the Chargers will receive at least one home game. But with two teams owning a 12-1 record their chance for bye is very slim. Even though the team never wants to lose a game it gives Florence a chance to improve his play with relatively little consequence. It is important to maintain momentum, but Florence has a great opportunity to face top competition with little stress in preparation for post-season.

Byran Martin can be reached at

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