Let me be honest with you for a second. My dream job is not to be a San Diego Chargers blogger. Here are my dream jobs in order:
- Starting QB for the San Diego Chargers
- Backup QB for the San Diego Chargers
- General Manager for the San Diego Chargers
- Head Coach for the San Diego Chargers
- Beat Writer for the San Diego Chargers
Now, because of my height (shorter than Doug Flutie) the first two are off the table. I blame all those things I did to stunt my growth around 16 years old. The rest of the list I've pretty much written off as "Not going to happen" as well, for one reason or another, but I find myself thinking in terms of a GM or Coach about this team on a daily basis.
So, now, on a weekly basis I will be offering my services as a consultant to the team and giving them recommendations on how they could improve themselves. This is based off almost no time spent at practice and almost no knowledge of the schemes and how they work. Consider me simply the voice of the fan....just a slightly more educated fan than the one you'll typically find at Qualcomm.
A realization came to me today, and it's not one I admit to easily. You know the Shawne Merriman story by now. Superstar, sack-master, gets suspended for testing positive for an illegal substance. Comes back from suspension and plays like an animal for the rest of the season, but is never able to get back up to that level ever again due to injuries (mostly). I think it's only because Cooper isn't a superstar that we haven't heard the same things about him. Think about it:
- In 2007, in taking over for Donnie Edwards as the starter at ILB, Stephen Cooper collected 109 tackles and created 5 turnovers (2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles). He also picked up 2 sacks. This averages out to 6.8125 tackles per game, 0.3125 turnovers per game and 0.125 sacks per game.
- In 12 games in 2008, after serving his four-game suspension, Cooper collected 98 tackles, 4 turnovers (all interceptions), and 1.5 sacks. His averages: 8.167 tackles, 0.33 turnovers, 0.125 sacks per game.
- In 2009, he played 16 games but looked somewhat weak and sluggish at the age of 31. Supposedly he played almost the entire season with an elbow injury, which is why he wears the giant pad on his elbow now. Over the course of the season he picked up 101 tackles, 2 turnovers and 0 sacks. Averages for the year: 6.3125 tackles, 0.125 turnovers and 0 sacks per game.
- In 2010, through one game where he left for 2 plays with an injury before coming back and playing through it, Cooper picked up 3 tackles, 0 turnovers and 0 sacks.
I don't know about you, but I don't like where this trend is going and my eyes tell me that Stephen is not the player he once was. It would make sense to keep Cooper on the field for every play if there were no reasonable alternatives, but in limited time last year Brandon Siler proved he was up to the task. In limited time, Siler collected 67 tackles, 2 sacks and an interception. The run defense also looked a lot better when he was in there.
Stephen Cooper is 31. Brandon Siler is 24. Cooper seems a little banged up after years on special teams and now years as one of the leading tacklers on this defense, Siler had barely taken a hit between 2009 and his college career. Siler has also been with the team for 4 years now and should therefore have a good grasp on the defense. Heck, he even seems like he's ready to be a leader.
My point is simple. Cooper is not the future of this team. One reason Ray Lewis is so revered is because at his age most LBs are sitting at home with ice on their knees and necks. Signing Cooper to a long-term deal would be idiotic, and this is why he hasn't been extended even though this is the last year of his contract.
Siler is also in the last year of his deal, and maybe this is why he's on the bench. Maybe the team knows he has talent, knows he has at least 4-5 good years in him, and know that the less time he sees on the field this season the less he'll cost in the offseason to retain. If that's so, I believe the situation is being handled wrong. If Brandon Siler is the future of this team, it would only make sense to get him comfortable being out there as the leader, the play-caller and without Cooper there to assist him.
The plan for Darrell Stuckey is/was to have him work 1st and 2nd down, with Steve Gregory (or maybe even Paul Oliver) working on 3rd downs when teams are more likely to pass. Couldn't the Chargers try a similar philosophy with Siler and Cooper? If Siler is as bad as some people think against the pass (I think he's okay, but Cooper is better), give him a chance to boost our run defense and take him out of there on 3rd down and against passing offenses (like the Patriots or Colts).
This would give Brandon a chance to learn the intricacies of being a play-caller (does the play-caller need to be on the field for every play? If so, couldn't it be switched to Eric Weddle of Kevin Burnett?) and a leader, as well as providing a big-hitting linebacker that the Chargers have been missing for a few seasons now.
I'm not asking for this to happen on play 1 of the Jaguars game. That would be silly, but I do think that Siler deserves to be in on more than 2 plays per game like he was in Kansas City. Give him a series, or let him take over for Cooper when the Chargers build a lead against somebody.
Of the Inside Linebackers on this team, only 3 have ever started an NFL game. All 3 of those guys are playing in the final year of their contracts and I don't know who (if any) are coming back, but it would make sense for Siler to come back and take over Stephen Cooper's spot (with Donald Butler filling the Kevin Burnett role). With that much turnover so suddenly, there's bound to be some issues with inexperience that could be limited if Siler was allowed more time on the field (in place of Cooper) this season. Waiting around for Kevin Burnett to get hurt to create that time is an insult to Burnett, Siler and the fans who can see that Cooper is not the player he used to be.