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Chargers won't ignore defense

Posted Mar 5, 2012

San Diego has other roster needs, including offensive line, but General Manager A.J. Smith is determined to build a playoff-worthy defense.

SAN DIEGO – The Chargers believe offensive line is the biggest priority of the offseason, a line of thinking only strengthened by Pro Bowl left guard Kris Dielman’s retirement this week.

San Diego may face other needs on offense as league-wide free agency begins March 13 depending on how many of its own players the team re-signs.

Defense, though, won’t be an afterthought as General Manager A.J. Smith strives to construct a playoff roster in 2012.

“The only thing that I’ve said repeatedly, and this is not a slight on offense or special teams: we need to build – somehow, some way – a consistent, dominating, dictating, successful defense,” Smith said.  “We’ve had our moments over the years. But whether it’s the coaching, the performance of individual players or injuries, whatever it is, we haven’t had success with consistency and we need to fix that.”

Like every team, Smith and the Chargers are coy about their roster strategy, which they’ll reveal by the transactions they make during the next two months.

San Diego isn’t shy about building through the draft. Eight of the team’s last 11 first-round picks, dating back to Quentin Jammer’s selection at No. 5 overall in 2002, have been defensive players. The Bolts selected four defensive players in the first three rounds last year, including first-round choice Corey Liuget. Current players like Eric Weddle, Donald Butler, Antoine Cason and Vaughn Martin, all starters last season, are San Diego picks since 2007.

Free agency, too, offers an option to add talent. Think Takeo Spikes, Antwan Barnes and Antonio Garay.

The Chargers will remain focused on defense despite other potential needs.

“I’m not ignoring offense and special teams. We have made a significant move on special teams in players and with a coach (Rich Bisaccia) that we’re very, very happy with. We want to keep growing in that area. We’ve got some changes that could take place on offense. We’ll address that.

“The work in progress is on defense. We’re going to have an emphasis there to build that defense. We have a new coordinator (John Pagano) that will have new ideas. We have some coaching changes there. So this is going to move forward in a very positive light.

“As soon as we can match equally a proficient, successful defense with special teams and offense and have that balance of the three critical areas, then I think we’ll start to see a bounce-back with a lot of regular-season wins and hopefully win the AFC West.”

San Diego’s defenses have been good at times, leading the NFL in fewest total yards and passing yards allowed in 2010. The Bolts also have four seasons with more than 40 sacks since 2005, including a league-best 61 in ’06. The offense wasn’t the only factor in the five AFC West championships the Chargers claimed from 2004-09. But Smith feels a steady, disrupting defense will give San Diego a good chance to return to the playoffs.

“We’ve had our statistical categories. Stats mean nothing to me,” Smith said. We haven’t had success with consistency and we need to fix that.”
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