<
>

Chargers believe they have makings of a dominant defense

Manti Teo: "We're cultivating that culture that we're just going to dominate every single snap." AP Photo/Greg Trott

SAN DIEGO -- No more waiting for players to mature for the San Diego Chargers -- the time is now for the defense to emerge as a top-notch unit.

Inside linebacker Manti Te'o says 2015 is the year the Chargers develop into one of the dominant defenses in the NFL.

"We’re cultivating that culture that we’re just going to dominate every single snap," Te’o said. "We’re not going to win every single snap, but we know that we’re going to win most of them.

"At first, you’ve got to believe that you are going to do it. And I think for the most part we all believe, and our coach has faith in us that he can call whatever he’s going to call, and we’re going to execute it. And we’re going to go out there and dominate."

But the Chargers still have to prove it on the field first.

San Diego has not finished in the top five in the NFL in scoring defense since holding teams to 17.8 points a contest in 2007. The Chargers have not had had a player among the top five league leaders in sacks since Shawne Merriman led the NFL with 17 in 2006.

San Diego forced just 35 turnovers over the past two seasons, second worst in the NFL. The Chargers finished in the bottom third in sacks the past three years. They had just seven interceptions in 2014, tied for No. 28 in the league.

You get the picture -- it’s been awhile since the Chargers have regularly imposed their will on opposing offenses. But last week’s six-sack effort against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2 of the preseason was a glimpse at the potential playmaking ability this defense could blossom into this season.

With inventive defensive coordinator John Pagano at the controls, the Chargers also have shown flashes of brilliance during the regular season. Since 2013, San Diego has held Denver’s high-powered offense led by Peyton Manning to just 25.8 points a contest, the best in the AFC West. And the Chargers also kept Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in check, holding them to 23 points last season in a loss at home.

Those solid defensive efforts just need to happen on a more consistent basis.

"I feel like every great defense that’s ever been in the NFL, everybody had held themselves and everyone else accountable," Melvin Ingram said. "And that’s what we try to do."

Added defensive lineman Corey Liuget: "We’re just full of energy. We play for each other. We play the game the right way. And at the end of the day, we know that we’re all competing for the team to get better, and for each and every one of us to get better, too."

The Chargers have built this young defense through the draft. Eight of the projected 11 starters were selected in the first three rounds of the draft, dating to 2007.

They include defensive linemen Liuget (first round, 2011 draft) and Kendall Reyes (second round, 2012); outside linebackers Ingram (first round, 2012) and Jeremiah Attaochu (second round, 2014); inside linebackers Donald Butler (third round, 2010) and Te'o (second round, 2013); and cornerback Jason Verrett (first round, 2014).

"If you look at our defense now, we have guys who are young and understand," Teo said. "They are kind of seasoned. Now everybody is on board, and everybody knows what each other is doing, instead of having one or two pieces that really don’t know what they’re doing, or what to expect of themselves."

Leading the team defensively is three-time Pro Bowler safety Eric Weddle, selected in the second round of the 2007 draft.

"We’ve got a lot of young guys, so they need to get comfortable," Weddle said. "Understand the defense inside and out, and the more reps we get at certain calls, the better we’ll be."