Obviously, no one in San Diego is happy about the injury to promising second-year player Melvin Ingram. But could the San Diego Chargers’ defense actually be better next season and beyond now that Dwight Freeney was brought in to replace him?
Despite not being the ideal fit for the 3-4 defense, Freeney is still a more-proven commodity at 3-4 outside linebacker than Ingram. Ingram’s rookie performance at outside linebacker was underwhelming with just one sack in 16 games, while even Freeney got 5 sacks at outside linebacker last season in 14 games. Freeney also bested Ingram in QB hurries (33 compared to 29) and QB hits (9 compared to 2). Though he is best suited to play defensive end in the 4-3, Freeney, whether he’s standing up or his hand is in the dirt, has the instincts and experience as a pass rusher that make him more of a game-changer right now than Ingram.
The Chargers, under defensive coordinator John Pagano, will tweak their defense and run a hybrid 3-4 and 4-3 with Freeney in town. Though its unknown how all the players will adjust to showing more 4-3 looks, the shift between the 3-4 and 4-3 could be good for the team. The defense will be more versatile and can change sets to best take advantage of the way opposing offenses line up. Players are also less likely to be complacent with the upcoming changes to their routines.
The decision to bring Freeney aboard could also help the Chargers beyond the 2013 season. Freeney signed a two-year, $8.75 million deal with the Bolts. Assuming Ingram is ready for the 2014 season, Freeney and Ingram could possibly pair up to be one of the top pass rushing duos in the league. Add in the continued development of Corey Liuget, Kendall Reyes and Cam Thomas, who are already pretty good at rushing the passer as defensive linemen, and the Chargers could be have a dominant defense in 2014.
Losing Ingram for a year definitely hurts him as he loses a year of on-field experience. But looking at the bigger picture, the Chargers defense overall could turn out to be better in the long run.