Early in the offseason, Tom Telesco said he would change the linebacker room, and it looks far deeper now.
After being forced to play with the likes of Adrian Phillips, Rayshawn Jenkins, and Jahleel Addae at linebacker on all three downs at the end of last year (due to injuries), Telesco wanted to add depth to the linebacker group.
Well, saying he “added depth” is putting it mildly.
In a 4-3 defense, where there are only three linebackers on the field at a time (this changes in different sets of course), there does not appear to be enough room for all of the Chargers linebackers to get ample snaps. Below is a list of linebackers on the Chargers roster that are expected to play some role this year.
- #58, Thomas Davis Sr.
- #52, Denzel Perryman
- #42, Uchenna Nwosu
- #44, Kyzir White
- #57, Jatavis Brown
- #51, Emeke Egbule
- #49, Drue Tranquill
This does not include some of the hybrid linebacker-safeties that Gus Bradley likes to play at the position on passing downs. Clearly, Pro-Bowler Adrian Philips is not having his snaps cut after last year’s performance.
By my count, there are five starting-caliber players in the linebacker room (Davis Sr., Perryman, Nwosu, White, and Brown) as well as a heavy-rotation player (Phillips) and some rookie depth (Tranquill and Egbule) all fighting for snaps with only three positions available on the field.
This position group is worth watching during training camp and the preseason for how Bradley decides the players will be rotated.
At the end of the day, Bradley is going to give the best players the most snaps, as is usually the case in his defense with the interchangeability of positions and players. However, below is my stab at how the positions will turn out.
SAM (Strongside Linebacker)
Starter – Thomas Davis Sr.
Backup – Uchenna Nwosu, Emeke Egbule
MIKE (Middle Linebacker)
Starter – Denzel Perryman
Backup – Jatavis Brown
WILL (Weakside Linebacker)
Starter – Kyzir White
Backup – Jatavis Brown, Drue Tranquill
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While Nwosu is a rising player and played a lot of snaps in the two playoff games last year, most of the season showed that the coaching staff primarily sees him as a pass rusher. He should compete for a starting spot soon, but the experience and consistency of Davis gets him on the field first.
At MIKE, the answer is simple – if Perryman is healthy, he is a starter. The defense simply looked different when he was on the field last year.
The biggest competition to watch in my opinion will be between White and Brown. Last year, White won a spot as a starting linebacker, and I expect that to happen again, but Brown will be ready as first in line to take over at the MIKE or WILL positions.
No matter who earns the “starter” label, expect there to be frequent use of depth at the linebacker position. In the case of an injury, the Chargers are in far better shape now thanks to a fulfilled promise by Tom “Coupon God” Telesco.