As the free agency season has moved along, it has become increasingly clear that the AFC West has become one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. And with the signing of QB Matt Schaub, the division now boasts 4 QB’s with the ability to play at a Pro Bowl caliber level. The NFL is now recognized as a pass first league; this is why the San Diego Chargers need to draft a pass rushing threat in the first round if they have any hope of containing the NFL's high powered offenses.
First off, as we enter the 2014 season, the Chargers presumably will have a solid outside linebacking corps with Melvin Ingram, Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson back and healthy. San Diego also has quality depth in Tourek Williams and Reggie Walker. But if 2013 taught Chargers fans anything, it was you can never have enough depth at the outside linebacking position.
The first lesson happened on the second day of Organized Training Activities as Ingram tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament. It was a blow to the Chargers defense as Ingram was expected to be the team's top pass rushing threat. His rookie campaign the previous year saw Ingram tie for second on the team in QB pressures, this despite playing a mostly backup role with only two starts. After suffering his injury, Ingram vowed to be back playing for the team, which he was for the final four games of the season. But the loss of Ingram left the Chargers scanning the waiver wire for somebody to take his place.
That led to the signing of future Hall of Famer Dwight Freeney, who had some history with Chargers GM Tom Telesco when they both worked for the Indianapolis Colts. Freeney, who didn't get many offers for his services as a free agent, signed with the Chargers and became the opening game starter. Freeney led the team in QB hurries despite only registering 0.5 sack. In the 4th game of the season against Dallas, the Chargers were reminded how valuable an elite edge rusher is to this team. In the second quarter Freeney tore his quad and was done for the year. Freeney, by the way, is entering his 13th year in the league.
The Chargers couldn't just nab another player on the waiver wire this time, they had to look within.
Jarret Johnson is an integral part to this defense. His hard nose style and tough as nails mentality is every coaches dream. But being thrust into the lead pass rush position when he normally excels in strong-side duty (few set the edge better) was a testament to his workmanlike ethic. But Johnson isn't the type to blow past an opposing lineman. For his credit, Johnson totaled 3 sacks on the year, but it was a season that was also marred by injuries as he suffered from hamstring issues and had hand surgery. Johnson will be entering his 12th year in the league. Injuries to key veterans on the plus side of 10 years in the league may be a sign of things to come.
The Chargers do have some young talent that could possibly improve to the next level. Tourek Williams, Reggie Walker and Thomas Keiser will all see significant time and contribute when called upon. But are the Chargers willing to wait another year to see if these players develop into the starting lineup or risk waiting and waiting like they have been on Larry English?
The time is now to finally solidify a pass rush to pressure the QB. Remember we get Peyton and the Broncos at least twice this year, a mobile Alex Smith and his Chiefs weapons and a new Oakland offense that will hand over the reins to Schaub. Also on the horizon are the Seahawks mobile QB Russell Wilson and 49ers Colin Kaepernick as well as another Superbowl winning qb in the Ravens Joe Flacco. San Diego could help the secondary greatly with a fearsome pass rush. If the QB doesn't have time to throw, it would seem to help the secondary. The pass rush needs immediate attention in depth and quality. 2014 doesn't have to be another lesson-type of season to prove it.