Strange, but the Chargers have tinkered mightily with their defense despite it finishing last season with the No. 1 ranking. But that rating wouldn't hold up to a Standard and Poor review, in that the yardage other teams had to travel was also shortened by shoddy special teams play or turnovers by a careless offense.
So while on paper the unit looks like a bunch of tigers, the Chargers know better.
They didn't have much choice in bringing in a fresh coordinator with Ron Rivera exiting for the Panthers' head-coaching job. But they revamped many of the personnel on the defensive side, which could lead to five new starters: inside linebackers Takeo Spikes and Donald Butler, defensive end Corey Liuget, strong safety Bob Sanders and outside linebacker Travis LaBoy.
Larry English could end up supplanting LaBoy, but you get the idea: The Chargers figured their defense was broke -- despite the ranking -- and went about trying to fix it.
Overseeing it is Manusky, a no-nonsense coordinator who cut some of his coaching teeth as a one-time Chargers linebackers coach.
"My focus is always to tell the players this: turnovers are No. 1, then it's third downs and getting off the field and red zone," Manusky said. "Those three areas you have to be tops in, and if you are, you will have a lot of success."
Despite the Chargers ranking 13 spots ahead of 49ers last year in yardage allowed, San Francisco had just as many turnovers. The Chargers had more forced fumbles (11) than only two teams; more takeaways (22) than only six teams.
So Manusky is constantly yapping - in drills and through teaching - to strip the ball away, to get that interception and to generally make life miserable for ball-carriers.
"I think that is the most important thing and that is what we are trying to stress," he said.
So far, Manusky has a willing audience. He's tough, but keeps it loose enough to let the players breath.
"Whenever we see something, we bust his chops; he doesn't care," said Spikes, who played for Manusky in San Francisco. "But if you put something out there, he will bust yours."
The Chargers are hoping he can bust a perception the Chargers possess: that they are not very physical and wilt when playing teams with brawn.
That's why Spikes was acquired; that's why Sanders is roaming the backfield; that's why Manusky is on his troops to be technically sound and downright nasty.
What does Manusky want the Chargers' defense reputation to be? He used some salty language, then zeroed in on comments which could be said in any setting.
"Basically just to be a dominating, running-to-the-ball defense, you know what I'm saying?" Manusky said. "That creates havoc and turnovers and that is what we got to get to."
The guy leading the charge is Manusky. And just like he is in dealing with players, there's no doubt what Manusky wants or is all about.
Turner sees big benefit in Cowboys practices
WR Bryan Walters
Jake Roth/U.S. Presswire
"You can't beat this work," coach Norv Turner said. "Particularly getting to see different defenses and different offenses. We came here with the mindset of getting better. It's great exposure for all our players."
-- Chargers coach Rich Bisaccia calls his special teams "we-fense," in the hopes of connecting a bond between the offensive and defensive players who operate in the kicking game.
-- San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders completed a three-city tour to inspect other stadium ideas to foster a way to keep the Chargers in town. Sanders, who isn't running for re-election, went to Kansas City, Indianapolis and Denver.
-- Has the chatter of this possibly being the Chargers' last season in San Diego hurt ticket sales? It appears just one of the eight home games, at this point, is close to selling out and that is Nov. 6 against the Packers.
-- Undrafted WR Bryan Walters notes it doesn't matter where or when the Chargers play. His goal is to do well and continue to fight the odds of making team.
"It's still the same game, regardless of where it is and what's at stake," said Walters, who returned a kick 103 yards in the preseason opener. "Just like I did last week, I'm going to go out and show what I can do."
-- The Chargers, maybe not as much as the Cowboys, picked up their intensity in Friday's practice because of some fellas hanging around the sidelines. Some 50 celebrated Cowboys alumni took in the practice, a group which included Troy Aikman, Roger Staubauch, Drew Pearson, Charles Haley and Larry Allen.
-- Turner, has always gushed about Aikman; Turner also said Philip Rivers is the same type of quarterback. How important was Turner to Aikman's career? Aikman chose Turner to introduce him when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
-- Turner likes what he sees out of OLB Travis LaBoy. "He's a very sudden player and a very physical player," Turner said of LaBoy, who played for San Francisco in 2010. "He's like other outside linebackers we've had here who can get after the passer, and when you get all of our guys healthy he'll be in the mix. When we're at our best, we're able to roll three or four guys through there. That's what we want to do."
-- Chargers fans like to whine about the team's lack of significant success: one playoff win in three seasons. At least those boosters can drown their sorrows in Chargers wine, a private production of grapes produced by owner Alex Spanos. The product should be available soon.
-- The Chargers will wear their throwback uniforms at home games on Nov. 27 against Denver and Dec. 18 against Baltimore.
-- The SEC could feature a quarterback showdown in the future which has strong Chargers ties. Stephen Rivers, Philip Rivers' younger brother, is a freshman at LSU. C.J. Beathard, the grandson of ex-Chargers general manager Bobby Beathard, has committed to the University of Mississippi as he starts his senior season in high school.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I like it because it's going to prolong my career. After a while, all those hits start to add up. I've found that you get more out of the guys in the evening practice. If you have two practices, sometimes you come out and you're tired. When there's one, you work hard and give it everything you have." -- CB Quentin Jammer on the new rules negotiated through the collective bargaining agreement which limits contact in camp practices.
Chargers trying to build linebacker rotation
With Larry English (foot) returning to practice, the Chargers are hopeful they can start building a rotation which can stay fresh and productive at the outside linebacker's spot. Shaun Phillips is set on one side, but the Chargers are tinkering with different rotations to make sure blocking schemes can't just focus on him.
That rotation will get a boost, likely this week, when Antwan Barnes returns to practice after missing time with a knee injury.
-- TE Antonio Gates, in a great sign for the team, worked in five consecutive practices before backing off slightly. Gates is battling plantar fasciitis.
-- RB Ryan Mathews continues to fight for playing time, with the Chargers having the luxury of Mike Tolbert being on their roster as well. Mathews had a shaky start to training camp -- he wasn't in shape -- and has been busy trying to catch up. Coach Norv Turner likes to say he has a 1 and 1-A running back situation, and if so, Mathews is 1-A.
-- RG Tyronne Green continues to get some looks with the first team instead of last year's starter, Louis Vasquez. It appears Vasquez will remain the starter, but Green isn't backing off.
-- ILB Stephen Cooper, the veteran who was brought back recently, was thought to be in the running for a starting spot. But so far he has been running mostly with the second team and filling special-teams roles.
-- TE Korry Sperry continues to impress with his reliable hands and route-running. Most assume Randy McMichael is the first option after Antonio Gates, but Sperry is staying in the mix with a solid camp.
BATTLE OF THE WEEK: Travis LaBoy vs. Larry English at outside linebacker.
This battle has been slow in developing as English has been slowed in rebounding from his second foot surgery. English is slowly being eased into workouts -- after starting camp on the PUP list -- and gradually seeing his practice time increase. LaBoy is one-dimensional, but that's OK with the Chargers if he can get to the quarterback like they hope. English, though, is a former first-round pick entering his third season and the Chargers are anxious to finally get some production from him. Right now, it's LaBoy's job. But before the season-opener, English could be the starter.
OTHER BATTLE FRONTS: Marcus Gilchrist vs. Dante Hughes for nickel back.
Gilchrist has been a revelation with his steady play during camp. But do the Chargers trust him enough to be the nickel back in passing situations? So far, it appears Hughes, in his fifth year, has taken that role. Gilchrist, though, seems to be ahead of Hughes in becoming the No. 3 cornerback, backing up Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason.
-- WR Vincent Brown is trying to compensate for lost time as he battles a knee injury suffered early in camp. But he has returned to practice and showing the hands which made him the team's third-round pick.
-- RB Jordan Todman continues to flash his versatility with the coaches putting him in different spots in different situations. Todman looks like he will stick.
-- DE Cory Liuget is getting more reps with the first team; Jacques Cesaire was down briefly which gave Liuget even more reps. So far, so good for Liuget, a player the Chargers want to contribute immediately.
--ILB Jonas Mouton has fallen behind Donald Butler in his quest to win a starting job. Mouton's progress could also be stifled by the acquisition of veteran Stephen Cooper.
-- RT Stephen Schilling is working with the second team and seems to be, at the least, headed for the practice squad.
-- CB Antonio Cason (broken finger) continues to work with a smaller wrap. He hasn't missed many snaps of late.
-- OLB Antwan Barnes (knee) could be eased into practice this week.
-- OLB Shaun Phillips (leg) has missed some practice snaps; nothing significant.
-- WR Kelley Washington (knee) is out for about four weeks.
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