Posted May 21, 2013

Chargers’ Freeney addition creates more questions than answers

San Diego Chargers
Dwight Freeney struggled in 2012, his first season as a 3-4 OLB. (Paul Sancya/AP)

Dwight Freeney struggled in 2012, his first season as a 3-4 OLB. (Paul Sancya/AP)

If the San Diego Chargers could find any silver lining in Melvin Ingram’s extremely unfortunate ACL tear, it was that two veteran pass rushers — Dwight Freeney and John Abraham — still sat unsigned on the free-agent market. The Chargers wasted little time snatching up the 33-year-old Freeney, who will take Ingram’s spot at outside linebacker and provide a veteran voice to a relatively young defense.

But here’s the rub: Not only do the Chargers have to show they can adjust their defense to get Freeney in his preferred 4-3 set, they also still have numerous holes elsewhere on the roster.

Freeney said all the right things last offseason when the Colts’ new coaching staff transitioned to a 3-4 look. The results on the field never met expectations, though. After being hobbled by a high-ankle sprain early, Freeney finished the year with 5.0 sacks (his lowest total since registering 3.5 while missing seven games in 2007) and a career-low 12 tackles.

It was a bit of a lost season for the longtime Colt.

San Diego’s challenge will be to get him back in a situation he is more comfortable with — Freeney notched 102.5 sacks over 10 Indianapolis seasons playing defensive end in a 4-3. Does San Diego have the horses to be successful with a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense?

Sliding to a 4-3 look with Freeney at DE might create other problems. The responsibilities of the three current starting linemen (Corey Liuget, Kendall Reyes and Cam Thomas) would be different, and San Diego would either have to adjust to a nickel package or fit its 3-4 linebacking pieces into a varied scheme. The latter choice could be difficult, since neither Manti Te’o nor Donald Butler really looks capable of playing outside and Jarret Johnson is more of a two-down player.

Which brings us to talking point No. 2 from above: The Chargers’ lingering needs elsewhere. Freeney (or a player with similar pass-rush abilities) became a must-have after Ingram was lost for the season. However, San Diego has been less aggressive elsewhere on its roster, leaving question marks at …

Wide receiver: The Chargers are putting a lot of faith in third-round pick Keenan Allen (who’s coming off a knee injury) and their underachieving lot from last season, which includes Malcom Floyd, Danario Alexander, Vincent Brown, Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. While Philip Rivers continues to take most of the heat when this team falters, he had very little help in the passing game last season.

Offensive line: Rookie D.J. Fluker should step in and start at right tackle, but does anyone in San Diego really feel comfortable with the remainder of this situation? If the season started today, the Chargers probably would line up the highly inconsistent King Dunlap at left tackle and journeyman Chad Rinehart at left guard — reliable guard Louis Vasquez left in free agency and joined the rival Broncos.

The Chargers reportedly have been in the mix for free-agent tackle Max Starks, though nothing has come of that pursuit yet. Fluker was the only draft choice the Chargers made up front, focusing elsewhere for the final six rounds. That decision could backfire.

Cornerback: Gone is the 2012 (and 2011 and 2010) starting duo of Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer. For now, their replacements are Derek Cox, a free-agent signing who graded out as the 71st-best corner in football last season on Pro Football Focus; Shareece Wright, a 2011 third-round pick with zero career starts under his belt; 2013 fifth-rounder Steve Williams, who surprised just about everyone by declaring for the draft following his junior year; and Johnny Patrick, claimed off waivers from New Orleans.

Is that group stout enough to hold up against, for example, Denver’s high-powered aerial attack?

Running back: Ryan Mathews still has to prove that he’s capable of staying healthy and being a No. 1 back. He has just two (fairly cheap) years left on his current contract, so time is running out in that quest. None of the backs behind him — Danny Woodhead, Ronnie Brown or 2012 seventh-rounder Edwin Baker — are guys that you’d want to base a game plan around, either.

Depth on defense: Mentioned cornerback above, but the Chargers’ D-line depth essentially boils down to ex-Packer Jarius Wynn and a group of undrafted free agents. There also are more uncertainties than the Chargers would like at linebacker, with 2009 bust Larry English, D.J. Smith, Tourek Williams and others.

The Chargers also converted Marcus Gilchrist from corner to safety, to provide Brandon Taylor with competition alongside Eric Weddle. One of those two has to step up in a big way.

San Diego ought to be thrilled that Freeney remained available after Ingram fell — the former Colts star will be welcomed with open arms by the Chargers’ players and fans. He might still have a couple of big seasons left in the tank, too.

Much of that depends, however, on how exactly San Diego is able to utilize him and, in turn, on how the rest of the Chargers adjust to multiple fronts on defense.

Plus, even if Freeney returns to his former QB-dropping self, will he have enough help elsewhere to make the Chargers contenders? There remains plenty unsettled in San Diego, even with Freeney coming on board.

26 comments
Ferguson1015
Ferguson1015

This article has so many things wrong with it. First of all, how could Alexander have underachieved last season? He was signed mid-way through the season off the street and overachieved when he got there. Vincent Brown was injured in the Preseason and missed the entire season so I don't see how that applies to him either.

While Cason and Jammer are gone, what isn't mentioned here is that their play (well Jammer's mostly) dictated that they should not be the starters there in any case. Is it really any wonder that Jammer is still looking for a job right now? You cite Pro Football Focus saying he was rated the 71st rated CB last season, but you fail to note that their numbers are based off of aggregate stats and since Cox only played in 12 games last season obviously it is going to drop him lower than he otherwise would be.

Also, while I do agree with your overall assessment of the OL, I still think it is light years better than it was last season. It may be a below average unit overall, but it doesn't have a UDFA blocking the left side. Also, Norv's focus was on 5-7 step drops on just about every passing play, while Whisenhunt puts much more focus on short and intermediate throws which develop faster. This should put less pressure on the OL to hold their blocks for as long as they had to last season and Rivers isn't exactly known for holding on to the ball for too long.

sc78
sc78

This is the second article I've seen saying the chargers have no depth at WR.  Did no one see Alexander play last year?  Did Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen get secretly dropped from the roster?

Speaking specifically about this article... what does all this have to do with signing Freeney?  The Chargers had 7 draft picks and a limited amount of cap space.  They signed and drafted who they could to try and improve the roster.  I'm sure if they had 10 extra draft picks and 50 million in cap space they would have done more, but life doesn't work that way.  You make the best of what you have, and they've done that. 


David50
David50

As a Charger fan ,I am preparing for another season of tears.

drudown
drudown

The Chargers' ownership is cheap. That is why we have holes.

brian.haslip
brian.haslip

Left Tackle just got sewed up with Max Starks coming to the Bolts. 

Freeney will be fine, and so will the other 3 on the front. We run a hybrid defense, not strictly 3-4. Freeney will likely get 35-40 snaps per game with his hand on the ground and his only responsibility being to get after the QB.

Big Oil is watching
Big Oil is watching

wide receiver is NOT a problem. Vincent Brown, Danario Alexander,Malcom Floyd,  and the Rookie will be more than enough.

funnymofo33
funnymofo33

as a bolt fan i was really confused as to why they let the only o-lineman other than Hardwick (THEY LET Vasquez go)he was as solid a linemen and denver saw him as a great addition to their powerful offense.also why was the always reliable shawn phillips let go,sure he wasn't his hey day but he was still a big time threat that gave teams heartburn.i do think this org is still paying for all the boneheaded mistakes that a.j smith made and even though the media and masses want to think its a make or break year,they have sheepishly admitted that this is kind of a rebuilding year.i love the pics and think this recieving corp will shock everybody around the leuage if it can remain healthy.the defense and o-line are now the biggest concerns.funny cuz a few months ago this team was stacked with Lb's and a couple years ago depth was san diego's biggest strength.but in Telesco we trust.if we make even a wildcard i will be as happy as ever......go bolts 2013

edselw313
edselw313

Actually, their wideout situation isn't all that dire.  Vincent Brown was on his way to a breakout year --- unfortunately, what he broke was his ankle, in a preseason game, so that was it for his season.  Also, they signed Danario Alexander off the street, but that guy is no jabroni ---- he was 1st team All-America his senior year at Missouri, and went undrafted only because he tore up his knee during Senior Bowl week.  All he did last year was catch 37 balls for almost 700yds and 7 TDs in only 10 games.  If those two and the rest of the corps stay healthy, Rivers will have some downfield options, if he can stay upright long enough to throw the ball.  That running game is a different story, tho.  I totally agree with the writer, there.

dankz1041
dankz1041

Chargers should put fluker on the left and king on the right.... coming from an eagles fan

Ferguson1015
Ferguson1015

@drudown

I'm still surprised when Charger fans say this. Stop confusing the Padres with the Chargers. The Chargers have spent up to the cap limit for just about every season since 2001.

sc78
sc78

@drudownFalse.  The Chargers have currently spent almost to the limit of the salary cap for this year, as they are required to.  NFL teams aren't' allowed to be "cheap", this isn't baseball. 

jcharge29
jcharge29

@funnymofo33 They couldn't keep Vasquez because he and his agent had a price in mind and we couldn't match it because the Lord of No Rings had to go shopping in FA to save his job. What Denver paid him is what he always wanted and the previous GM tied up so much money in Gaither, Meachem, Royal, McClain and Floyd's extension, that we couldn't give him what he asked for.

brian.haslip
brian.haslip

@dankz1041 I would have been ok with that. Now we have Starks on the left and likely Fluker on the right, which is better. Fluker doesn't really have the foot speed to play on the left.

drudown
drudown

@sc78 @drudown 

Oh, I forgot. 

The owners are too cheap to hire a marquee coach. I'm excited about the new guys but they are green and unproven.

dankz1041
dankz1041

I didn't hear about that... I totally agree with you in that case...

MichaelWallis1
MichaelWallis1

@drudown  @sc78, listen, my Detroit Lions shelled out $25 million for Steve Mariucci for five years. Landing a high profile coach doesn't always lead to success either. The team needs to have enough talent to succeed.

MichaelWallis1
MichaelWallis1

@drudown @sc78, I don't recall Marty Schottenheimer and Norv Turner being green and unproven as head NFL coaches. 

drudown
drudown

@jcharge29 @drudown @sc78 

I support Telesco/McCoy and agree it is the "new trend". But we could have filled holes at CB and DL/OL via FA.

FACT

drudown
drudown

@jcharge29 @drudown @sc78 

If you want to argue against a straw man, have at it.

However, when JIm Harbaugh was on the market, we could have easily made a run at him. But the Chargers' owners do NOT want to pay market value for a top-tier head coach. 

Res ipsa loquitur. 

By my count, the 49ers have already recouped the out-of-pocket cost of hiring Harbaugh via appreciation of the franchise. 

As for AJ Smith, he is not the only problem over his tenure. (He was actually better at drafting than Beathard; see, e.g., Bryan Still) The Chargers are arguably one of the worst tackling/hitting teams in the NFL. Their play calling has been way too conservative. They look uninspired. 

Sounds like mediocre coaching. 

jcharge29
jcharge29

@drudown @sc78 Don't tell me, you wanted to bring back a guy out of retirement? Forget it. "Green and unproven" coaches are becoming a trend in this league. There is a reason why Gruden and Cowher haven't been rehired yet. Also, the reason we're in a cheap situation is because of the Lord of No Rings. His desperation to save his job via spending in FA led to Telesco inherited a team with hardly any cap space.