Chargers Review: Defensive Line

Jamal Williams

Too small. Undersized. Will get manhandled. What are they thinking switching to the 3-4 without a true nose tackle? All words that were attached to Jamal Williams before the season. By midseason, however, Williams was being tabbed as the perfect fit and with a quiet demeanor, he efficiently went about his work and put any questions about fitting into the jigsaw puzzle to rest.

"Williams, is as good as anyone in football at the 3-4 position," Tampa Bay head coach Jon Gruden said. "Zero-shade, two-gap football suits this guy. He's a great player."

Jamal Williams was the biggest reason the Chargers succeeded in their transition from the 4-3 to the 3-4 defensive scheme. His ability to clog the middle and open up the lanes for the linebackers was essential to the team's number three ranked rushing defense in the NFL.

Prior to the season, many thought Williams was a bad fit for the new defensive scheme. All of his detractors are singing a different tune now.

"He is a terrific player," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said of Williams. "He is really the cornerstone of that defense. When you have a nose tackle like that guy, he puts pressure on the quarterback in the middle of the pocket. He is so powerful and difficult to block one-one-one.

"He is a powerful man and if he gets leverage on you he is going to pick virtually anybody up and move them back."

Not only was he able to effectively neutralize teams' running games but he also got penetration from his nose tackle spot.

He ended the year with 47 tackles, 29 solo, four sacks and 1.5 stuffs. His contributions, however, can't be measured by stats.

"He's our anchor. In a 3-4 defense, the nose guard is the anchor of the defense," linebacker Donnie Edwards said. "As Jamal Williams goes, our defense goes. He's 350 pounds, he's strong and he has great leverage and he gets great push. As you know, defensive lineman don't get the credit. But linebackers understand without guys in front of them it's going to be very difficult to get things done. I'm happy Jamal (got) respect this year."

Rookie Igor Olshansky was given the right side of the line from the beginning of the year and came through with a solid season and one of promise.

Olshansky recorded 53 tackles, 23 solo, with one sack and three stuffs. He also provided a number of hurries on the quarterback and as he gains experience and understanding, those could very well turn into sacks.

The "Pain from Ukraine" is built like a truck in the upper body and the consensus is an offseason of work on his legs and trunk could take his game to the next level. Olshansky was viewed as a tad raw coming out of college with Pro Bowl potential. If he puts in the work, he may rise to that level in the Chargers 3-4 scheme.

One thing he did do was defer to his elders along the line and felt he learned a great deal to help the team in the future.

"We have some great leaders and hopefully I can learn some things to carry on into my prime," Olshansky said of his mentors.

Jacques Cesaire manned the left side of the line for much of the year and garnered praise for his work. Cesaire contributed 36 tackles, 16 solo, a half sack and .5 stuffs. He stepped in when Adrian Dingle was unable to go and solidified what could have been a weak spot on the line.

"Cesaire, is very active. I think the best thing they do on defense is they get off blocks and they make plays," Saints' head coach Jim Haslett said.

While Cesaire was serviceable, the Bolts would like to upgrade the position and add another playmaker who can offer more penetration. Cesaire's strength lied in his ability to stuff the run and keep offensive linemen occupied.

Jason Fisk was the primary backup rotating through the line and his ability to step in and give Williams a rest was paramount to keeping the line fresh and barely a missed beat.

"We all know what Jason Fisk is capable of doing inside," Titans head coach Jeff Fischer said.

His own coach also had praise for his play and his ability to get his hands on a few balls thrown by quarterbacks. Schottenheimer believes the most benefit comes from pressure up the middle of the field and the awareness of Fisk was able to create a few interceptions.

Fisk notched 26 tackles, 15 solo, with one sack and a forced fumble. His ability to create some havoc from the second line of defense was instrumental in the success of the team. Knowing they had a veteran who was more than capable, the Chargers used the opportunity to rest the starting unit which allowed them to play for a full sixty minutes.

DeQuincy Scott was the change of pace to the line. He had 28 tackles, 11 solo, and 1.5 sacks on the year. Lacking the size to play a regular role in the rotation, Scott was limited. The leading sack artist a year ago could not muster the kind of pressure he had when he was on the outside in the 4-3.

Scott was able to create some pressure and continued to show the hustle of 2003. Playing on the interior was not his strong point, however, and he was pushed around too often.

Adrian Dingle struggled through knee pain during the season and his uncertain status from week to week gave Cesaire a chance to start. Dingle has the ability to create pressure but Coach Schottenheimer was not willing to endanger him further by putting him in the lineup.

When he did finally show, Dingle performed reasonably well.

"He got a little winded but he graded out quite well and I was very pleased with his performance," Schottenheimer said of his limited play.

Injuries have haunted Dingle over the past few years and with the team serious about upgrading their talent level along the line, Dingle could be the odd man out.

After a torrid preseason, Dave Ball was relegated to a backup role until hurting his toe against Atlanta. Two day later he was placed on injured reserve when it was determined to be a fracture, requiring surgery that would shelve him for three months.

Ball will be counted on heavily in the coming year to provide a pass rush presence from the defensive end position. The team remains excited about his potential along the line.

Eric Downing saw action in three games but did not register a tackle.

Ryon Bingham was placed on injured reserve prior to the start of the season.

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