By Jaboner Jackson 8 a.m. | Dear Mr. Dean Spanos...To be honest, I expected this...I expected you to retain Norv Turner and A.J. Smith. You are a man of consistency and patience, as evidenced by the decade-long search for a new stadium in San Diego. But today is not about the NFL in LA or a Chargers migration north, so let me shut my mouth on the stadium issue. Today is about the Chargers' 8-8 record and a year of struggle and frustration for Bolts fans everywhere. Like every year, this was supposed to be the year the Chargers ran with the elite teams in the NFL. It was supposed to be a year that focused on a Super Bowl run. Will it finally happen next year, Mr. Spanos?
Believe it or not, I understand keeping Norv Turner. When the Chargers rattled off 4 of 5 wins to close out the 2011 NFL season, I saw a special thing between Turner and Philip Rivers. The coach on the sidelines and coach in the huddle were in sync, dissecting defensive coverages with the kind of precision that only comes with years of working together.
Also people forget about the management skills of a head coach. When a coach is a play caller, they focus on that aspect of the game. But the head coach is the manager of other coaches and players, and Turner has always done a good in this respect. So I give you kudos, Mr. Spanos, for keeping him around. Unlike his counterpart in Northern California, Hue Jackson of the Oakland Raiders, Turner has class. He never threw his defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, under the bus when the defense struggled. In fact, he publically supported him. He knows how to manage.
Sure, Manusky struggled, but many of those struggles were to be expected when the talent pool on defense was unexceptional. Winning defensive football is about winning one-on-one matchups. Schemes are secondary to this basic tenet. And the truth is that the Chargers lacked explosive talent on defense. Where was the push from the defensive line? Outside of Antwan Barnes, where were the sacks? And even with Barnes, who had 4 of his 11 sacks in a single game, where was the pressure on the quarterback in crucial game situations? This defense hasn't been the same in terms of talent since Shawne Merriman got off the juice, blew out his knee, and left town.
And do you know how long ago that was, Mr. Spanos? Merriman suffered his knee injury in 2008, three seasons ago. And the Chargers have never adequately replaced him.
And that's where A.J. Smith comes in. He has followed your game plan, Mr. Spanos, and saved money by not re-signing free agents for big money, and so I can't blame him for letting Darren Sproles before the 2011 season or engaging in a protracted contract battle with Vincent Jackson before the 2010 season. These moves were in accordance with your modus operandi, Mr. Spanos. Money matters--I get it.
But Smith has not drafted well for years now. Ryan Matthews was a reach at the 12th pick in the 1st round in 2010. And Larry English from 2009 was another reach. There was obviously better talent at both positions still on the board. Matthews and English were late-round talents, not mid-round guys. Smith hasn't done so much better with other picks in later rounds either. There is something wrong with the drafting of talent. There is too little reliance on physical skill and too much emphasis on safe picks.
And so even though I understand why Turner is still around, I'm not sure I understand why Smith is. If it's purely for economic reasons, so be it. But Chargers fans deserve more. Chargers fans deserve a legitimate Super Bowl run with legitimate defensive talent. Philip Rivers can't win alone, as was quickly evidenced this year. Give us a real GM, Mr. Spanos. Don't handcuff him with economic conditions. Let him bring in free agent talent.
But since that isn't happening and Smith is here to stay for at least one more year, give us something to look forward to this offseason, Mr. Spanos. Give us a real infusion of talent via the draft. Don't let Smith mess this up again.
The FOOTBALLPHDS on behalf of Bolts Backers