by Taylor Williams
November 22, 2010 – As the second round of the playoffs approaches, Edna Karr sits atop the 4A spectrum, but a mile away, the bruising Chargers of O.P. Walker are gearing up for their second round game against No. 2 Salmen. The Chargers (7-3) have engineered a great program turnaround this year, taking their well-documented size and speed and becoming a powerful defensive force.
Former Charger linebacker/safety Dennis Christopher is the man behind this revamped defense with a 15 points per game average and 20 turnovers to its credit. A 2004 graduate of O.P. Walker and ’08 graduate from Oregon State, Christopher was recruited as a roving linebacker by various West Coast schools and has consequently brought a new wave of defensive schemes to his alma mater.
Led by defensive end 6-foot-3, 300-pounder Anthony Johnson, an early decision commit to Tennessee, the Chargers’ fearsome attack starts up front. He regularly draws double and triple team blockers, which allows Walker to bring six and seven man rushes on most downs and constantly creates one-on-one opportunities for other players.
But Walker’s defensive line isn’t just a bunch of bruisers; it’s an experienced, athletic unit that is essentially composed of five linebackers and two true linemen in terms of size. They run a variety of blitz packages off the corner and up the gut and haven’t shown a drop-off on coverage skills after learning the new schemes.“I feel like every guy out there, including the D-line can drop back and cover if we need them to” Christopher said.
Luckily, however, the Chargers haven’t needed that since the secondary, led by cornerbacks Cortez Johnson and Robert Kelly (also Walker’s starting running back), is also playing at a high level. Like the men up front, the secondary likes to shake things up with its nickel and dime packages, but has had trouble with open field tackling this year.
But will it all this be enough against Salmen, a team with explosive athletes and intimidating size of its own, not to mention more playoff experience?
It’s tough to say offhand. Salmen will definitely try to spread the field from sideline to sideline and will probably throw the Chargers some wildcat looks, something they’ve struggled with in their losses this year. Salmen runs a lot of quarterback and wide receiver option and is exceptionally good at extending plays outside the pocket.
But win or lose on Friday, this season has redefined the perception of Walker’s program, and much of that goes to improved defensive play.
“We’re starting to establish ourselves as a good defensive team,” Christopher said. “We have a lot of unsung heroes on defense this year, and if we can just stay disciplined, we’ll be fine.”