Larry English has been out of focus, but a big year from him would mean a lot to this unit. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
- Depth: Depth is a tricky thing, you aren't going to be have multiple Pro Bowlers at every position, but there's still a difference between having guys who can line up at a position and guys that can step up when someone goes down. In the past names of guys high on the depth chart were Antwan Applewhite, Jyles Tucker and Marques Harris. They had little projection coming out of college and never proved themselves in the NFL. This roster is better than that. Johnson, Phillips and Barnes are proven. English and Ingram are young and project as good OLBs. That's 5 deep at a position where you start 2. That's nice depth.
- Pass Rushing: This might have been one of the weaknesses, but it assuredly is not. Johnson sets up the pass rush well and by team accounts can and will make a more direct contribution. Phillips has a pedigree of consistently getting sacks and other big plays in the passing game. Barnes had a double digits sack season. When English was last healthy he picked up some sacks and created pressure on the QB. Ingram is a 1st round pick drafted for his pass rushing. This is a strength, but for the naysayers, check out the weaknesses.
- Injuries: Johnson is the picture of health, he's certainly not the problem. Phillips has missed time over the last few seasons and seems to be getting more fragile with age. Barnes has been mostly healthy, but did have a calf injury last season. English is made of glass. Ingram's college injury reports are not spotless. This area is key as both strengths almost instantly become weaknesses if injuries occur. We know the team struggles to rush the passer when the talent sits on the sideliness and rotating players decreases. Lesser players like Darryl Gamble and Ricky Elmore along with someone from veteran scrap heap will get playing time and not produce the way the top 5 could if players end up on IR.
Big Plays: Maybe this just comes from the high standard Shawn Merriman set or the football memories that Junior Seau's passing evoked, but big plays are my mind. Those two would come up with key stops, sacks or turnovers in important situations. This unit has seemed to pick up numbers without every coming through in the clutch. That's probably come from previous lack of depth and injuries, so there is upside here to overcome this. One of the main focuses this offseason for the team is getting off the field on 3rd down. This unit and its big plays will probably determine if that focus can turn into an actuality.