We continue our countdown of the most important San Diego Chargers players in 2013 with Cornerback-turned-Strong Safety, Marcus Gilchrist. Marcus is entering his third season with the Chargers, and is hoping that a new position will make this year better than the first two have been.
What He's Done
The 2011 second round draft pick has struggled to start his career. That is pretty common for most young corners who are thrusted into immediate playing time. Gilchrist came into the league with a question on his true position, I thought he was a Safety who just happened to have Cornerback-type skills (his 1 career interception in college was a big concern for me). General Manager Tom Telesco said in his conference call back in May he viewed him more as a Safety coming out as well. A.J. Smith heralded Gilchrist as an eventual #1 Cornerback that could replace Quentin Jammer on the outside.
Gilchrist received early playing time as a rookie, and was solid up until week 8 and 9 of the 2011 season. He was victimized against the Chiefs, allowing 8 catches in 11 targets his way, giving up 38 yards and a touchdown. The Chargers decided to start him again the next week, and he didn't fare any better against the Packers. Marcus allowed all 7 of his targets for receptions, allowing 129 yards and 2 touchdowns, primarily to Jordy Nelson. That was the last we would see of Gilchrist in the starting lineup for the rest of the year after being benched in the middle of the game.
With a better option on the roster, Gilchrist was named the nickel Cornerback in 2012 as Shareece Wright suffered from a season-ending injury on the first kickoff of the season. Arguably the hardest position in the defensive backfield, Gilchrist never really caught on in coverage and struggled throughout the season. It seemed like whenever the Chargers needed to get off the field on 3rd down, Gilchrist would be a step slow and give up a 1st down.
Of 113 Cornerbacks, Gilchrist allowed the highest completion percentage of any corner in the league. Which is not to say he's a bad player, but it's clear he wasn't fit for the role he was asked to do.
Why He's Here
With the evolution of the NFL, Safety has become a premium position. Safeties need to be able to do everything: cover, come up in run support, and show the ability to play in zone coverage and read the quarterback. The 3rd year is usually when defensive backs make the jump, if they're ready. He has a lot to prove, and needs to hold off a couple other players who are vying to start.
Gilchrist showed a knack for coming off the edge as a blitzer last year. Early indications are that Gilchrist is filling the running lanes very well, hopefully that's a trend that continues throughout the season.
I believe Safety is the best position on the field for Gilchrist. He should be in a position to succeed, where he can guard other teams' Tight Ends or 4th wide receivers. He'll have a chance to show off his blitzing skills more, too. He's also better in zone coverage than last year's pair of Chargers Strong Safeties, so he should be an upgrade. Honestly, it's hard to be any worse than the Corey Lynch/ Atari Bigby combo.
Why He's Not Higher
Gilchrist needs to show a renewed confidence. He needs to prove that he's what people thought he was when he was drafted: a versatile player, who is physical and can tackle. As I pointed out last Thursday, he was amongst the Chargers who struggled to be an tackler last year. He will have to improve on that front while getting used to playing a new position. If he is to win the starting Safety spot alongside Eric Weddle, he'll be essentially a rookie again; Gilchrist played about 20 snaps all last year at Safety.
At just 24 years old, he's still young, so there is still plenty of optimism that Gilchrist can turn his early struggles around. I wonder if he were to lose out to Brandon Taylor, who was just activated off of the PUP list after recovering from an ACL tear, or Darell Stuckey, who shines in individual drills, but seemingly forgets everything once it comes to 11-on-11, how many more chances he'd get as a Charger?
Plenty of questions are out there when it comes to Gilchrist, primarily if he's big enough to hold up on the back end or be able to come down in the box and be a sure tackler (5'10", 193 lbs). I will say that he does play bigger than his size indicates.
This should be one of the more intriguing position battles throughout the next month, and the pressure is on Gilchrist to perform. The question is, is Gilchrist ready to take the next step in his career, or is he just a quality back up on the roster?