The Magnificent 7


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Jan 22, 2006
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The magnificent 7

Chargers' highly regarded defensive front working hard to get even better

By Kevin Acee

August 3, 2006

They are seven players, perhaps the best such seven in all of football.
They are the heart of the Chargers defense, and it is apparent in so many moments this training camp that they cherish the role.

The pride rings loud and clear when one of them hollers during a drill, “No one runs on the Chargers.”

The desire is palpable in the disgust in linebackers coach Greg Manusky's voice when he says during another drill, “Way to go, offense. Way to kick our (rears).”

The urgency is evident in the disappointment in Randall Godfrey's voice when he declares after the fourth practice of training camp – a month and a half from the season opener – that the linebackers were flat.

“It seemed like everyone's level was down today, and we just can't have that,” he said, seeming seriously dejected. “It looks good. We've just got to play. I hope everybody can pull it together. You can have all the talent in the world, but every game you've got to play.”

The knowledge is crystallized in defensive end Luis Castillo, who decided right away that good wasn't good enough.

“Marty (Schottenheimer) talks about how a second-year guy sometimes won't play as good his second year as he did his first year,” said Castillo, a second-year guy. “Coming into this camp I caught myself in that. I caught myself thinking, 'I'm so much better than last year. I'm there.' Once you get out and go through the motions of it again, I realized I have so much to learn. That's what's good about us; we have young players who realize how much we have to learn.”

The consequence of their goal practically drips from each of them.

“We have the best young front seven in the game of football,” outside linebacker Shawne Merriman said.

Coming off a season in which they were ranked No. 1 against the run and were fifth in sacks, confidence is high.

“There is nobody that is going to be able to match up with us up front,” defensive end Igor Olshansky said. “I know it; they know it. The offensive coaches out there know it.”

No team has given up fewer rushing yards over the past two seasons than the Chargers' 2,656. Only Pittsburgh, with 2,675, is within a couple of hundred yards.

It is true that no one runs on them – or even tries much. Only Kansas City and Denver faced fewer running plays last season.

There is youth – Merriman and Castillo are entering their second seasons, Olshansky his third. And there is experience – Godfrey and fellow inside linebacker Donnie Edwards are entering their 11th seasons, outside linebacker Steve Foley and tackle Jamal Williams their ninth.

There also are backups who play regularly and are considered a big part of the Chargers' present and future. Defensive end Jacques Cesaire and inside linebacker Stephen Cooper each got a big pay raise in the offseason. Inside linebacker Matt Wilhelm could make a move to play more this season. Outside 'backer Shaun Phillips was second on the team with seven sacks last season.

It is the young players who provide much of the excitement – both internally and among fans.

Said Foley: “We've got a lot of young guys full of energy, and as long as they can channel that in the right direction we'll do some exciting things.”

It is the veterans who provide the perspective and the prodding.

“Right now we've got the potential,” Williams said. “We've still got to go out there and play the game. Right now the bar is already set for the running game. We've got everybody back healthy. We need to do it again.

“I give the credit to the coaches and the older veterans. We've got a younger group, and the vets let them know what they've got to do. We've got young guys that are hungry. Everyone knows how close we are to getting where we want to go.”

Which is as far as they can, to the top of every defensive ranking on which there are tabs kept.

“There are so many things,” Castillo said. “We've been so good against the run for so many years. That's obviously our main goal. The other thing is we finished (sixth) in the league in sacks last year. With all the potential we have with 10-sack guys we have in Foley, Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman, myself and Igor, we feel like we can be six-or eight-sack guys. We want to be No. 1 in rush defense, No. 1 in sacks to go along with that No. 1 in (total) defense, which is the real goal.”
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