Eric Weddle #32 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates with teammate Shaun Phillips #95 that they are no longer the only good players on the defense. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Okay, it took a while to write this and I'll tell you why. Prior to the NFL Draft, I couldn't come up with five reasons for optimism. The defense was just that bad last year and the reasons for pessimism were pretty compelling and numerous. Hell, that started as a top 10 list and was trimmed down. Optimism, though? Well, you can really only stretch Eric Weddle being awesome into so many bullet points.
1. Eric Weddle has been and in all likelihood will continue to be an All Pro caliber Safety.
In 2011, Weddle was the best Free Safety in the NFL. Many of you already realize this, but those of you that didn't should take a minute and let that sink in. He was the best in the NFL. Over 16 games, he allowed 11 completions. He also intercepted seven passes and defensed four. When you try to target Weddle, it's as about as likely that he'll catch it as it is your receiver will. Remember, this was in a year with no pass rush. He's just that good. Basically, no matter what else happens, we know that the free safety position will be arguably the best player on the field for about 1,000 snaps. That's hard to complain about.
2. Greg Manusky is being replaced by John Pagano.
This might seem unfair to Manusky, but I really don't see it that way. You have to be especially bad to get blown out after one season. Also, see the team he left got better and the team he joined got worse. I'll grant you that there were other effects there, too, but that's not impressive. He misused last year's first round draft pick, Corey Liuget, and we should all be thankful he won't be here this season to waste the talents of this year's top picks.
3. Travis LaBoy will not be leading the team in snaps played by an outside linebacker this year.
Did you know that Travis LaBoy was on the field for more plays than Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes and Larry English last year? It wasn't supposed to be that way and this year it won't be. Even if those players suffer injuries again, there is a so much more depth at the position this season. Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram are additions that will keep Phillips, English and Barnes fresh while keeping dead weight like LaBoy, Darryl Gamble and Everette Brown off of the field in 2012. Ingram and Johnson could very well end up being the best outside linebackers on the team, but they don't have to be to make the unit significantly better. They just need to keep the Gambles and Browns of the world on the sideline.
4. The defensive line rotation should be much deeper.
Last year, Corey Liuget was playing in his first NFL season. 34 Defensive End is already a difficult transition, but he was asked to do it without an off season and his coach's firing was partially due to how he used him. With a full year in The League and a full off season under his belt, Liuget is poised to have a much bigger impact in 2012. Also, Cam Thomas and Vaughn Martin are continuing to improve and have a chance to finally break out. This, along with a healthy Luis Castillo and the addition of rookie Kendall Reyes makes the 2012 defensive line a great deal more imposing than 2011's. There is a lot of cause for optimism.
5. The Chargers might finally have a strong safety again.
It has been a long time, but it looks like we might actually see a credible presence at strong safety this year. Brandon Taylor of LSU was arguably the third best strong safety in this year's draft and he will get every opportunity to unseat Atari Bigby as the team's starting strong safety. Everybody loved Steve Gregory (maybe), but he had serious deficiencies as a safety. Taylor has the size and (to a degree) the speed that Gregory lacked. He won't have the same veteran savvy, but unlike size and speed that can be learned. Taylor won't have to be Rodney Harrison for this defense to get better, he just has to be better than Steve Gregory. There is every reason to think he can do it.
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.