“I really believe we know our team better than others on the outside.”
Those were the words San Diego Chargers coach Norv Turner chose when responding to reporters who questioned San Diego’s choice not to address the defensive line early in the 2010 draft. Heading into draft week, the buzz around the team was that running back and nose tackle were, without a doubt, the highest priorities. Obviously the former proved to be true, and the latter did not.
So what is it that the Chargers front office knows, that most fans do not? What makes them comfortable with addressing the perceived need along the defensive front with nothing more than a 5th round selection? I would suggest that one of the biggest reasons why Norv Turner and A.J. Smith are confident in their D-line is named Antonio Garay.
Antonio Garay wasn’t even brought on to the roster until December 9th, 2009. He joined the Chargers in the middle of their win streak after being signed off waivers from the Jets practice squad. He was a 6th round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2003, and has yet to obtain a starting role with any team he has been with (Browns, Bears, Jets). The Chargers would likely have never made a move to obtain him had Ogembi Nwagbuo not been hurt and moved to I.R. to join several other injured defensive linemen. The 30 year old defensive tackle hardly seems like the type to make an impact, but early indications are that he could be a factor in the 2010 season.
When Garay joined the Chargers he was worked out at both defensive end and nose tackle. The offensive line came away from practice with nothing but good things to say about the new comer, who had his best game for the bolts in their most tragic loss in recent memory. Garay was one of the reasons why the Chargers run defense suddenly looked stout against the best running team in the league, the New York Jets. Had Shonn Greene not been able to get free for his late game, 53 yard scamper (which was caused by a certain defensive back’s cowardice, as has been well documented), the Chargers would have held the Jets under 100 yards rushing as a team and close to a 3.0 yard per carry average.
Those are eye-popping numbers for a team that was tagged all season as being porous against the run, and Garay was often to be seen in the thick of things creating problems for the vaunted Jets offensive line.
Norv Turner and A.J. Smith have both made points of mentioning Garay’s abilities this offseason during radio interviews. Admittedly, neither Norv nor A.J. often make negative public comments about their players, but the fact that both have singled him out is telling. What is equally telling is that Chargers.com recently posted updated height/weight numbers for their roster. Garay has gone from 303 lbs. to 320 lbs, a weight much closer to the optimum at the nose tackle position.
The combination of his performance late in the 2009-10 season, the commendations of his coaches and teammates, and the recent bulking up, it would seem that Garay stands a good chance to come in to the 2010 season looking to try and fill the void left by the departure of Jamal Williams. I look to him to be the major contributor there while the organization grooms a long term solution, be that Cam Thomas or someone else.