Season in Review: Cornerbacks

It is possible that there will be a new pair of starting cornerbacks when the 2003 season begins. When a team gives up over 300 yards passing eight times in a season something is not working. In fact, the whole secondary could see changes as the coaches try and fit players to their scheme.

Ryan McNeil, 6-2, 210 pounds started in 15 games for the Chargers. He missed just one game with a fractured arm coming back with a brace on his arm to face Oakland in a losing effort at home.

McNeil led the team in passes defensed with 12 and had a nose for the ball during the season recovering four fumbles, most on the team. One of those recoveries he returned for a touchdown.

No cornerback had a solid year, but McNeil did not fair too badly. It seems he has lost a step, but still found a way to make some plays. In fact we think he got better as the season progressed. He had some truly terrible games early on; against New York he had 10 passes caught while he was in coverage. Against San Francisco he could not stop Tai Streets or Terrell Owens.

After the injury he actually played better. Against Oakland he did a decent job against Jerry Rice, as much as you can stop him and was not responsible for the one long gain by Rice. A week later he had as many passes defensed as catches against with three and also added a fumble recovery. He also played well against KC and despite some 300-yard games against he was not the main culprit except against Seattle where he was covering the elusive Koren Robinson.

McNeil ended the season with 79 tackles and one interception. He did make some plays on the ball but the Chargers will be looking hard at upgrading this position. He is scheduled to make $3 million in base salary and is signed through 2005 after signing a five-year deal worth $15.5 million prior to the 2001 season. There has been some talk that San Diego will move McNeil to safety to prolong his career. The question remains, who will play cornerback if McNeil were to move?

The reason McNeil may be a fit for safety is he plays well in pass coverage, something no other safety on the roster can claim at this point. He does not have the wheels to be a free safety in the cover-2 scheme as it would require him to cover a lot of ground, but can be the guy who responds to quarterbacks eyes and make plays on the ball.

Alex Molden, 5-10, 190 pounds had a terrible year. The team had concerns about Molden who missed 10 games last season with knee and ankle injuries. The concerns were not without merit. He got burned so many times this year it became hard to count. Twice against San Francisco, Owens blew past him for touchdowns and even on replays it was tough to tell who was on coverage as Molden was five yards behind on those plays.

Yet Molden led all cornerbacks in interceptions with three and had nine passes defensed. The feeling here is, he knew he was not getting help from the safeties and felt he needed to take some chances. So in an effort to make plays he overcompensated for the lack of help and came up with his few interceptions while getting beat more than enough times.

The tough thing is he had positioning on some balls but still failed to make plays. In the first Kansas City game he gave up two touchdowns to Marc Boerigter, despite being in front of the ball. Maybe with all that time off last year he forgot how to knock a ball down.

Need more proof, he also forced two fumbles, and someone had to make the catch against him first. It was desperation. Just like McNeil when a cornerback has 79 tackles, the opponent is catching way too many.

Ok, maybe I am being too tough on Molden; maybe it was the scheme, nah! The bet here is he will not return. The risk reward factor is not enough to keep him on. Healthy players will return next year and young blood is needed.

Quentin Jammer, 6-0, 204 pounds was tabbed as a starter before he ever suited up. Yet a lengthy contract dispute that did not get settled till early September saw Jammer miss all of camp and the first game of the season. He then missed the second game of the season while conditioning and got his first chance to play, albeit sparingly, vs. Arizona.

Jammer started off slow, but continued to show promise as the nickel back in the Chargers secondary. Despite not starting and missing the first few games, Jammer ended the season 6th in tackles with 64. He has instantly become the Chargers' surest tackler. If he allowed a catch during the season he was there for the tackle, preventing any long gains. He also ended the year third in passes defensed with 10, second best among Chargers cornerbacks.

Consider that he only had 18 tackles through the first 8 games (6 he played in) and he had 46 tackles in the last eight games, it is safe to say that early on he had some troubles. It seemed his biggest problem was adjusting to the ball while it was in the air. He would look awkward, but those growing pains were to be expected as he learns receivers' tendencies and quarterbacks eyes. By midseason he was being used on top receivers and providing solid coverage. He saw action against Jerry Rice and held him under wraps whenever he was on him; he matched up well against San Francisco receivers and recorded three passes defensed in that game.

Jammer was a first round selection of the Chargers in the 2002 NFL Draft and will be around a long time after signing a six year deal. In 2003 he will cement himself as a starter and after a full season of training camp will be well versed in the Chargers defense and will be looking for a breakout season.

Tay Cody, 5-9, 180 pounds, was placed on injured reserve on October 3rd, 2002 after dislocating his toe. He had problems with the toe during training camp as he missed a couple of weeks with a broken toe. Then during the season he also suffered an ankle sprain against Houston. Luck was not with Cody this season. His season officially ended with the dislocated toe while playing New England on September 29th.

Cody was to be a primary nickel back along with Jammer this season. After the ankle sprain in Houston he was barely used as he looked to recover. Unfortunately the toe injured occurred a week later. He ended the season with six tackles and one fumble recovery, all coming in the first two weeks of the season. Once Jammer signed the Chargers decided he would best be serves healthy for next year.

In 2001, Cody had 59 tackles and two interceptions as a rookie. Look for Cody to resume the nickel role full time next year and help shore up a secondary that got decimated this year.

Davis Sanchez, 5-10, 190 pounds, played in ten games for the Bolts mostly on special teams. He had seven tackles on the season, four coming as a member of the secondary.

Sanchez is an exclusive rights free agent, "A player with two or fewer years of experience who have no outside negotiating power. His rights belong to the Chargers provided he is made a minimum qualifying offer." Don't look for that qualifying offer anytime soon. More than likely he will be let go.

Jerry Wilson, 5-10, 190 pounds, was signed as a veteran presence on November 20th by the Chargers. He ended the season with three tackles and did not see much action.

Wilson is an unrestricted free agent and free to sign with any team. That team will not be the Chargers.

Kevin House, 6-0, 185 pounds, was signed off of New Orleans' practice squad on October 3, 2002. House saw action in one game and did not record any stats.

The coaching staff saw something they liked in House and he could stick as a development player on the roster. House is an exclusive rights free agent.

Tony Okanlawon, 5-10, 185 pounds, was signed as a rookie free agent on April 23rd, 2002. Okanlawon was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury the same day Jammer was added. He is signed through 2003 at 300K and will likely remain as another developmental corner that can see spot duty.

Summing it up, the Chargers need help. The Chargers are now relying on their cover-2 scheme and will look to fit players into that scheme. Jammer is the only sure fit at this point. A couple of good free agents will be available this offseason and the NFL Draft will hold some special talent. The Chargers could look this way come Draft time as John Butler firmly believes you can never have too many cornerbacks.


Denis Savage can be reached at: Denis Savage

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