Scouting Bob Sanders

Standing at a magnificent 5 foot 8 inches and weighing a stubby 208lbs or so, Safety Bob Sanders is the definition of "undersized" for NFL players. In a defensive secondary that is already a bit small, how will Sanders fit on this Chargers team that was one of the best in both run and pass defense come the 2011 (or 2012) season? That's what we'll hope to learn in the following article.

Drafted in 2004 by the Colts, Demond "Bob" Sanders has accumulated 291 tackles and 3.5 sacks along with a whopping 2 forced fumbles and 6 interceptions in his 47 games (over 7 seasons). These are some real "playmaker" stats. (Note: if you haven't turned off your sarcasm detector, now is a good time). But will Bob Sanders be able to make a positive impact for his new team? After some limited (due to injury plagued seasons) film study, We will have learned that Bob Sanders is, in fact, a good player. But is he Eric Weddle good? Or worse, Troy Polamalu good?

Ron Meeks and Larry Coyer both ran a somewhat similar defense, so there isn't much to throw around as far as scheme variances and responsibilities. Instead, let's look at how well Bob Sanders was able to perform during his time on the field. Originally, I thought Bob Sanders was awesome and could keep his awesome outside of San Diego. I was ready to write why he didn't fit on the team. Instead, here's why he doesn't and does at the same time. 

Plays fast and aggressive.

Good because:

  • Some think the current Charger defensive secondary is a bit slow
  • Some think the current Charger defensive secondary is a bit soft.
  • Will match well with Eric Weddle, who plays smart. He's faster than he gets credit for, but he'd rather get there effectively that get there first. 

Bad because:

  • Aggressive play leaves him vulnerable to injuries.
  • Sometimes runs full speed at the ball-carrier, who calmly jukes and continues running for positive yards.
  • Bites on play action more than you want him to. 

Watching Sanders, he definitely brings a new personality to the team with his attitude, however, it may tone down a bit since he probably wants to play more than half a season. Also, he's not playing in a Tampa 2 defense anymore. At Indy, he could throw himself into a pile and act like the ball carrier couldn't possibly still be on his feet. That won't work here. Greg Manusky likes individual effort and well-positioned help more than he does gang tackling. You can't really teach speed, but you can teach proper tackling form and pursuit angles. Moving on...

Being small isn't always bad

Good because:

  • Plays low naturally, and can move through traffic well.
  • Doesn't get pushed down easily.
  • Is harder to locate from the quarterback's perspective.

Bad Because:

  • Occasionally gets lost around the big guys.
  • Can't fight for a jump ball unless he's covering Darren Sproles or MJD.
  • A good throw will zip over his fingertips for a catch, assuming he lets a receiver get behind him.

Bob Sanders plays so high he rarely lets someone get past him. He can't bait a QB that way. He only has 6 career interceptions over 7 years. Cromartie once did that in a 7 game span. Bacon is awesome, but only if you get to actually eat it. On a side note, Manusky likes having safeties that can trail one on one, so how he plays Bob Sanders may affect his philosophy on certain playcalls. 

    Coverage

Sanders spends a lot of time as the deep safety. He seems just average as an in-the-box safety, which worries me a bit. Is Weddle going to move to Strong Safety? Will Manusky run unconventional formations that have more high coverage? Lots of cover-1? Playing in a 3-4 may make it easier for Sanders to play in the box, however. With a 5 man front, he'll have a bigger area to roam in, so he just might play better as a box safety here than he did in Indy.

One of the things I noticed, Bob Sanders spends a lot of series on the bench. He doesn't seem to have top tier stamina or endurance. It's not a deal breaker, because it just means more time for Darrell Stuckey to develop, but it's disappointing. He spends enough time on IR and inactive game day rosters, but playing only 7 of the 12 defensive series in a game? Weddle plays every defensive snap, and overtime on special teams, and he's not even a pro bowl alternate. I wish he had a little more to give come gameday. 

Run Support

Bob seems to benefit from a front seven that is unselfish and and leaves room for him to play his way. The Charger front seven is more of a "I'll stuff this guy like an autumn turkey and you can have him when I'm serving him for dinner". By that I mean, the first guy usually wants to handle it and not leave the responsibility to someone else. In any case, Bob might play well behind Burnett and Butler/Siler/Cooper. Sure, maybe because he'll play mostly as a deep safety or because he'll have an assist added to his tackle total when a linebacker is bringing a guy down. He just might find himself a little less relevant in these situations and he may not mind if it makes him more durable.

Sanders also prefers to line up in under sets, or on the weak side. This is less of an issue on a 3-4 defense where you can disguise your over/under sets better, so teams planning against him will have a harder time guessing where to go. This is always a plus, so no complaints there. However, he struggles shedding blocks on tight ends or stronger receivers. Two tight end sets with opposite motion may expose him, as will last second flips where no defensive call is made in time. Since Jammer and Weddle play support incredibly well, you can overlook this a bit.

Versatility

Bob Sanders is definitely versatile. He can play both safety spots, but he's better at free safety than strong. Unfortunately, that's also the case with Eric Weddle. That's why I didn't think he would fit well in the Charger's defense. However, that's under Ron Rivera's style. I still have to scout Greg Manusky, and that article is coming next, so more details on compatibility later. Unlike Weddle, though, Sanders can't play nickel. He's not a man coverage player, instead he's a true safety. He reads the play as a whole, better than an individual route runner. That's enough for him to be effective though. And now, the bottom line...

Bottom Line

Bob Sanders could be considered overrated, or over appreciated. I'd say he's more over analyzed. He's definitely good. Just not as fantabulous as some people think. His weaknesses stand out almost as high as his strengths. But he plays his strengths so well that you ignore everything else a bit. You should know by now, that I ignore almost nothing. Be excited that Bob Sanders will add a new character to the Charger defense. Don't get mad when the former #1 defense is no longer in the top 5 by next season's end. Be mad that the 2007 Bob Sanders was kind of a one year wonder. Don't get excited if he comes back strong, as he has a great supporting cast to make him look good, or at least valuable. Don't expect him to play all 16 games. Do expect him to play well. I'm certain Bob Sanders will play 100%, and he'll do it knowing he should, too. I'd like to sugar coat it, but I don't know if Bob Sanders being a Charger is as much of a star player signing as much as it is proven publicity and depth value signing. Evil emperor AJ Smith knows this, which is why he didn't throw a multi year deal at him. I expect Bob Sanders to be offered a 3 year bare minimum deal after his one year is up, if he isn't just let go. Either that or something I can't predict because I'll look like a psychic. If it seems like I haven't made up my mind on whether Bob Sanders is a good thing or bad thing for the team, make up my mind with some good comments. 

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