Defensive Leader a Little Too Defensive

LB Shaun Phillips (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

Shaun Phillips is coming off a career-year in which he set a franchise mark with seven forced fumbles and added a team-high seven sacks. But his 2009 season will long be remembered for his inexcusable head-butt in the playoff loss to the Jets, a penalty which kept a New York scoring drive alive.

Shaun Phillips, rightfully so, drew a 15-yard penalty.

Phillips, surprisingly, is taking exception to anyone mentioning the incident.

Maybe if Phillips would have owned his mistake in the aftermath of one of the most embarrassing Chargers playoff performances in team history, there wouldn't be a need to rehash it.

But as quickly as the visiting Jets dispatched the AFC's No. 2-seeded Chargers, Phillips was out of the locker room. A player many considered a defensive leader wouldn't meet with the media in the post-game scrum.

Kicker Nate Kaeding, who was heartbroken after three missed field goals in a three-point loss? He stood at his locker and answered the same questions from one wave of reporters after another.

Phillips, instead, waved good-bye and never gave his perspective on the mind-numbing upset which gave the Chargers three playoff losses in their last four chances.

"People want to look at one play, but there were a lot of things that went into that loss," Phillips said in a recent radio interview. "People forget that there were way more plays that we made to get us to that point and to record 13 wins. "But if someone thinks they could do better, they should try out for the team. If not, they should shut their mouth."

Wow. Seems Phillips remains touchy on a subject which he could have put to bed long ago. Instead it has marinated over the offseason and is still what most fans bring up first when Phillips' name is mentioned.

"Everyone's allowed to have an opinion," Phillips continued. "I may think your voice sucks over the air and you may think I made a mistake on the field. But unless that person believes they could've done it better, they should keep their opinions to themselves."

So much for the give-and-take and second-guessing that makes the NFL America's favorite sport to follow. Phillips, it appears, has forgotten many of those people awaiting an explanation are the ones making his pay checks possible.

Phillips should be applauded for last year's overall play and his offseason work which helps at-risk kids fill their after-school hours with sports.

But those same kids might benefit in seeing how a potential role model responds when adversity comes knocking at the door. Instead of fleeing out the back door, Phillips could have shown by his actions that accountability is what makes the man, not how many tackles he collects.

NOTES, QUOTES


LB Donald Butler
Otto Gruele Jr./Getty
--Unlike recent drafts, the Chargers were looking to improve key positions instead of building depth. Among the roster red flags flapping in the breeze were at running back, nose tackle, strong safety and offensive line, especially at right tackle.

Inside linebacker? Not exactly.

So like he is wont to do, general manager A.J. Smith pulled a draft-day surprise when plucking Washington inside linebacker Donald Butler off the board in the third round.

Inside linebacker?

Apparently the Chargers took a peak at the roster and decided what was there wasn't good enough. So they snagged Butler, a decent player on last year's woeful Huskies team.

What drove the pick of Butler? Here's what the Chargers might have been speculating.

There was a hole created at the spot when Tim Dobbins was part of the package peddled to Miami to move up in the first round and get running back Ryan Mathews.

Dobbins proved expendable by the impressive play of Brandon Siler last year.

And while Stephen Cooper -- a starting inside linebacker and the team leader in tackles -- remains, he is entering his ninth season. He played on a bum knee for most of last year and the Chargers might not be sold that it won't flare again.

Kevin Burnett was another part-time starter on the inside and the Chargers like his skill sets of run-stopping and dropping into coverage. But among the ailments costing Burnett playing time was a concussion and the Chargers are protecting themselves in case that problem flares again.

The Chargers could look at obtaining Butler and then pairing him with Siler for an eye to the future. Siler was so good he pushed Cooper off the strong side spot and he held pretty firm against the run.

So with Cooper getting a bit long in the tooth and Burnett's health a slight concern -- he missed five games last year -- the Chargers decided inside linebacker was an under-the-radar need which they filled.

"We feel that we know our team better than people on the outside," coach Norv Turner said. "You have to compare that guy to the guys he would come in and compete with. There are people all the way through the draft that can compete on this team, but we believe Donald can be a factor."

Smith did something similar last year when he took outside linebacker Larry English in the first round, despite having Pro Bowler Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips on the edges. Some figured that selection set up the Chargers to allow Merriman to walk when he became an unrestricted free agent. But with the lack of a labor agreement, Merriman didn't get true free agency and is returning this season.

--The Chargers raised some eyebrows when they went with inside linebacker Donald Butler in the third round.

"(The draft) was a thin draft at certain positions," director of player personnel Jimmy Raye said. "We felt that inside linebacker was a position we were going to address, and some of the guys went higher than we thought they would. Our plan (in the third round) was to take a guy we thought could help us, even though it was at a different position."

Another reason Butler might have been drafted is that none of the three inside linebackers on the roster -- Stephen Cooper, Kevin Burnett or Brandon Siler -- are under contract after the 2010 season.

--The Chargers rookies and select veterans will take part in the rookie orientation on May 7-8. Most of the work will be done in the classroom. QB Philip Rivers will be on hand, too. "I can't wait to get started," he said.

--The Chargers signed place-kicker Nick Novak to a one-year deal. He last kicked for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2008, converting six attempts in 10 tries.

--The Chargers are conducing town hall meetings to drum up support for a new stadium. The latest plan has the Chargers looking to build a downtown venue adjacent to the Padres' Petco Park.

--Former Rams and USC coach John Robinson helped out during last year's camp, but he might be busy this year. Robinson took a high-school assistant coaching position so he can work with his grandsons.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I tried to model myself after L.T. but he's a different guy. My style is more in between the tackles a little." -- Rookie RB Ryan Mathews on the difference between him and his favorite player, ex-Charger LaDainian Tomlinson.

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