It's the bye week and there's nobody truly compelling to hate at 3:00 PM on a Friday because of it. Instead, today we'll focus on reasons to be optimistic. Optimism seems to have rather gone out of style of late and frankly I enjoy arguing with people, so I present to you five excellent reasons to turn that frown upside down at least as it pertains to the San Diego Chargers defense.
1. Eric Weddle might actually be better this year.
Last season, as you all know*, Weddle was the best free safety in the National Football League. Since that apparently was not enough, he's off to an even better start this year. He's the team's most efficient pass rusher through six games (granted that's only nine attempts, but stay with me) having generated pressure on 33% of his attempts. Teams still aren't throwing his way and when they have made that mistake he has made them pay. He's doing this while still being well above average against the run. Even if everything else falls apart, Chargers fans know they can count on Weddle.
2. Corey Liuget, apparently, is not a bust.
In his rookie campaign, Liuget appeared lost at times as defensive coordinator Greg Manusky repeatedly called upon him to do things he was not capable of doing. This year, he's being better utilized and by all accounts is simply a more capable player. The transition to playing as a 3-4 defensive end is not an easy one and it shouldn't be a surprise that Liuget has taken a big step forward. I'm not sure people are fully appreciating how big of a step that's been. Through six weeks, Corey is arguably the best run defender on the team. That's pretty damned impressive on a team that includes guys like Aubrayo Franklin, Jarret Johnson and Takeo Spikes. And if that doesn't do it for you, he's already generated as many QB pressures through six games as he did all of last season.
3. The defensive line overall is just really deep.
How deep is that? Antonio Garay can't even make the active roster on game days. Signed late in the off season, Aubrayo Franklin is just a monster at nose tackle on running downs. Cam Thomas continues to turn into the kind of player people thought he could be when they projected him to go much higher in the draft than he ultimately did. He's one of the better pass rushers on the team while not embarrassing himself at all against the run. Rookie Kendall Reyes has flashed more potential than most thought he had when the Chargers acquired him. He looked like he'd push for Vaughn Martin's starting spot, but Martin has responded well after a slow start. There is just an awful lot of talent there.
4. Donald Butler is looking more and more like a playmaker.
After missing his rookie season due to injury, Donald Butler rebounded in a big way in 2011. There was some doubt as to whether or not he would be able to continue to build on that. So far, he's looked very good. His coverage abilities are being stretched a bit further than they can currently go, but he continues to be dangerous when rushing the passer or coming up in run support. He also has shown a knack for the "big play." His pick six against the Chiefs was partially being in the right place at the right time, but so much of playing defense in the NFL is getting in the right position and he has done so on a regular basis.
5. Melvin Ingram still has a lot of room to grow.
The rookie has had his snaps limited and has committed a couple ill-advised penalties through six weeks. However, he's also been one of the team's most consistent pass rushers when he's been given the chance. While he's still adjusting to the NFL, he's doing so while generating pressure on roughly 10% of his rush attempts (nearly equaling veteran Shaun Phillips). The difference so far has been a lack of opportunity. As Ingram continues to grow, he's going to force his way onto the field more and the more snaps he gets the bigger his impact will be. There's a lot of reason to be optimistic with Ingram after just under half of a season.
Well, I almost feel better about things after writing that. What do you think? Am I missing any reasons for optimism? Let us know in the comments.
*See how I treat you guys like adults now?