I always find it interesting to look back at the plans of the San Diego Chargers front office and see how much they've been screwed up by injuries, luck (not Andrew) and performance. In the last few days there have been two big shifts in the roster, so I think it makes today a good time to look back at how the (defensive) roster has changed.
Before the season we were told that English was being counted on to take about half of the snaps at OLB opposite Shaun Phillips this season, if not more than half. By the end of the year he would be terrorizing opposing QBs in between ripping the heads off of any RB that dares run in his direction. All he needed was some health, which he would totally have after having foot surgery in September of 2010 and March of 2011, and time to get back to speed/game-shape.
Well, who would've thunk it? Larry English's foot is injured, broken and probably requiring another surgery (nobody has reported this, but at this point I'm just assuming he needs foot surgery every 6 months). After being healthy for his rookie season (in which he made 2 starts), English will have appeared in 13 of the 32 regular season games the Chargers have played in 2010 and 2011. Those are some Buster Davis/Bob Sanders-type numbers, right there.
Luckily, the Chargers had to plan for the beginning of the season when English wasn't yet a dominant All-Pro. This is why they signed Travis LaBoy and Antwan Barnes. These guys will fill the gap left by English, but leave Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky in a bind. LaBoy has been good against the run, but has zero sacks. Barnes has been a pass-rushing demon, but is weak against the run. Teams will look at who is in at OLB and attack them appropriately until one of those guys shows something more.
After breaking his hand in training camp, Cason hasn't been right and has been dominated by physical receivers. Sunday against the Jets, when Cason gave up three TDs to Plaxico Burress, seemed to be the breaking point. Rookie CB Marcus Gilchrist has taken over Cason's starting spot, which is awkward when you consider that Cason has made for a horrible Nickel CB in a past (he's not physical enough for that position).
Obviously changing a starting CB is a big deal. Gilchrist has shown himself to be more than capable, making the most of his opportunity against the Miami Dolphins with an interception, two defended passes and a ton of tackles in run coverage. If he can perform at that level, this is an improvement for the Chargers defense and could result in more turnovers.
The interesting part in this is Cason. The former first-round pick should not be used as a nickel CB, we've seen how that works. At the same time, letting him rot on the bench is a waste of a good talent. Part of me is thinking he should be given a chance to be the Punt Returner (he was a really good one in college and was listed on the depth chart behind Patrick Crayton before breaking his hand), and I'm also curious if the team would maybe try to switch him to Free Safety during the season. He has the right size for a Safety, isn't a bad tackler and has good hands. If he could eventually slide into the FS "deep coverage" role, the team could slide Eric Weddle over to SS. It's just a thought.
Okay, this one isn't exactly "recent", but it's made more complicated by the Cason move. Steve Gregory is maybe the best option on the team to play the nickel CB spot besides Gilchrist, but he's stuck as the starting SS with Sanders out for the season. Darrell Stuckey doesn't seem to be in the talk to start any time soon, so I imagine the nickel CB spot is either going to Cason (on a trial basis) or Dante Hughes (who has done a good job in limited time this season).
Sanders, English and Cason were all expected to be starters on a "revamped" defense this season. Two of them are out for the season due to injury and a third has been benched from maybe the only position where he would be able to contribute to the 2011 Chargers for a rookie.
The Bolts haven't put Luis on Injured Reserve, like they did with Sanders and English, but that doesn't mean that he'll be able to return to the field this season. We have heard very little as it pertains to Castillo's recovery so far, which leads me to believe that things are going slower than the front office had hoped (that's purely speculation). As well as Vaughn Martin has played in his place, Castillo is one of the best 3-4 DEs in the NFL and someone that commands the attention of opposing offensive lines.
Castillo's injury wasn't the only DE injury on the team. Jacques Cesaire hasn't been very healthy this season and 2011 first-round draft pick Corey Liuget has been fighting through some bumps and bruises of his own. If Castillo returns, Martin could take some snaps away from Liuget and make both DE spots more effective than they have been. Right now they're one more injury away from being a weakness for Coach Manusky.
That's the defensive side in a nutshell. From week 1 to now, the Bolts have lost or changed a starting CB, the nickel CB, the starting SS, a starting OLB and at least one starting DE. So much for a season of injury luck for San Diego.