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Did the San Diego Chargers improve at Linebacker for 2013?

The San Diego Chargers have nine new linebackers for 2013. Did they make the right moves?

None of these guys are on the Chargers anymore.
None of these guys are on the Chargers anymore.

A few days ago, we took a look at the Chargers' Defensive Line. We determined the 2013 team and 2012 lines were relatively comparable to each other. The same story is not true in the other "half" of the defensive front 7.

2012 was not a kind year to the linebacking corps. Actually, I take that back. With one key exception, the linebackers employed by the Chargers last year were neither exceptionally great, nor exceptionally bad. So 2012 wasn't a great year, but it also wasn't a completely awful year.

2012 in Review

PFF Ratings
Player 2012 Snaps Run D Pass Rush Pass Cov. Overall
Shaun Phillips 857 -11.3 -10.3 1.4 -21.0
Donald Butler 731 5.1 -0.3 -1.1 2.8
Takeo Spikes 715 0.4 0.9 -1.8 -1.8
Jarret Johnson 525 1.0 -3.8 -2.5 -3.5
Melvin Ingram 475 1.6 1.9 -3.7 -3.4
Demorrio Williams 367 -2.7 0.7 0.6 -1.1
Antwan Barnes 189 0.7 1.0 1.0 1.3
Larry English 178 -0.4 -3.9 0.0 -3.6
Bront Bird 112 -0.1 0.1 2.7 2.8
Andrew Gachkar 85 -0.5 0.8 -1.8 -1.5
Gary Guyton 23 -0.3 -0.2 -0.4 -0.9
Jonas Mouton 5 0.5 0.9 0.0 1.4

Ouch. That was not a good performance by the Linebackers last year. Based on his 2012 performance, Denver can have Shaun Phillips. In fact, Phillips was the second-worst 3-4 OLB on PFF last year. Phillips only had 4 games last season where he earned a positive rating. Digging through his history, he's only had one season where his overall rating was positive, and that came in 2011; 2012 was the worst season of his career. It's a good thing he was the most-used linebacker last year.

Donald Butler was overall top-third in the league at ILB last year. Bront Bird, surprisingly, would have been right next to him on the list had he played enough snaps to qualify. But they have different strengths: Butler is a great run-stopper where Bront Bird is excellent in coverage.

How good was Bront Bird in coverage? 7th-best ILB in coverage according to PFF. But then again, Bird only played in 5 games and 112 snaps, just 1/8th the snaps Phillips got. Yes, small sample size, but it's a glimmer of hope, and not bad for a guy who was overseeing a wastewater treatment business for 2/3rds of the 2012 season.

The rest of the crew had serviceable seasons, hovering right around the middle compared to the rest of the league.

2013 San Diego Chargers Linebackers

Player Pos. Size Age Experience School
Bront Bird ILB 6'4", 250 24 2 Texas Tech
Donald Butler ILB 6'1", 242 24 4 Washington
Phillip Dillard ILB 6'2", 250 26 2 Nebraska
Andrew Gachkar ILB 6'3", 240 24 3 Missouri
Daniel Molls ILB 6'0", 238 22 R Toledo
D.J. Smith ILB 6'0", 239 24 3 Appalachian State
Manti Te'o ILB 6'1", 241 22 R Notre Dame
Frank Beltre OLB 6'2", 240 23 R Towson
Larry English OLB 6'2", 255 27 5 Northern Illinois
Dwight Freeney OLB 6'1", 268 33 12 Syracuse
Jarret Johnson OLB 6'3", 260 31 11 Alabama
Thomas Keiser OLB 6'4", 260 24 3 Stanford
Devan Walker OLB 6'2", 240 23 R Southeastern Louisiana
Tourek Williams OLB 6'4", 262 22 R Florida International

Well, there's been quite a bit of turnover in the linebacking corps. With the departure of Shaun Phillips, Larry English is now the longest-tenured Lineback on the Chargers. Who saw that coming?

The 2013 roster is currently carrying 14 linebackers. 9 (nine!) of those linebackers are new to the team for 2013, including 5 rookies. The two biggest Linebacking additions this year are definitely Dwight Freeney — to make up for the loss of Melvin Ingram — and Manti Te'o. With Mouton going down for the season, Daniel Molls may actually have a decent chance of making the active roster this year, behind Butler and Te'o (presumably of course).

Edge: 2013

I'll be honest, when I started writing this story, I had it in my head that the 2012 linebackers would have come out ahead of the 2013 crew. I don't know why I had it in my had as such, but it was that way.

Compiling all the info for this story has changed my perception.

The general consensus was that the Chargers needed LB depth, and the new front office did what they could to not only find new starters but shore up the depth. From what I can tell, they've done a great job of not only filling in the holes, but also a great job of filling in the depth.

Yes there's quite a few rookies this year, but they're overall the right players to fit in the system and could contribute rather quickly, assuming they make the team. There's no way the team can carry 14 active Linebackers, so it'll be fun to see who actually makes the team at the end of preseason, and which linebackers we all think the team was stupid for cutting.