The San Diego Chargers defense will look for leadership from a young core group of guys at the linebacker position. With the departures of veteran OLB/DE Dwight Freeney and linebacker Jarret Johnson, Donald Butler now takes over as the elder statesman of the group, at age 26. With an influx of youth at the position the Chargers will look to increase the pressure on the QB while continuing to be stout against the run. New linebackers coach Mike Nolan knows how to get the most of his players and will demand the best.
The average age for the group is 22, so it will be key that the guys who have been in the locker room for the last couple seasons step up. Manti Te’o is coming into his third year after being drafted in the second round in 2013. The inside linebacker has been blossoming into a strong leader this off-season and looks to improve his overall play in the middle of the Bolts D.
He missed six games last year and combined for 61 tackles, 1 sack and 1 int. If he can stay healthy this season, we should see him play up to his potential that made him such a force making plays for Notre Dame.
Another inside linebacker that needs to get back on track is Donald Butler. After an absolutely miserable 2014 campaign, Butler looks to show why the Chargers signed him to a 7 year $51.8 million contract after a solid, but not spectacular 2013 season. Butler has all the potential to be a stud at the middle linebacker position but needs to improve his decision-making and tackling (all the Chargers do to be honest). While he battled through some injuries last year, he’s already impressed early this summer and looks to leave no doubts about that contract.
Breathing down both the previous players’ necks is Denzel Perryman. All you need to know about this guy is that he wore #52 at the University of Miami just like another future Hall of Famer did in his heyday (you might have heard of him, Ray Lewis). Perryman, the 2nd round pick in this years draft, will be competing for one of the starting inside linebacker spots with Butler and Te’o. It’s not out of the question that Perryman could win the starting job at just 21 years old. He’s a tenacious tackler, who explodes into gaps and makes the ball carrier think twice about coming back.
When he’s not dominating friendly dodgeball games he’s been working hard this off-season and Perryman brings much-needed depth to a position that has seen its fair share of injuries. Expect big things from #52.
Second year Charger Kavell Connor is actually the oldest of the bunch at 28 but has been in the league the same number of years as Butler. Connor came over in 2014 after spending the first four years in Indianapolis, who drafted him in the seventh round. He played in all 16 games last year and played well, combining for 70 tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles. He will be able to provide some great depth behind what should already be a solid middle linebacker group. His veteran presence will also be much appreciated by Chargers’ defensive couch John Pagano.
How strong is this group at inside linebacker? They broke a blocking sled earlier this summer in camp.
linebackers just broke one-man blocking sled in individual work. Never seen that before. Might want to invest in new equipment Chargers.
The Chargers should have a solid group at outside linebacker and they will certainly need it with the injuries sustained over the past couple of years by key guys.
Leading the charge at outside linebacker is fourth year player Melvin Ingram. While he posted one of his best years statistically last season with four sacks, he only played nine games and only four the year before. Injuries have stunted the potential that Ingram possesses and if the Chargers look to be a top 10 defense this year, they need Ingram healthy and applying pressure on opposing QB’s.
Another player who battled injuries last season was Jeremiah Attaochu. The second year player out of Georgia Tech missed five games last year battling a hamstring injury, but the sky is the limit for this kid. He will be looked upon to ramp of the pass rush that was absolutely terrible last season. Both Ingram and defensive lineman Corey Liguet need a primary pass rusher who can open up things along the line for them and that will be Attaochu. He’s still very much a raw talent but the Chargers have high hopes for him in his second year and he will hopefully stay healthy and be a force up off the edge.
Third year player Tourek Williams has completely reinvented himself this offseason and did everything for football as he looks to turn heads. After what he considered a disappointing 2014 campaign in which he mainly appeared on just special teams, the Florida Int’l player looks to make more of an impact in ’15. He will be adding fresh legs to an outside pass rush and with Jarret Johnson retired, he looks to take over where he left off. Williams had studied the way Johnson played the position and with his quicker, stronger physique, will pay dividends for the Chargers this season.
The last linebacker I’ll talk about is another new addition Kyle Emanuel. The North Dakota St. Bison had 19.5 sacks his senior year and the Chargers believe that will translate well to the NFL. The sixth round pick will be competing for a backup roll and look to make an impact on special teams. However, he still has the potential to get some important playing time this year. Since the end of his senior year he has been concentrating on the switch from defensive end to outside linebacker. He has looked good in camp, he has good instincts to track the ball and has a quick first step.
With Chargers’ training camp approaches (July 30th), look for this great group of linebackers to be some of the hardest workers out there. The young guns all have something to prove and they’ll all be putting their skills on display for the coaches.
The depth and talent of the linebackers should propel this defense into the top 15 of the league. After forcing just 35 turnovers combined the last two-year, the Chargers will be hungry to make plays all over the field.