When examining the 2011 San Diego Chargers, one of the several things that jumps out is how bad the team was against the pass. The Chargers gave up 7.9 yards per pass attempt in 2011 and 29 passing touchdowns. Both were fifth-worst in the NFL.
The Chargers chose not to address the cornerback position in the draft or in free agency despite having two veterans with expiring contracts after 2012. They did add Brandon Taylor, a third-round pick out of LSU, to compete with Atari Bigby.
A full offseason program and camp competition should help the young secondary develop, and the Chargers will be relying on the development and a better pass rush in 2012.
Quentin Jammer is the most senior of the group, entering his 11th year in the league. While Jammer isn't a great cornerback, he certainly has been consistent and durable.
He's willing in run support and is solid in coverage, but lacks ball skills. In 2011, for the first time since his rookie year, he failed to record an interception, and Jammer is showing signs of decline and has a propensity to get beat deep.
He'll return as the starter in 2012, but he's 33 and will be a free agent next season.
Opposite Jammer was Antoine Cason in 2011. Cason will compete with Shareece Wright and Marcus Gilchrist for the starting job.
Cason was graded as a 0.0 in coverage by ProFootballFocus, which is precisely average, and lost his starting job at one point to Gilchrist. Cason quickly regained his starting job after Gilchrist struggled against the Packers, but lost it again in the final week of the season against the Raiders.
Which cornerback will have the best 2012?
Cason's contract is up at the end of the season, and the Chargers likely will let him go if he doesn't have a good year. The Chargers can help him be successful by keeping him outside in coverage and limiting his slot opportunities, which has been an area where he has struggled throughout his career.
Marcus Gilchrist was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft and contributed during his rookie year with four starts. He had a good start in place of the injured Jammer, but struggled to find his groove thereafter. Gilchrist will have every opportunity to start in 2012, but with Cason better suited outside, he's likely to find himself in the slot.
Perhaps the Chargers realized they needed to address their cornerback position last year because they drafted Shareece Wright a round after selecting Gilchrist.
Wright was active for seven games, but he didn't see a lot of action. Head coach Norv Turner praised Wright and Gilchrist during OTAs, but didn't rule out the possibility of bringing in a veteran cornerback to compete. There's not much available, so the Chargers might be stuck with the players they have.
After the top four are three undrafted free agents: Gregory Gatson, Arthur Hobbs and DeAndre Presley. Presley was a college quarterback and Hobbs played at the Division II level. Both will need plenty of time to adjust before they mount any threat to the main rotation.
The Chargers are particularly vulnerable to injury at the position, and adding a veteran, regardless of the quality, would be a good idea.
Eric Weddle continues to be an extremely consistent and productive playmaker for the Chargers. There's nothing to worry about with Weddle, as he should again be one of the best players on the defense.
Behind Weddle is undrafted rookie Sean Cattouse and veteran Corey Lynch. Lynch has been a primary special teams player for the last three years in Tampa Bay, but he's made the occasional spot start at safety. He has a chance to stick around as a special teamer and reserve.
The most interesting battle will be between the rookie Taylor and the veteran Bigby at strong safety. Bigby has only been a starter for two years of his career, both for Green Bay, largely because he has had trouble staying healthy.
Bigby probably has better ball skills than Taylor and he's a little bigger as well. If Bigby can stay healthy, he's probably going to keep Taylor on the bench for a while, but either is probably an upgrade over last year's starter Steve Gregory.