Positional Reviews

San Diego Chargers Positional Review: Defensive Line

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Defensive Linemen Signed through 2016: Eight

DE Corey Liuget: B

It’s difficult to understand Liuget’s value to the team. Last season, Liuget managed just 34 tackles, three sacks and no forced fumbles — by far his worst performance since his rookie year. As a former first-round pick and the team’s second-highest earner, it’s easy to call 2015 a huge disappointment.

However, look closer and you’ll you see a player who is routinely double-teamed, and yet is still often the only lineman able to collapse the pocket. Liuget is also clearly the only Week 1 starter along the line who can actually play the run.

Liuget’s stats last season are much more indicative of the inferior play around him. As much as the Chargers have tried to turn Sean Lissemore into an effective nose tackle (seemingly out of pure will), he’s not one, and Reyes has been a huge disappointment since “earning” the starting job after his rookie season.

Of course, injuries also played a role. Consistently banged, Liuget missed five games last season with a foot injury sustained in the beginning of November. As luck has it, this is the first time Liuget had missed a game since 2011, so hopefully this will not become a trend.

NT Ryan Carrethers: C+

At 333 lbs., 2014 fifth-round pick Ryan Carrethers has the size and talent to develop into a solid nose tackle … if only he was given the opportunity.

Carrethers has only played a total of 281 defensive snaps over the past two seasons, which is somewhat mind boggling considering the run defense improved when Carrethers replaced Lissemore as the starter.

In 2014, Carrethers looked well on his way to unseating Lissemore on the depth chart prior to dislocating his elbow in Week 11. In that game against the Raiders, Carrethers’ first start, the Bolts defense only allowed 71 yards on the ground.

In his two starts in 2015, against the Ravens in Week 8 and Broncos in Week 13, the run defense was stouter than usual, allowing an average of 103 yards on the ground—22 yards lower than the average for the season.

DE Darius Philon: C+

While far to early to tell, Philon could develop into a solution for San Diego’s defensive line woes.

A 2015 sixth-round pick, Philon missed most of last year after being placed on injured-reserve with designation to return with hip and thigh injuries. However, the 21-year-old out of Arkansas showed some potential when he did play.

In just eight appearances (143 defensive snaps), Philon racked up five combined tackles, two stuffs and one pass defensed. Also, through the first four weeks of the season prior to getting injured, Philon managed two QB hurries and one hit, showing good athleticism as an inside pass rusher.

NT Sean Lissemore: C

Lissemore has been the starting nose tackle for most of the past two seasons, and in each season the team finished with a bottom-seven run defense.

I’m not sure that is a coincidence.

Lissemore, a six-year veteran who was acquired from the Cowboys in 2013, has never seemed to be much more than a placeholder in the middle of the defense. Way back in 2013, Lissemore saw increased playing time in place of NT Cam Thomas and Reyes, contributing to the Chargers’ playoff push.

However, since then Lissemore has not been especially noteworthy. Last season, he ended the season with a paltry 16 tackles, no sacks and no stuffs in 11 games (Carrethers had 24 tackles and one stuff, for comparison). In fact, Lissemore has not recorded a sack since Week 5 of 2014 and has never had more than two sacks in a season.

Now, nose tackles are not going to bankroll sacks — Charger great Jamal Williams only had 13 in his 13-year career — but Lissemore has not done much to clog running lanes in the middle either, as opposing running backs averaged 4.15 adjusted line yards up the middle in 2015, according to Football Outsiders

Accounting for just $1,750,000 against the cap next season, Lissemore is still a decent option for depth, but fans will hopefully not have to endure another year with him as the starter.

DT: Damion Square: C

Getting additional playing late last season for the injured Lissemore, Square flashed some potential in the six games he played in 2015, managing six tackles and a fumble recovery.

Despite limited playing time, Square, an undrafted free agent out of Alabama in 2013, ended the season as the Chargers’ second-highest graded defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus.

A restricted free agent, Square should be brought back to compete, if not for a starting position, then for a rotational role in 2016

For a more in-depth look at Square, you can check out his player spotlight here.

DT Tenny Palepoi: C-

Palepoi missed the entire 2015 regular season with a fractured foot.

However, prior to that, Palepoi was developing in to a solid rotational player. The undrafted free agent out of Utah ended the 2014 season with 16 tackles, including four stuffs.

DE Ben Gardner: F

A seventh-round pick in 2014 by the Cowboys, Gardner was a productive defensive end in college, accounting for 7.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss for Stanford in 2012.

While Gardner has some potential, he is coming off of years of injuries. He missed the majority of his final season at Stanford with a torn pectoral muscle, and was placed on injured-reserve by the Cowboys in prior to the start of the 2014 regular season with a shoulder injury.

Gardner spent the last two months of last year on the Chargers’ practice squad and will likely be competing for the same position this season, as well.

DT Chuka Ndulue: F-

A first-year pro out of Oklahoma, Ndulue spent his rookie training camp last year with the Broncos, where he logged one solo tackle, two passes defensed, and 0.5 sacks in three preseason games.

Ndulue is training camp fodder and is unlikely to make the regular season roster.

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About Trenton Villanueva

A San Diego native, Trenton Villanueva graduated from San Diego State University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a minor in the hydraulic principles of the keg. Prior to writing for SDBR, he covered sports news for FanSided and wrote music reviews for the San Diego State Daily Aztec.

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