The most intriguing free agent signing for the San Diego Chargers by far was Dwight Freeney. Confident that he still has plenty left in the tank, the Chargers signed the 33-year-old to a 2-year, $8.75 million deal last month. Whether or not he does, Freeney will definitely impact the defense, if anything just because they will change things up just for him.
Freeney fits best as a 4-3 defensive end, which is what he played for 10 seasons with the Indianapolis Colts before switching to 3-4 outside linebacker last year. Defensive coordinator John Pagano, who ran a 3-4 with the Bolts last season, is willing to adapt his defense to fit Freeney and plans to move him around and put him in situations where he can be successful. Pagano will run a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense in 2013, which isn’t that different from what the Chargers ran last season, having shown many different fronts. Pagano said that there is a minimal difference between the 3-4 and 4-3.
Freeney shouldn’t have any problem fitting in. Whether he’s standing up or his hand is in the dirt, Freeney has the instincts, moves and experience to get to the quarterback. In the 3-4, Freeney may have only recorded 5 sacks last season, the second lowest of his career, but also generated 33 QB hurries and 9 QB hits. He was also hobbled by a high-ankle sprain last season, which could be more of a reason for his low sack total than him adjusting to outside linebacker.
On Wednesday, Freeney reported to OTAs for his first practice with the team. He missed the team’s first five voluntary practices due to a “prior commitment” that the team already knew about. Going forward, Freeney should be there and ready to get back to work. Now, we’ll be able to see not only how he adjusts to the Bolts’ defense, but how the entire defense adjusts to the new 3-4/4-3 hybrid scheme.
Freeney will be counted on to lead the pass rush for the Bolts in 2013, and all eyes will be on him to see if he can still get it done at age 33. He’ll also be expected to help the young guys on defense and mentor the team’s young linebackers.