Friday, June 12, 2009

Is English the Heir Apparent to Merriman?

Prior to the 2009 NFL Draft, everyone speculated that the San Diego Chargers would select a running back to be molded as the heir apparent to LaDanian Tomlinson (most mock drafts had Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno going to the Chargers), but general manager A.J. Smith surprise everyone by selecting defensive end Larry English of Northern Illinois with the 16th pick.

This selection was met with skepticism, as English wasn’t well known outside the state of Illinois. The scouts raved about his ability to put pressure on the quarterback, a skill that could help him get on the field quickly next season. And this fits Smith’s philosophy of not having too many pass rushers on a roster.

The Chargers lack of pressuring opposing quarterbacks plagued them all last season, and the front office felt an upgrade in this area of the defense was needed. The statistical numbers don’t lie, as they recorded a sack every 22 pass plays attempted on them, and that ranked 28th in the league. The defense allowed the second-most yards through the air with 4,090 yards.

English provides insurance for the team in case linebacker Shawne Merriman cannot recover from a knee injury that sidelined him for all but one game last season. Ideally, the Chargers would love for Shaun Phillips, Merriman, and English to see lot of playing time for the upcoming season. They could implement a player rotation scheme similar to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense used during last year’s Super Bowl championship season. They rotated five linebackers all the way to Arizona in their 3-4 defense alignment.

Others feel that the drafting of English was another attempt by Smith to employ his iron-fisted style of negotiating contracts with his players. His results have been mixed; early in this off-season, he had a war of the words through the local media with LT on how longer he would remain with the team. Smith won the battle by renegotiating a salary cap friendly contract with Tomlinson, but he has been “the bad guy” in his run-ins with linebacker Donny Edwards and quarterback Drew Brees as they exited out of town.

Merriman’s contract is set to expire after this season, and if Smith decides not to re-sign him, then English could become the team’s leading pass rusher much sooner than later.
Written By Thomas Conroy