Chargers 2016 positional outlook: Inside linebacker
By Travis Wakeman
Though we are still several weeks away from training camp, where the real position battles will begin, I have started a new weekly series looking into each positional unit for the San Diego Chargers.
Rosters around the league are sitting right around 90 players right now and by the time the season starts, nearly half of those 90 will be looking for jobs elsewhere.
Here, we will delve into the San Diego Chargers roster position-by-position, laying the groundwork for what’s to come later this summer. We will talk about the players at each position and determine which ones will make the final 53-man roster. Once training camp starts, it may be necessary to revisit some of the positions and look back at the original predictions.
I have already covered three positional units- running backs, safeties and tight ends. Up next, we take a closer look at the inside linebacker spot.
Last year’s second-round draft choice, Denzel Perryman stepped in and played well for the Chargers, but the team will need hos counterpart, Manti Te’o to play like the prospect he was coming out of college.
The play of those two linebackers will be one of the biggest keys for John Pagano’s defense this year. He will need them to be healthy and active, lending support to the run defense.
Both Te’o and Perryman will make the team, but how does the rest of the roster shake out?
Locks to Make Roster
Manti Te’o: Entering his fourth season in the NFL, it’s time for Te’o to have a breakout year.
He has yet to play in a full 16-game season, missing 13 games in three seasons. However, he had a career-high 83 tackles in 2015 as well as a forced fumble and an interception. There is reason to believe he’ll produce this year, but he must stay on the field. He’ll also need to finish better.
2016 will be an important year for Te’o, perhaps more important than any player on defense.
Denzel Perryman: Perryman collected 73 tackles in 14 games as a rookie, and big things will be expected in 2016 for the former Miami Hurricane.
Perryman is a better tackler, finisher and run defender than is Te’o. He has great instincts and should be considered the anchor of this defense.
May 14, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers linebacker Joshua Perry (53) and Jatavis Brown (R) participate in a drill during rookie mini camp at Charger Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Jatavis Brown: If Te’o can’t produce this season due to injury or ineffectiveness, the team may have found his eventual replacement in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL draft.
Jatavis Brown is an athletic linebacker who has the physical build of a safety. He will be one of the most fun to watch players on the squad this summer as the team goes through training camp.
Speed and explosiveness. Those are two physical traits that stand out immediately when you watch Brown. He put the thump on running backs and also displays some coverage skills. He will make the 53-man roster and will see the field early in sub packages.
Joshua Perry: Taken a round earlier than Brown in this year’s draft, Joshua Perry out of Ohio State is another guy who should make an impact early on for San Diego.
Perry is a strong, physical tackler. He led Ohio State with 124 tackles in 2014 and he averaged nearly eight tackles per game for his college career.
Though he’ll need to improve his pass coverage skills in order to stay on the field on third downs, he does bring some value as a blitzing linebacker as well. He had 7.5 sacks in his college career.
Aug 22, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Diego Chargers linebacker Nick Dzubnar (48) reacts after sacking Arizona Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (5) during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Dzubnar: Nick Dzubnar made the team last season after going undrafted out of Cal Poly. Though he played mostly on special teams, he appeared in all 16 games for the Chargers.
With two solid rookies being drafted in Perry and Brown, Dzubnar will have to do something special in camp or preseason in order to convince the Chargers to keep him. He’ll likely have to do it as more than just a special teams player as well.
Dzubnar actually led the team in tackles during preseason last year with 25. He also added two sacks, so he has the ability. However, in the end, there may just be no room for him.
Won’t Make Final Roster
Oct 10, 2015; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines linebacker James Ross (15) hits Northwestern Wildcats fullback Dan Vitale (40) in the third quarter at Michigan Stadium. Michigan won 38-0. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
James Ross: San Diego signed James Ross, an undrafted linebacker out of Michigan in late May after placing safety Matt Daniels on injured reserve.
Ross had 188 tackles and three sacks in 50 games with the Wolverines, but there may be just too much competition in front of him in San Diego.
His best bet is likely to make a good impression on special teams that earns him a spot on the practice squad and then develop from there.
53-man Roster Predictions
In: Te’o, Perryman, Brown, Perry
Out: Dzubnar, Ross