Training Camp is underway and that means it's time to get excited. Everyone is in the best shape of their lives* and not a single game has been lost** yet. Snide footnotes aside, there are actually good reasons to expect positive results from the Chargers front seven, especially against the run.
Last season's squad was roughly average*** and this off season saw some substantial improvements made up front. The biggest addition to the run defense was the signing of outside linebacker Jarret Johnson during free agency. Johnson isn't a household name, but he's arguably the best run stuffing linebacker in the NFL. Not only is he an elite defender, he's replacing an average to below average player in Travis LaBoy.
Takeo Spikes is a known quantity to Chargers fans and I think it's safe to say that we're happy with the production we got to witness from him in 2011. This year, thanks to the return of Jonas Mouton from injury, we can expect a fresher Takeo Spikes playing fewer snaps at a higher level. Also, because we're focusing on reasons to be excited**** it's worth mentioning that aside from giving Spikes a chance to catch his breath on the sidelines, Mouton was one of the more impressive players during the pre-season last year before his injury.
Also, there is reason to believe Mouton can come back and immediately produce. Donald Butler did that very thing in his second year after missing his rookie campaign due to injury. Butler, who was one of the better inside linebackers in football last year can only benefit from a full off season.
Another veteran, Shaun Phillips, looks to be a candidate for improved play thanks to needing to play fewer snaps as well. The additions Johnson and rookie Melvin Ingram will help to keep Phillips healthy and productive. The depth of this unit is vastly improved from last season.
The defensive line should be able to make an even bigger leap forward. Aubrayo Franklin was a quiet signing late in the off season, but he is a huge acquisition. While with San Francisco, he was one of the best nose tackles in the league. He played out of position in New Orleans' 43 defense last year, but should anchor a stout d-line for the Chargers' 34. He will allow Antonio Garay to shift to defensive end which should improve the rotation there. Some players that started for this unit last year will be forced into back up roles or cut. That can only be a good thing.
So, let us know how you feel about the front seven against the run in the comments. I, for one, am legitimately excited.
*Not really. I mean, we know this can't be true.
**Or played. No game has been played either.
*** According to DVOA from Football Outsiders.
****And not so much on questions. Let someone else focus on those. We're trying to look on the bright side today.