In 2012, Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson put together one of the best seasons for a running back ever. He did so after tearing his ACL the previous December. Nobody believed that Peterson would be the same player, at least not immediately, while making a comeback just 9 months after surgery on his knee.
Melvin Ingram made his San Diego Charger return from injury on December 8, less than 7 months after tearing his ACL.
That's not to take anything away from Peterson, who was the MVP of the NFL in 2012, it just gives a little perspective as to how amazing Ingram's road to recovery has been.
In his first game back against the Giants, Ingram was fairly quiet, as he only played in 14 snaps and managed as much as an assisted tackle. The next contest in Denver was a similar story, but he did build his snap count up to 24 in a huge win against the Broncos. These two contests were simply building up Ingram's strength. It wasn't until game #3 that Charger fans were truly excited to see Super Melvin back.
Ingram got his first recorded QB pressure and sack against the Raiders. He lined up at left OLB, which is actually unusual for him. He showed great burst and speed around the edge as he beat the right tackle for a sack and a forced fumble.
Melvin recorded 3 total QB disruptions in that game (according to Pro Football Focus), and has 10 total in the past 3 games. Not spectacular, but huge for a Chargers' defense lacking pressure and for Ingram's development.
Ingram's play has been a big, no... a gigantic upgrade over other Chargers' linebackers like rookie Tourek Williams. Now, to be fair to Williams, he was a 6th round pick in the 2013 draft. He had to make the transition to outside linebacker, a premium position in the 3-4 defense. He never should have been put in the position he was, but injuries and poor depth forced a lot of playing time for the rookie. Outside of a strip-sack of Peyton Manning, Williams has been very quiet. His play against the run was also alarming:
Williams is the far left arrow above. The right end had the responsibility of filling the B gap, While the middle linebacker was playing to stuff between the tackle and tight end. Williams' job is to set the edge and keep the running back inside the tackles. He is blocked by a tight end (Tyler Eifert) who is a decent, but not a great blocker.
Eifert hold his block on Williams, and the running back finds a nice lane and picks up 6 yards when the Bengals were backed up on their own 5 yard line. As a reminder of what Ingram does to tight ends, here you go:
Back to #54.
Coming out of South Carolina, Melvin was praised for his versatility. He most likely slipped in the draft because many believed that he didn't have a "true position", but the Bolts have made good use of him. Because of his elite athleticism, he has loads of potential in all aspects of the game. His interception in Cincinnati was a prime example of this.
When the play originally happened, my first instinct was that Andy Dalton was fooled by a zone blitz, and that he didn't account for Ingram dropping back into coverage. However, Ingram is lined up over the slot receiver (Tyler Eifert). It's too hard to see in a screen shot, but Dalton looks over before the snap and after Ingram shifted to cover the receiver, suggesting he saw (and liked) the match-up.
Dalton under throws the pass, allowing Ingram to use his remarkable closing speed to cut off the receiver and intercept the pass.
Because of how well Ingram is playing, the rest of the defense is playing better as well. His pass rush ability is taking pressure off the defensive lineman, as Kendall Reyes hasn't looked as over-matched as he was for most of 2013. The secondary is also playing better, as we all know a pass rush can have that effect. The defense is also creating more turnovers, which a lot of the time determines the outcome of a game. Ingram is a huge upgrade at OLB and the rest of the team is feeding off of him.
Let's also not forget that Ingram was a rookie last season. He is only in his second year, playing in his second season with out a training camp in year two. For a second-year player coming off a torn ACL, Ingram's play is phenomenal. The fact that as soon as he got injured Tom Telesco rushed out and gave Dwight Freeney a fairly large contract suggest that the Chargers expected great things from Ingram. You should too.