Chargers general manager A. J. Smith, like any good football man, knows defense is the difference between a great team and a good one. That's why Smith, one year after snagging quarterback Philip Rivers in a draft-day trade, leaned toward the other side of the ball in this draft in the first round.
The Chargers made great strides last season on their defense - as far as stopping the run. But they were terrible in defending the pass, as their No. 31 ranking is no mirage.
So after stockpiling defensive backs in recent drafts, Smith went about fixing the pass defense by finding men to pester the quarterback.
Maryland's Shawne Merriman was the team's first pick, and this outside linebacker will. "If you all like Steve Foley, I think you're going to love this guy," Smith said. "Be given every chance to play opposite Steve Foley in the team's 3-4 alignment.
Merriman has a great speed off the edge, and the Chargers are eager to point him toward the quarterback. While he'll see action at linebacker, coach Marty Schottenheimer also said he will be looked at as a down lineman.
"Our pass defense a year ago was not ranked anywhere where it needs to be to be a championship football team," Schottenheimer said.
The Chargers had but 29 sacks last year, the third-fewest total in the NFL. And 10 of those came from Foley.
The defense got another potential boost when the Chargers drafting defensive tackle Luis Castillo of Northwestern with their second first-round pick. Castillo raised some red flags when failing a steroids test at the NFL combine. But the Chargers weren't scared off, instead going for someone to plug the middle.
Castillo said he has told the team he will forfeit his signing bonus if ever testing for steroids again.
The drafting of Castillo could also signal the team doesn't intend to bring back veteran defensive tackle Jamal Williams when his contract expires after the 2005 season.
Too bad Doug Flutie is no longer a Charger. For once he could tower over a teammate after the Chargers drafted running back/returner Darren Sproles of Kansas State. He doesn't quite reach 5-foot-6, but what he does do is make people miss with his quickness and shifty moves. Sproles size is certainly a concern at this level, but if used in the right manner -- as a returner -- the Chargers could have filled one of their most glaring holes on the team.
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