Chargers Aim to Clip Hawks' Feathers Again
Each offseason, teams scour the land for free agents who can improve their team. While most media coverage focuses on big-name players signing big-time contracts, the best signings are often the ones you don’t hear much about. Veterans with unrealized potential, special teamers, and rotational players can make a big difference without breaking the bank. Worst comes to worst, these second- and third-tier free agents represent little financial downside.
From the look of training camp, the Chargers’ best “bang for the buck” signing this offseason may be DE Mitch Unrein. The former Denver Broncos fan favorite has been a beast individual drills and has looked good against the run in 11-on-11 action.
During Monday’s practice — the first with pads since San Diego’s preseason game against the Cowboys — Unrein looked strong and agile in individual drills. Listed at 6’4″ and 306 lbs., the Wyoming product showed surprising athleticism when jumping to catch footballs during interception drills. He also looked strong during two-man sled drills.
That same power was also on display during pass-rushing drills, where Unrein looked impressive working against reserve offensive linemen one-on-one. Unrein made a nice move to beat first-year guard Michael Huey and was a force working against versatile guard/tackle Jeremiah Sirles.
Unrein also looked strong against the run in 11-on-11s. With veteran NT Sean Lissemore missing time on Monday, Unrein got reps with the first-, second- and third-team defenses, helping clog running lanes on a number of occasions. He also combined with rookie DE Darius Philon on a nice play to stuff rookie RB Jahwan Edwards.
While he displayed good push in pass-rushing drills, at no point did Unrein generate much pressure on passing downs during 11-on-11 action.
Pass rushing has been a missing aspect of Unrein’s game at this point in his career. Appearing in 54 games over the past four seasons, the former undrafted free agent has never recorded a sack in the regular season. Even in college, Unrein’s best year as a pass rusher came in 2007, when he racked up five sacks.
To be fair, Unrein has been used primarily as a rotational player to this point, getting only one start during his tenure in Denver. While the Chargers are likely not looking for Unrein to light up quarterbacks each week, improving his pass-rush skills would be a huge bonus.
Pass-rushing notwithstanding, Unrein’s physical potential and run-stuffing prowess make him a good candidate for make the 53-man roster, if only as a rotational player. However, the numbers may not be in Unrein’s favor. In 2014, the Chargers opened the regular season with only six defensive linemen on the roster. If this holds true again, Unrein could be on the outside looking in.
Corey Liuget just signed a massive extension, so he’s a lock, while incumbent starters Kendall Reyes and Lissemore are probably safe as well. Backups Ricardo Matthews, Ryan Carrethers and Philon have all impressed through camp and have all seen heavier rotations with the first-team defense than Unrein.
Still, Unrein also has the benefit of already having a relationship with head coach Mike McCoy. Back when McCoy was the offensive coordinator with Denver, he occasionally used Unrein as a fullback in short-yardage situations; Unrein even caught a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning in 2012.
More importantly, though, Unrein has been better than Damion Square and rookie Cameron Botticelli. If the Bolts opt to keep seven defensive lineman, as they did in 2013, Unrein deserves a spot.
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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.