SAN DIEGO — The Chargers have added one new body to their linebacker corps this year, and what a body it is. Chip Banks belongs on Muscle Beach.
"He's certainly passed the eye test," Coach Al Saunders said when he first laid eyes on Banks. "That's a bod."
Banks wears a camouflage cap around the locker room, but truth is, he won't be hiding out this year. Situated at right outside linebacker, Banks has been asked to lead a mad charge to the opposing quarterback. If the Charger offense upholds its side of the bargain, then the entire season probably depends on something called the blitz.
It'll be Banks from his side and linebacker Billy Ray Smith from the opposite side. It'll be free safety Vencie Glenn from who-knows-where. And if all goes according to plan, then Lee Williams, a defensive end, will get to go one-on-one every down with an opposing tackle. And he's a good one-on-one player.
"If our guys think they're gonna blitz this year," defensive coordinator Ron Lynn said, "then they're right."
This is rock music to Banks' ears, because he has recently been a member of Cleveland's classical, conservative defense. In Cleveland, Banks was stationed on the left side, smack in front of the tight end. First, the tight end hit him and then the tackle hit him and then a running back hit him. He also wasn't allowed to roam recklessly as fellow All-Pro Lawrence Taylor was allowed to do in New York.
Here, though, he will have the green light to redirect traffic in the opposing backfield.
"I love to blitz," Banks said this week as the Chargers prepared for their season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. "The most exciting part of the game is the sacking on some of those quarterbacks. It's more fun than an interception.
"Last year in Cleveland, I blitzed some, but it was within the scheme of the defense, which inhibited me from using my ability. . . . It kind of made me a mechanical soldier."
The Charger defense is about as mechanical as the horse and buggy, which means Banks and Co. won't think first and react second. They'll react first and react second, and, it is hoped tackle third.
Lynn says Banks could open it up for everyone. In other words, he might end up occupying three blockers--a la Lawrence Taylor--on every play.
Who will get his leftovers?
BILLY RAY SMITH
Smith's 11 sacks last season were second most among the league's linebackers, with only Taylor getting more (20 1/2). Offenses were wising up to Smith late in the year, but they'll have to be smarter to stop this tandem now.
"Blitzing, it's the biggest thrill in football . . .," he said. "You can talk about the bomb and the long pass, but fans like seeing a guy hit from the blind side so much more. Can't you hear them? They all go, 'Ohhhhhhhhhh!" See, the quarterback is the other team's general, and when you get a lick on him, it's a shot to the other team's entire offense."
With Smith behind him last year, Williams collected 15 sacks--second most in the AFC--but he might have had that many with even Saunders playing behind him. Williams is the team's purest pass rusher right now and is on the verge of a Pro Bowl year.
"With Billy Ray and Chip, teams are going to have to change their protection patterns," Williams says. "They've got to put a big guy--like a tackle--on one of them. They certainly can't let backs block those guys. That way, I get one-on-one against a guard or something. That's good."
Williams says the Chargers also have a "scream" defense, which means they forget completely about the run and try to make the quarterback scream bloody murder.
"I hope to get some sacks this year," Williams says. "How many do I want? It's personal. I'm not telling."
If you're a free safety and you're told to blitz, watch out for the opposing guard. You've got this running start and the quarterback is within sight and you can smell the sack, but--suddenly--you get smacked instead by the guard.
"Vencie thinks the safety blitz is a thrill, huh," Smith said. "Ask him that after a guard hits him in the teeth."
Glenn came close to a couple of sacks in exhibition games, and when the situation calls for it, he'll try again during this regular season.
"Blitzing, it's part of my job," Glenn said. "If it occurs, I'll bring all of my 187 pounds. You can be a goat or a hero. At first, it might look like a great play, but when it gets picked up, you can hear the crowd go, 'Ahhhhhhhh.' "
In obvious passing situations, it'll be Karl Wilson--not starter Earl Wilson--at right defensive end. He'll be directly in front of Banks, and his only mission will be pass rush.
He's a rookie, a third-round draft choice from Louisiana State who never knew he was an outstanding pass rusher until the Chargers told him so.