We've gone through the all-decade (2001-2010) RBs and RTs, now it's time to jump over to the defensive side of the ball and vote for the best Middle Linebacker of the decade.
This is labeled "Part One" because the all-decade team has a spot for two starting MLBs (it was, after all, a 3-4 defense for 7 out of the 10 seasons we're discussing). So, in the spirit of "I make the rules", here's how we're going to do this: Whoever wins the poll below is taken out of the second round of MLB voting. The top 3 vote-getters in the second round become (in order) starter #2, backup #1 and backup #2. Got it?
Here are your three random candidates (continued if you click the link under the poll), the rest will be looked at in Part Two:
Kevin Burnett: In two seasons with the Chargers, after essentially riding the bench with the Dallas Cowboys, Burnett has turned in two very different years. In 2009, he missed about half of the season but put up good numbers when he was on the field. In 2010, he took more of a leadership role (including play-calling duties) with the defense, stayed healthy, and delivered a fine statistical season: 95 tackles, 6 sacks, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 defensive TD, 5 defended passes.
Stephen Cooper: More similar to Burnett than we like to admit, Cooper has always been an overachiever. An undrafted free agent out of the University of Maine, Coop worked his way up depth charts while playing Special Teams for four seasons. Once he got a shot at being a starter, he filled in well for former Pro Bowler Donnie Edwards before being slowed by injuries. His best season was 2007, when he finished with 109 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries and 6 defended passes.
Donnie Edwards: The prototype 3-4 ILB that the Chargers have been hunting for ever since he was chased out of town. Donnie had it all: leadership, hands, smarts and perfect tackling form. See those two very good guys listed above that averaged roughly 100 tackles in their best seasons? Donnie averaged about 150 tackles for each season he was with the Chargers. Those guys with their 2 interceptions per season? Donnie had 2 or more interceptions in every one of his 5 seasons in San Diego (including getting 5 interceptions twice). 6 defended passes? Edwards never had less than 8, and had 10 or more in 3 out of his 5 seasons (including 14 in 2004).
And yet, despite all of that, my favorite thing about Donnie is not included in the stats. Here is the best way for me to put it out there:
Donnie was moved around more than anyone else on the defense, and yet all he did was continue to rack up the tackles, interceptions, defended passes and aggravated TEs and QBs. His best season in San Diego included 151 tackles, 1 sack, 5 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, 1 defensive touchdown and 14 defended passes.