At the OTA’s the major news offseason was the loss of Melvin Ingram to a season ending knee injury, which lead to maybe the most the talked about signing of the offseason in Dwight Freeney. Me personally I would have felt a whole lot better, to not only sign Freeney but to combine his skills in the development of Ingram, as it stands Freeney is the only proven pass rusher on the roster, and with a pass driven league, the pass rush just keeps rising in its importance for defensive productivity.
The inside linebacker position seems to be the only position that has talent and experience throughout; the chargers are hoping that starters Donald Butler, Manti Te’o will produce for years to come. There is depth behind them, with Butler missing much of the backend of the 2012 season Bront Bird & Andrew Gachkar received playing time, and played well. The chargers brought in another former productive Green Bay defender in D.J. Smith, who had 39 tackles in less than 6 games as a starter last year before getting hurt. And then there is the curious case of Jonas Mouton, drafted as a second rounder, considered by most publications somewhere between a 5-7 rounder, he missed all of his rookie season, and even with the injury to Butler who couldn’t get ahead of Bird & Gachkar, the drafting of Teo is clearly a vote of no confidence towards him.
So let’s get down to specifics:
Inside Linebackers: The 2 starters are considered cornerstones for the future of the defense, after that you have 5 players fighting for 3 spots. My projection is for the team to carry 5 ILB’s.
Locks to make the roster (3): Donald Butler, Manti Te’o, D.J. Smith
Training camp battles:
For (2) spots at ILB: Bront Bird, Andrew Gachkar, Jonas Mouton, Daniel Molls. I would be more than surprised to see Bird & Gachkar not on this roster, as both have gotten playing time and are useful on special teams. Mouton’s only claim to the roster spot is being a high draft pick, but this front office has no connection to that pick, and Molls was the leading tackler in the NCAA for Toledo last year, he’s undersized (6’0 238 lbs) but the speed is good at 4.7, his super hustle should translate to special teams. At worst Molls seems like a lock for the practice squad.
Projected roster players: Bird, Gachkar.
Projected ILB’s (5): Butler, Te’o, Smith, Bird, Gachkar.
Outside Linebackers: The veterans Freeney & Johnson look to be the starters and locks for the roster, I will add Larry English as a lock for the simple fact there is major lack of experience behind him and Johnson has proven very little as a pass rusher in the past, and there seems to be a buzz of him being healthy and being ready to produce. The rest of the OLB’s have little pedigree or experience.
Locks to make the roster (3): Dwight Freeney, Jarret Johnson, Larry English
Training camp battles:
For (2) spots at OLB: The battle for the last 2 spots comes down to Thomas Keiser, who was a productive spot player for the Panthers in 2011, and 3 rookies who very little pedigree to speak of, Tourek Williams who was drafted in the 6th round, the fact he was drafted, has better measurables (6’3 260lbs, 4.70 speed, and better level of competition should give him the advantage over the 2 slightly undersized small school pass rushers in Frank Beltre & Devan Walker. Beltre tested slighty better 4.65 speed to Walker 4.72, but Walker was a little more productive in having 8 sacks to Beltre 5. Beltre or Walker should at least make the practice squad. Either way you slice it, its slim pickings all around, somebody has to make to roster.
Projected roster players: Keiser & Williams.
Projected OLB’s (5): Freeney, Johnson, English, Keiser & Williams.
Commentary: I would prefer to have another veteran to this group, the chargers need the 5 sacks in his final 5 games Freeney, and English to finally come through for this defense to be around the top 10 defense they were in 2012. If anything English will get the most playing time he’s had since his rookie season, to prove he can play. Keep an eye on Bryan Thomas of the Jets as veteran player to compliment the current group.