Season in Review: Defensive Coaches

Dale Lindsey, in his year as an NFL coordinator, did not have a breakout season. Players stating it was not aggressive enough, and they were not playing to the strength of the current unit marred his first season. Others said it was too soft, too much read and react. He brought in a cover-2 scheme, which amounted to a cover-0 feel, in other words too many people were open and no one was being covered.

Dale Lindsey was named the defensive coordinator on February 7th, 2002 by Coach Marty Schottenheimer. Lindsey was previously a linebackers coach, helping Chicago from 1999-2001, and Washington before that.

From 1992-96, Lindsey was the linebackers coach on the Chargers' defensive staff that helped guide the team to two AFC West titles (1992 and ‘94), three playoff appearances (1992, ‘94 and ‘95) and one AFC Championship (1994).

Before the season, when he could actually speak to the media (Schottenheimer does not allow his assistants to speak with the media.), Lindsey said, "You're going to see a defense that runs to the ball, finishes every play, is tough and physical, and can win in the fourth quarter. That is the biggest thing that good teams do. Just for example, this past year in Chicago, that's what our defense did. They weren't the greatest group of players talent-wise in the league. And they weren't the most experienced. But they worked hard and they did all the things that I mentioned. I think that's all you are looking for, players that are going to give you a good day's work."

The problem is that did not happen. They seemed to play aggressive in the first few games then as they started to use the cover-2 that lined their playbooks, the defense regressed. Not all the blame is on Lindsey, but he has to know how to use his players. The cover-2 relies on a lot of things happening, one prominent factor being pressure on the quarterback. When that pressure does not come it exposes adequate cornerbacks. Something else had to be done, like bringing pressure from an unlikely source. Instead the defense remained the same, stagnant. Does anyone remember Ben Leber having 4 sacks in the first few games? No, that is because the rest of the season he was given a different role.

The highlights are actually lowlights. Eight times the defense allowed 300-yard passing games against, and two of those were 400-yard passing games. Cornerbacks exposed. Ted Cottrell of the NY Jets uses the same defense. They gave up lost of yards the first half of the season, and then in the last nine games, they became stingy. Why? Cottrell changed things up, he brought safeties on blitzes, and he used different formations to confuse the opposition. To be successful Lindsey must change it up. If the same defense that coaches' see on tape is used, it will get beat every time. Wrinkles are what keep the opponent on their heels.

With year one being an evaluation period, he gets his one free pass. This coming season he must mold new players into the defense he envisioned. He must teach and hope they absorb, or this will be his last season as defensive coordinator of the Chargers.

Jerry Holmes is the defensive backs coach. It was his first season coaching for the Chargers after working under Schottenheimer in Washington. Holmes took a step down in his coaching resume on this one. He left a very talented Washington group to join an average unit in San Diego. One promising thing is how quickly he got Quentin Jammer acclimated to life in the NFL. Still most of that talent was pure instinct on the part of Jammer.

Holmes also gets his one pass with this defense. They did not react to the ball well and the tackling from this unit was atrocious. He needs to step it up and show them how to read an offensive play. His 12-year playing career at cornerback needs to come into play. Too many times the secondary bit on play action pass, and they did not recover. With the lack of makeup speed he needs to teach the unit to stay back and cover their responsibilities or they will continue to get burned and again end up with the worst pass defense in the league, same as 2002.

Greg Manusky is in his second year as a linebackers coach, 1st with the Chargers. He was with Washington last season. Manusky did a solid job with the linebackers and putting them into a position to succeed. He helped earn Donnie Edwards a Pro Bowl season, and helped Junior Seau get his 12th invite to the Pro Bowl.

The problem he must deal with in 2003 is Seau. He must work with Lindsey on getting someone else to run blitz. Teams are well versed in the blitzing of Seau after so many seasons of tearing up backfields. Now he has lost a step and is not nearly as effective in the role. Offensive linemen are picking him up when once he slid past them. It is up to Manusky to find that other linebacker. Also Manusky must continue to school Leber on the ways of offensives and pass coverage. Leber did not have a great second half to the season, as most rookies do not hold up over a full season. Still Manusky must teach him how to play the game, and when to take chances.

Wayne Nunnely is in his 6th season coaching the Chargers defensive line, and eight overall as a coach. He has built up an impressive resume as a coach who stresses the importance of stopping the run. In 2001, the Chargers led the NFL by allowing opponents to rush for just 3.3 yards per carry. Previously the Chargers ranked second in the league in 2000 by allowing opponents just 3.0 yards per carry. In 1998-99, San Diego led the league in that category.

In 2002, the team ended the season 11th against the run allowing 108.9 yards per game. He has really helped Jamal Williams become one of the premier defensive tackles in the game. Still the unit was not as stout as in years past. A lot of work remains. He lost some talent on the line and that accounts for some of the problem. The other issue is getting more movement out of the players. Too many times the unit simply tried an edge rush, more stunts and players shifting may be the key to added pressure on the opposing offense. Nunnely will need to work with Lindsey on instilling these disguises.


Denis Savage can be reached at: Denis Savage

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