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Chargers Must Grow Depth at Outside Linebacker


After an abysmal 4-12 season, it’s easy to look at the Chargers and say, “At least things can’t get any worse.” Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true.

San Diego actually caught a few breaks during the 2015 season, including the surprising health of outside linebackers Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu. After Attaochu missed the season opener with a hamstring injury, neither player missed another game the rest of the way. That’s impressive for a duo that missed a dozen games combined in 2014.

Ingram and Attaochu combined for 16.5 sacks, keying a D’ that allowed 21 points or less in four of the final games.

Not only did the health/productivity of Ingram and Attaochu help the pass rush, it masked San Diego’s lack of depth at the position. The only other outside linebacker to post a sack was rookie Kyle Emanuel, who took down Matthew Stafford in Week 1 (starting in place of Attaochu) and was shut out thereafter.

Tom Telesco would like to bolster the depth at outside linebacker, but with more pressing needs on both sides of the line, in the secondary and at wide receiver, that may not be possible. That means defensive coordinator John Pagano will rely heavily on improvement from within. Is it possible? Let’s take a look.

Kyle Emanuel

The rookie fifth-round pick out of North Dakota State made a couple of impact plays in Week 1 but was mostly quiet thereafter. Injuries didn’t help, as he was slowed by shoulder and head ailments. If he can stay healthy in 2016, he will be expected to take a significant step forward.

As NDSU head coach Chris Klieman promised us shortly after Emanuel was drafted: “We’re going to hear a lot from Kyle Emanuel throughout his career in the NFL.”

Tourek Williams

For all the injuries the Chargers endured in 2015, none hurt worse than the loss of Williams (foot). The third-year edge defender was one of the stars of the offseason program, reporting in superb shape and demonstrating a vastly improved schematic understanding.

Williams will not do much to help the pass rush — he had just one sack in his first two seasons — but he will improve the run defense while reducing the burden on the rest of the outside linebackers. There is a good chance Williams winds up starting opposite Ingram, allowing Attaochu and Emanuel to save more of their energy for obvious passing situations.

Cordarrow Law

After appearing in just three games as a rookie in 2014, Law played in 14 games this season. He played 241 snaps (160 on special teams) and finished with 12 tackles (including one for a loss) and four QB hurries. His tenacity in getting after the quarterback and consistency kick coverage have kept him around this long, but he lacks the explosiveness to excel as a situational pass rusher.

Brock Hekking

If the Chargers do not make any significant additions at outside linebacker, Hekking will have every opportunity to overtake Law. He missed his rookie season with a foot injury, but the Chargers opted to keep him around rather than reach an injury settlement because they believe he has a future in the NFL.

Hekking has a lot of connections inside Chargers Park. Notably, his head coach at Nevada, Brian Polian, was a high school and college teammate of GM Tom Telesco. Those connections opened a door for him, but Hekking will have to break through with his play. He sure seems capable, as he is relentless in pursuit and uses his hands extremely well.

“What Brock brings to the table is a tremendous work ethic and a really, really high motor,” Nevada defensive coordinator Scott Boone told us last spring. “People think he’s just a pass rusher, [but] he’s really an all-around intense, high-motor guy [who] tackles well. He’s a play-hard-every-down guy.”

Which young outside linebackers are ready to step up? Discuss inside our new message boards!

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for Scout.com and has also been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, Footballinsiders.com and MySpace Sports. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter @NFLinsider_Mike.

About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has covered the San Diego Chargers since 2003. He spent 12 years covering the team for Scout.com and has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports, Football Insiders and MySpace Sports.

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