Last season, the defensive line of the San Diego Chargers was maybe the team’s strongest group. A mixture of high-upside youngsters and savvy veterans, the defensive line wasn’t dominant but definitely proved to be a bright spot in a rather miserable season.
Individual efforts by second-year Corey Liuget and rookie Kendall Reyes provided a lot of optimism for the future of this group. Liuget had a breakout year with 50 tackles, 7 sacks and 9 batted passes. Reyes played sparingly early in the season, but came on late in the year and finished with 5.5 sacks.
The Chargers focused heavily on rotations throughout the year to keep their linemen fresh, and had solid depth to do that successfully. Liuget, Reyes, Aubrayo Franklin, Vaughn Martin and Cam Thomas all had their fair share of snaps. The Chargers had so much depth that former starter Antonio Garay was a healthy scratch for much of the year.
This offseason, the Bolts lost Franklin and Garay who signed elsewhere in free agency. The Chargers reportedly would like Martin, currently a free agent, to return, but he’s drawing serious interest from multiple NFL teams. If the Chargers lose him too, Liuget, Reyes, Thomas and Damik Scafe of the practice squad would be the only defensive linemen on the roster.
Clearly, the team can’t move forward with such a thin group.
The Chargers probably can’t afford to address the defensive line early in the NFL Draft with so many other needs, so they’ll need to add some names in free agency.
Having signed mainly low-profile, high-upside players under 30 so far in free agency, general manager Tom Telesco may have to buck the trend and sign some older defensive linemen to fill the roster. Currently, there aren’t many young, high-upside defensive linemen left on the market, with guys like Casey Hampton, 35, and Sione Pouha, 34, being the top available players with 3-4 experience. Alan Branch, 28, also has some experience in the 3-4 and would be a solid addition.
The team is already young at the position and could probably use veteran leadership anyway. The continued development of Liuget, Reyes and Thomas will define the success of this group, but the team still needs solid rotational players for their defense to work.