It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
After a rocky start during the first half of the season, the Chargers found a new leader and renewed aggressiveness on defense that allowed the team to finish strong and claim a third-consecutive AFC West title.
Ron Rivera was promoted to defensive coordinator prior to Week 9, and the Chargers allowed 6.4 fewer points per game under his watch than they did in the first half of 2008. During the club’s four-game December winning streak, the Bolts intercepted eight passes. They had just seven picks in their first 12 games.
The Bolts took a blow when linebacker Shawne Merriman was lost for the season after Week 1. Still the club fought through, and they’ll welcome the three-time Pro Bowler back in 2009.
Up front, the Chargers were led by yet another stellar season from Jamal Williams in 2008, who started all 16 games and posted 10 tackles for loss. Luis Castillo started 15 games at left defensive end after signing a contract extension last summer. Right end Igor Olshansky saw his playing time drop towards the end of the season and is an unrestricted free agent.
Jacques Cesaire had a typical year for the gritty veteran, filling in at different spots up front and serving as a more than capable backup. Ryon Bingham saw time at both end and nose tackle, and both he and Cesaire are candidates to replace Olshansky in the starting lineup should Olshansky leave during free agency. Ian Scott signed with the Bolts three games into the 2008 campaign and appeared in four contests. He’ll likely be in the mix as a reserve again next season.
Despite missing the first four games of the season, Stephen Cooper had another strong year. He led the team in tackles and interceptions with four, more than any other NFL linebackers. Matt Wilhelm and Tim Dobbins split time beside Cooper. Dobbins saw the most extensive action of his three-year career and turned in a key interception in a win in Oakland and provided perhaps the biggest defensive play of the year, a fourth-quarter sack of Peyton Manning that gave the Chargers a chance to tie and eventually beat the Colts in the playoffs.
Brandon Siler continued to be a monster on special teams and was a key part of three goal line stands on defense. Fellow second-year linebacker Anthony Waters also made his mark in the kicking game.
Shaun Phillips led the team with 7.5 sacks while essentially playing out of position. With Merriman out for the year, Phillips shifted from his more natural weak side spot to the strong side and had 15 tackles for loss. Merriman’s return in 2009 will allow Phillips to slide back to the “Will” position.
Jyles Tucker recorded 5.5 sacks while starting 12 games but is expected to move back into a reserve role upon Merriman’s return. One of the more pleasant surprises for the Chargers was the play of outside linebacker Antwan Applewhite, who played well in spot duty on defense and was a force on special teams. Marques Harris, who had 2.5 sacks last season, is an unrestricted free agent.
In the secondary, Eric Weddle’s strong second half allowed him to show the promise the Chargers thought he had when they moved up in the 2007 Draft to get him. He finished second on the club in tackles and appeared to get better as the year went on. Clinton Hart battled injuries throughout the year, which created opportunities for Steve Gregory towards the end of the season. Second-year pro Paul Oliver also saw his playing time increase as the year went on and could see his role continue to grow.
Cornerback Quentin Jammer had perhaps his finest season of his career as he led the club with 19 passes defensed. Antonio Cromartie suffered a hip injury in Week 1 that nagged him throughout the year and kept him from enjoying the same success he had in 2007. He looks to return at full strength in 2009.
Antoine Cason, the team’s top draft pick, had a solid rookie campaign as the nickel corner and tied for second on the team with 15 special teams tackles. Cletis Gordon is a restricted free agent after seeing his most significant action of his career.
Courtesy Of Chargers.com