There’s certainly a lot to like about the San Diego Chargers on defense, and much of the optimism comes from the talent along the defensive line. However, the defensive line appears to be in a transition period with many veterans leaving in free agency this offseason as well as some changes to the defensive scheme.
The Chargers will likely run a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense in 2013, meaning the defensive line will see plenty of formations throughout the season. The defensive linemen should get more one-on-one opportunities in the 4-3, meaning we could see even better numbers out of the group by the end of the season. When running the 4-3, the defensive line will be counted on to lead the pass rush and make plays rather than just freeing up the linebackers. The talented starters should be up to the task, but the Bolts will need others to step up and be solid rotational players.
Now heading into his third year, defensive end Corey Liuget enjoyed a breakout season in 2012, recording 50 tackles, 7 sacks and 9 batted passes. But at just 23 years old, Liuget has much more room to grow and should be able to build off his great season. Liuget has worked on his conditioning this offseason and dropped eight pounds. Liuget, who already possesses a great first step, looks even more explosive this offseason and double-digit sacks from the defensive end certainly isn’t out of the question.
After playing sparingly early in the season, second-year defensive end Kendall Reyes ended 2012 strong with 21 tackles and 5.5 sacks over the final seven games. Reyes is solid against the run and has now shown the ability to get to the quarterback. Also only 23 years old, Reyes will look to build off his strong finish now as a full-time starter and could really have a breakout season in 2013.
Fourth-year nose tackle Cam Thomas was waited patiently for his opportunity and will finally get his chance to be the undisputed full-time starter. A solid run-stuffer and underrated pass rusher, Thomas has shown glimpses in a reserve role and will need to replicate that success on a consistent basis. The key to the 3-4 defense is a space-eating nose tackle who does all the dirty work and frees up the linebackers. His play will determine much of the success (or failure) of the entire defense.
Though the Chargers have a solid group of young starters, the depth behind them is a concern.
The Chargers like to rely on rotations to keep their linemen fresh. Last season, the Bolts had the depth to do so successfully, but they may not have that luxury this season. The Chargers lost Aubrayo Franklin, Antonio Garay and Vaughn Martin in free agency and only added veteran Jarius Wynn. The other players at the position include Damik Scafe, Logan Harrell, Kwame Geathers and Byron Jerideau, who have zero NFL experience. Adding a veteran or two between now and the season would be a good idea.
Overall, the defensive line has solid starters, but lacks the depth to run an effective rotation. The starters may see a lot of playing time and will need to stay healthy for this defense to work.