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Breaking Down New Bolts: Defensive Review

Jason Peters looks back at the defensive players he evaluated last offseason, and struggles with how horrible Derek Cox turned out to be.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last offseason, I studied game film of several free agents to sign with the Chargers to gauge their strengths and weaknesses and how well they fit with the San Diego Chargers. Free agency is coming in the next week, and I'll once again be breaking down film of new players to join the Bolts. Before then, we'll be reviewing how well I did last season, starting with the defense.

D.J. Smith

What I Said

He is slow, and not terribly agile. His ability to beat blockers leaves something to be desired. His coverage skills are so-so, and he sometimes winds up a step behind his assignment when in man coverage. When a blocker gets on him, he sometimes has trouble shedding the blocker.

Smith makes up for his physical shortcomings, by being one of the smartest, hardest working players on the field. He did not take it easy on any plays, and he played hard to the end of every one. He plays fundamentally sound football, and does not miss many tackles.

Smith also plays smart football. He positions himself well to make plays, and he usually takes good angles to the runner. He picked receivers up extremely well when he was in zone coverage. He also showed good instinct on when to fade off his initial assignment to cover the checkdown receiver on a play.

What Happened

Smith was cut just before the season started, and did not play in the NFL last season. No specific reason was given for this. He may not have been fully recovered from the injury he sustained during the 2012 season, and may not have shown enough to occupy a roster spot.

Jarius Wynn

What I Said

On run defense, Wynn was pretty useless. He would take bad angles to the runner, or he would be blocked by a tight end without difficulty.

Wynn was more useful on pass defense. He would provide an occasional disruption, and was able to get close to Luck a few times. The Chargers would be best served using him as a rotational guy on obvious passing downs. He has the potential to help makes plays there, but his difficulties on run defense would make using him more often than that troublesome.

What Happened

Wynn played the first five weeks for the San Diego Chargers, playing for 27% of the snaps during those five games. He would often come in to spell an outside linebacker for a series. Overall, his run defense was so-so, posting a PFF score of 0.0 on run plays. On passing plays, he was more effective, getting a couple of quarterback sacks and hurries, earning a PFF score of +1.2 during his time with the Chargers.

All in all, I was reasonably accurate with my assessment of Wynn's play and potential with the Chargers.

Derek Cox

What I Said

He is excellent in press coverage, able to disrupt a receiver's route early on. He also does well at pushing a receiver toward the sideline, where he has an easier time providing close coverage. Cox has a good recovery when he missteps. There were several plays when he took a wrong step, got off balance, but was able to recover and stay in tight coverage on the receiver. He tends to keep receivers a bit in front of him, and he does not give up a lot of yards after the catch. When he gives up a reception, he is usually immediately making the tackle before the receiver can get moving.

His tendency to keep the receiver in front of him at all times to prevent the bomb does have downsides, though. For one, he is vulnerable to short in-and-out routes, and he is especially vulnerable to comeback routes.

Cox is also subpar at making open-field tackles. When a runner or receiver has the ball on the move, he doesn't often take good angles, and has trouble bringing the ball carrier down.

What Happened

Cox played horribly. We all know this. He started games for most of the season, then found himself benched midway through a few games in a row, and then simply found himself benched altogether. Cox posted only two positives scores for games on PFF during the season, and one of those was a game he played only 6 snaps.

I focused on Cox during the Miami game, his last game where he played nearly every snap. The big technique problem I saw was that he was slow to turn his hips. When going from backpedaling to running next to a receiving, this ability is the difference between an incompletion and a touchdown. Even when playing in off coverage, he was having difficulty getting turned around in time, allowing a receiver to run past him.

I pointed out that Cox's strength was in press coverage, and John Pagano had him playing off quite a bit. In fairness, last season Cox was terrible even in the few situations where he was in press coverage. I also emphasized his recovery ability, but that was not on display at all last season. When beat on a route or taken a misstep, the issue would just compound into an easy reception.

For more on what went wrong with Derek Cox last season, I'd recommend Kyle's excellent breakdown here.

Cox needs some serious coaching to improve on last season's poor play. I'm not confident that he will get that with the San Diego Chargers defensive staff.


I do still believe that D.J. Smith was someone that could have contributed on defense with Donald Butler fighting injuries and the subpar play of Manti Te'o. But he didn't play, so it is impossible to gauge my evaluation of him.

Jarius Wynn it appears that I was fairly spot-on. Someone who can come in periodically to help provide some pass rush, which is something the Chargers desperately needed help with at times.

Derek Cox I was completely wrong about, but I'm not sure if anyone actually predicted such horrid play from the big free agent signing last season (at least as far as dollar value is concerned). I wonder how much input John Pagano had in this signing, because signing a press corner into a scheme based around the corners playing off seems off.

I know more of what to watch for in relation to the Chargers scheme, and hopefully can be more accurate in my evaluation if Tom Telesco signs or trades for a new corner in the offseason.