The San Diego Chargers defense is about to change dramatically. Today, Wednesday September 25, inside linebacker Manti Te’o was a full participant at practice. For the first time this season, the linebacker corps will feature all of the starters this Sunday.
The San Diego defense has struggled in the first three games of the season. They have allowed the second most yards per game in the NFL (470.7 yards) and have only caused one turnover that was more from chance then good defensive play. Quarterbacks have been picking apart the secondary and running backs have been able to average 5.1 yards per carry. Even Jake Locker of the Tennessee Titans looked like a good quarterback against this struggling unit.
One major problem with this Charger team is experience. The team has four starters who had never been first team players until this season. Unfortunately, that problem can only be fixed with time. On the other hand, another problem for this defense has been that the starters haven’t even been playing. Te’o has yet to play a game and both Butler and cornerback Shareece Wright missed last week’s game versus the Titans. Now that both Butler and Te’o are ready for action, the Chargers will finally be able to unveil their true linebacker corps.
Manti Te’o will come into Sunday’s game and make an impact. He will not be a dominant tackler that will make the big hits on ball carriers that force fumbles and change momentum, but he will provide the defense with much-needed smarts at middle linebacker. If Te’o’s NFL ability will be anything similar to his NCAA play, then he will greatly improve the run defense and fill the gaps that running backs have been finding. He isn’t known for his pass defense, but he will be better than the backups who have been playing. Even the smallest improvements in coverage will give the Chargers the ability to rush Dwight Freeney more and put extra pressure on quarterbacks.
With all the improvements that should come from Te’o’s return, San Diego fans must be patient. The defense will improve, but it may not happen all on Sunday. Te’o is still a rookie in the NFL. He will need some time to adjust before he can begin to make an impact and start to live up to his potential. The Chargers play Tony Romo’s Dallas Cowboys next week. Romo is an experienced QB and will probably not be severely limited by Te’o and the Bolts defense. While his presence may be noticed, it won’t take over the game. The changes will be gradual, but they will come.