Saturday, May 2, 2009

Chargers Spring (Training) Report -- Cornerbacks

CHARGERS SPRING (TRAINING) REPORT -- CORNERBACKS

With the Chargers 2009 mini-camp underway, Chris Ello takes an inside look at how the Bolts stack up position-by-position during football's version of Spring Training.
Tomorrow: Safeties


Starters

Quentin Jammer, 8th yr., Texas: In my mind, he was the Bolts' defensive MVP last season (although the players voted for Jamal Williams)...Perhaps the team's most vilified player by fans during his first four seasons, Jammer has blossomed into the shutdown corner the Chargers envisioned when they selected him with the 5th pick in the 2002 draft (don't believe me? Ask Randy Moss in the Sunday night game against New England last season).
More impressive than his pass coverage, though, was Jammer's ability in '08 to come up from the corner and make jarring tackles on running plays. He finished with 75 solo tackles, some of which knocked loose a few teeth (hey Jeff Garcia, remember?).
Signed through 2012, Jammer should be among the least of the team's concerns for the next several seasons.

Antonio Cromartie, 4th yr. Florida St.: At the head of the list of the team's concerns for '09 and beyond should be the enigmatic Cromartie, who suffered through a miserable season in '08...After electrifying the league with 10 interceptions in '07, Cromartie managed just two picks (both against the Jets in Week 3) last season. After the Jets game, he rarely even laid a hand on a pass, was beaten up-and-down the field constantly, and tackled as if he were Deion Sanders.
Cromartie blamed his poor performance on the fact that he played the entire season with a broken hip, suffered in Week 2 at Denver when the Broncos' Brandon Marshall embarrassed him with 18 receptions. Hopefully, for Chargers fans, that was the case.
Even if healthy, Cromartie needs to grow up. By anointing himself as the next Sanders and predicting an NFL-record 15 interceptions prior to the season, he put a target on his back and was riddled repeatedly.
“I'm feeling real good, a whole lot better," said Cromartie on the opening day of mini-camp. "I just want to shut up the critics. I'm getting healthy. I feel a lot more explosive than I have in the past two years.”
Hopefully, he'll say no more. And just start getting the job done again.


Reserves

Antoine Cason, 2nd yr., Arizona: For last year's No. 1-pick (27th overall), a grade of "incomplete" in his rookie season...Incomplete because nobody is yet sure whether the former Jim Thorpe Award winner will become a star in the NFL or not.
Overall, though, Cason did a steady enough job last season -- and if nothing else, he at least picked off as many passes as Cromartie did. He didn't yet look ready for full-time duty in
man coverage, and several teams picked on him when he came into games as a nickel-package cover guy.
One must remember, though, that rookies struggling some at the cornerback position is not exactly a surprise. Many make a big jump between years one and two, and the Chargers can feel at least somewhat confident that Cason will do the same.
He'll have to make a big jump if Cromartie doesn't return to his '07 form.

Cletis Gordon, 4th yr., Jackson State: Gordon had a few chances to shine in '08, but frankly he never really took advantage of the opportunities...New Orleans picked on him pretty good in the game at London, and by season's end -- despite playing in 14 of 16 games -- he was credited with just one pass deflection.
Not to give up on a guy's career too early, but I imagine the Bolts will be looking to see some big improvements during training camp. Gordon may be playing to save his job (and Chargers career) during the exhibition season.


Newcomers

Brandon Hughes, Rookie, Oregon State: Selected by A.J. Smith with the team's 5th-round pick a couple of weeks ago, Hughes it would seem could make the opening day roster with a strong camp and preseason. He was twice named All-Pac 10, and he made 40 career starts with former Chargers coach Mike Riley's Beavers.
Some may be concerned with his size (5-foot-10, 182 pounds), but there are many great cornerbacks over the years smaller than Hughes who have gotten the job done. Not only that, but Hughes brings a reputation for playing tough against the run (maybe he can help Cromartie) and bothering receivers with solid bump-and-run coverage.
On paper, the feeling is that Hughes at least challenges Gordon for the fourth-cornerback spot.

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