What if the San Diego Chargers Switch to a 4-3 Defense?

(Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

With major changes on the way for the San Diego Chargers, including a new Head Coach and possibly an all-new coaching staff, we as fans need to consider all of the possibilities of what could happen to this team. When looking at the different coaching candidates (Bill Cowher, Mike Zimmer, Jeff Fisher, Chuck Pagano, etc.), we need to consider that some of these guys prefer the 4-3 defense over the 3-4 defense that San Diego currently runs.

I've written, years ago, about how a switch from one defensive scheme to another takes time. Years, even. You need to sign free agents and draft guys to fit the new system before it will function properly. The Denver Broncos are a prime example of how to speed up that curve, with good CBs and a strong pass rush, but it still took them a half-season before their defense got going.

So if the Chargers do what the Broncos did, taking the best coach available and switching to the 4-3 as a result, how would their 2012 roster look? Let's take a peek, after the jump.

Defensive Tackle

The current Chargers starter at DT is Antonio Garay, who is playing the last year of his contract and is probably better suited for the 3-4 than the 4-3. Since the DE spot in the 3-4 is usually played by guys that would be good as 4-3 DTs, the Chargers have an abundance of guys that can play this position in a 4-3 system.

Starters: Luis Castillo, Corey Liuget
Backups: Vaughn Martin, Cam Thomas, Tommie Harris

 

Defensive End

Here's where things get tricky. The Broncos drafted Von Miller, who was a pure pass rusher, and turned him into a 4-3 OLB on most downs and a 4-3 DE on passing downs. It's an interesting philosophy, and it's obviously working well. The Chargers have someone that could play a similar role in Shaun Phillips, but that leaves them severely lacking at DE. Better to just leave him there, a position that he, Larry English and Antwan Barnes played in college.

English and Barnes are a tad undersized for 4-3 DE in the NFL (although Robert Mathis is the same size), but Travis LaBoy has actually played some 4-3 DE in the NFL with the Titans (and Jeff Fisher) and had his career best sack numbers there.

Starters: Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes
Backups: Travis LaBoy, Larry English

 

Outside Linebacker

Linebackers are the hardest position to adapt quickly when switching from one defensive scheme to another. 4-3 linebackers have more responsibilities, have to be faster to cover more ground and typically play a lot more man coverage than they would in a 3-4. The days of the big, strong, punishing LB went out the window with fast RBs with good hands, ala Marshall Faulk.

The Chargers might have enough to be okay for a year at OLB, but Takeo Spikes became a 3-4 ILB for a reason. In that same mindset, Jonas Mouton was thought of as a poor 4-3 OLB because of a lack of speed.

Starters: Donald Butler, Takeo Spikes
Backups: Jonas Mouton, Na'il Diggs, Andrew Gachkar

 

Middle Linebacker

The most important position in the 4-3 is also the most difficult to fill. The lack of great MLBs is a big reason why teams switch to the 3-4, filling their roster with guys that are too slow to play 4-3 MLB or too small to play 4-3 DE. Donald Butler is the closest thing the Chargers have to a MLB on this roster, but he's probably ill-suited for it. The Broncos' switch to the 4-3 was made easier by the fact that they still had their old 4-3 MLB, D.J. Williams, on the roster from the pre-Josh McDaniels era.

Starter: Someone from outside the organization. Either a FA or a high draft pick.
Backup: Same as previous. I wouldn't mind London Fletcher being signed as competition for a rookie.

 

Cornerback

In the last few weeks, it's been made painfully obvious that Quentin Jammer is still a very good player that has lost a half-step and can no longer stay with the speedy guys. He needs to be moved, either to Nickel CB (where he can be physical against slot WRs, defend the run and blitz the passer) or to Strong Safety, depending on who the Chargers can get otherwise or what the new coach's take on Darrell Stuckey is.

Since I need to make a decision, I'll move Jammer to Nickel CB. I also think that Cason, who has one more cheap year on his contract, deserves another shot at being the starter. This is his second year there and he started training camp with a broken hand that he then played through, and he seems to be bouncing back well from his benching.

Starters: Antoine Cason, Marcus Gilchrist
Backups: Quentin Jammer, Dante Hughes, Shareece Wright

 

Free Safety

Not much changes for a Free Safety in the switch in schemes, except that he might actually play more over-the-top coverage and stay out of the box completely. Because I think that Weddle is stronger against the run than Stuckey, I'll move Weddle to SS and Stuckey can get a shot at being the starter at FS.

Starter: Darrell Stuckey
Backup: Someone new...or Paul Oliver.

 

Strong Safety

See the writeup on Free Safeties.

Starter: Eric Weddle
Backup: Someone new....or Steve Gregory or Nick Polk.

 

 

So there you have it, 4-3 defense enthusiasts. It could happen with a new Head Coach, but if it does the team will need to immediately find a good pass-rusher, middle linebacker and possibly a new cornerback. Tough task for one offseason.

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