LB Brandon Siler (Doug Pensinger/Getty)
The Chargers fielded some of the NFL’s best coverage units in 2007. On average, opponents started inside their own 20-yard line following Nate Kaeding kickoffs. Also, Mike Scifres’ net average (39.6) was the third-best in the NFL. So why does special teams coach Steve Crosby believe the Chargers will do even better next season?
Every special teams coach recognizes the importance of teamwork and communication when covering kicks. If one player leaves his lane to make a play on the ball, it can hang the whole coverage unit out to dry. And while special teams players must function as a collective force, the Chargers benefit from having some of the most talented individual cover men in NFL.
Kassim Osgood is the predominant special teams force in the game today. He is relentless in getting down the field, fighting off double-teams and delivering fierce hits. He also has a knack for downing the ball inside the 5-yard line. He made his second consecutive appearance in the Pro Bowl earlier this week, netting one tackle.
The X factor on the coverage units is Carlos Polk, a two-time winner of the team’s Special Teams Player of the Year award. The issue with Polk is durability, as he has missed 37 games over the last four seasons due to injuries. When he’s healthy, his physicality and desire are unrivaled. Coach Crosby looks forward to getting back a healthy Polk, which would be a huge asset in the team’s quest to win field position.
One player who flew under the radar last season was rookie Brandon Siler, who led the team with 21 tackles on special teams. Siler’s lofty tackle total tied Darrell Reid of the Indianapolis Colts for second-most in the league. With another year’s experience, Siler could push Osgood for his spot in the Pro Bowl.
Tim Dobbins chipped in a very respectable 16 tackles on the coverage units. Dobbins also recovered a fumble against the Baltimore Ravens and forced one against the Detroit Lions. Rookie Jyles Tucker recovered the loose ball against Detroit, one of Tucker’s many late-season contributions on special teams.
San Diego also got a boost from several other rookies, including Eric Weddle and Legedu Naanee. Other members of the rookie class, such as Anthony Waters and Paul Oliver, will be expected to play big roles in 2008.
What really sets the Chargers apart is Norv Turner’s decision to let starters cover kicks. Three starters in the secondary – Antonio Cromartie, Clinton Hart and Quentin Jammer – contribute to chasing down kick returners. Cromartie’s presence is vital, as he has the speed to ensure no return man outraces him to the end zone. The plan worked in 2007, as the Chargers did not allow a score on special teams.
The Chargers have one of the most stifling defenses in the NFL, as they proved during the postseason. If their special teams can force opponents to drive the length of the field to put points on the board, it will bode very well for the Bolts.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.