Chargers Defense Eager to Shed 'Soft' Label

The Chargers haven't had a quiet time during their bye week. Disillusion by the team's 2-2 start and being manhandled throughout games, general manager A.J. Smith offered some interesting observations.

He said the team was at times "soft," which didn't go over well in a frustrated locker room.

Linebacker Shawne Merriman scoffed at the criticism.

"The only opinions that matter to me are the ones in this locker room," said Merriman, who doesn't have a sack and has played sparingly in the last two games due to a groin injury.

The Chargers' bye week of chaos came on the heels of cornerback Antonio Cromartie doubting the zone defensive schemes employed in an embarrassing 38-28 loss to the Steelers. The Chargers allowed 497 yards in the pounding.

Add it all up and it's fractured team setting its sights on getting the season back on track.

The Chargers get to prove quickly if they are worthy of their fourth consecutive AFC West title. Their next three games are within the division.

LB Shawne Merriman
Jacob de Golish/Getty
The Chargers have proven -- they were 4-8 last year -- they can climb off the mat. But they must do it by solidifying a run defense that is missing Pro Bowl tackle Jamal Williams and by mending a running game that features a 30-year-old back running behind a line with two new starters.

Defensively, it's imperative the Chargers find a way to reach the quarterback. They have but six sacks, with only coming from an outside linebacker.

The Chargers are banking on Merriman getting healthy and rookie Larry English, their first-round pick, becoming more active. It will help when Shaun Phillips, who had 27 1/2 sacks the three previous seasons, finally gets one this year.

But the key is patching together a defensive front that is thin on health, experience and talent.


--ILB Stephen Cooper (knee) should return to practice after skipping the bye-week workouts.

--OLB Antwan Applewhite (hamstring) is expected to play when the Chargers return to action after their bye week.

--C Scott Mruczkowski (knee) didn't practice during the bye week. The Chargers can ill afford to lose Mruczkowski with starter Nick Hardwick (ankle) not expected back until December.

--DE Jacques Cesaire (calf) didn't practice in the bye week due to an ailment that has bothered him since training camp.

--DE Travis Johnson (groin) is expected to return when the Chargers resume action following their bye week. He's part of the regular rotation along the line.

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