So by now everyone has noticed one of the glaring weaknesses in the 2010 Chargers through 3 games: Special Teams. Many ideas are being thrown around to solve the problem, some realistic, some not: they include "trade VJ to get KO back" and "Fire the ST Coach." Those are both pretty extreme, and I'm not sure either would solve the immediate issues on the ST unit.
After the jump I will delve into the reasons that we are seeing such a poor showing from a unit that has historically been one of the strengths of the team wearing lightning bolts.
Two key players on ST's have left since last season: Kassim Osgood and Tim Dobbins. Both of these guys were monsters on special teams for several seasons and their absences left two spots that needed to be filled, but that isn't the only reason we have new players on ST's. I'm also not sure of this one but I believe Brandon Manumaleuna was on Special Teams as well in his time in San Diego, which makes yet another key player to replace.
With the youth movement all across the team at various positions, players who had previously been standouts on special teams find themselves as starters and getting less playing time on kick returns and coverage. For example, Antoine Cason finds himself as a starting CB and Brandon Siler as a starting ILB. That is two more players taken off of Special Teams to add to the 2 above, making 4 (and possibly 5) new faces on the Special Teams unit at the start of the season.
With the injury to Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert was the starting RB yesterday, and while he was still out there on a couple ST snaps, he and Jacob Hester (both ST standouts last season) found themselves in starting roles yesterday. With the injury to Stephen Cooper, Siler steps into his starting spot, taking him off of Special Teams. With the injury to Larry English and Shawne Merriman, Antwan Applewhite had to fill in at OLB yesterday, taking his focus away from ST's. Also, Jyles Tucker was inactive yesterday for personal reasons, making him unable to contribute.
So why did we suck yesterday?
Players were unsure of their responsibilities:
- With several players thrust into ST's roles due to injuries and inactives yesterday, we had players that weren't quite sure of their lane responsibilities on coverage, and they found themselves out of place leaving large running lanes for Leon Washington.
- Part one of making a tackle is getting in the right position to do so.
Part two of tackling: Making the tackle.
- This is particularly the case on the second return, since the first TD return he had such a huge running lane he didn't have to shed many tackles. Our guys found themselves trying to arm tackle Washington and that's just not reliable at this level.
- Obviously we can't count on the kicker to make the tackle, although he could have had better attempts.
The wrong type of players were on the field:
- On kickoff coverage you need guys who are not only fast, but big to bust through blocks. The majority of players on ST's come from your LB's and DB's because they are used to shedding blocks and tackling. Yesterday, because of the loss of depth at LB, Darrell Stuckey was running down the field and his job was to bust the two-person wedge? That's not going to work. Stuckey ended up trying to run around the wedge since he couldn't bust through it, and that contributed to the large running lane for Leon Washington on his first TD return. The coaching staff recognized this and the next return Kris Wilson was running down the field to bust the wedge, he just didn't do much better.
- In short, when you find yourself with a lack of big bodies on kick coverage, you are going to have a problem.
So how do we stop sucking?
- Practice tackling.
- Get our LB depth healthy.
- Get the right personnel out there on ST's (see above comment).
- Learn gap responsibilities.
I think we have the time to address the areas above, and I think we will begin to see the ST's improve from week to week, the question is if they will improve fast enough to allow the Bolts to start winning some games and not have to come from behind in every game.