The NFL season is a war of attrition, no doubt, but the San Diego Chargers actually experienced the bulk of their injury issues very early on in the year. Sure a preseason season-ending injury to Danario Alexander and Week 2 season-ender for Malcom Floyd were early, but the earliest of all was perhaps the most impactful which has been seen in recent weeks with Melvin Ingram’s return.
Back in May at minicamp, the former first-round pick suffered a torn ACL that many thought would cost him the entirety of the 2013 season. Thanks to the league’s new injury designation which allow players placed on injured reserve (IR) to be activated later in the year and not count as a roster spot, the Bolts held out hope for their prized linebacker returning. It didn’t come quick and certainly wasn’t with much fanfare, but quietly Ingram’s return back in Week 14 – the last time the Bolts faced their Divisional round opponents – has sparked the team’s defensive renaissance.
He didn’t even see the field in that particular outing, but there has been something different about the Chargers defensively since No. 54 returned to the locker room. The defense has given up just 16.2 points per game the five games he has played in (including last weekend’s playoff game), and the pass rush has been revitalized. Ingram is undoubtedly fresher than the rest of the guys on the field having not played many games this season. He is just now rounding into mid-season form while the players around him are starting to run out of gas.
What lets you know for sure that Ingram is merely scratching the surface on his potential is when veterans of the San Diego locker room sing his praises. According to USA TODAY, fellow linebacker Jarret Johnson said:
“It shows what kind of athlete he is and how hard he’s worked. To come back and play at the caliber he’s played at, that’s unheard-of.”
Ingram’s interception in the Wild-Card round against the Cincinnati Bengals began the unraveling of Cincy QB Andy Dalton. His presence is surely enough to unnerve opposing quarterbacks, and that’s what the Chargers need from him this Sunday against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Along with his ability to collapse the pocket and disrupt opponents, Ingram also is a fiery guy that really helps fuel his teammates. Veteran safety Eric Weddle spoke about this side of the pass-rusher as he said:
“He still needs to grow up a little bit, but he’s a great kid. His energy and his passion, it feeds everyone else. To get someone like that back, it’s huge.”
Just how huge it has been can be clearly seen in the way the Bolts have stepped it up defensively since Ingram got back on the field. Opponents are having more trouble moving the ball through the air, and they’ve found it much more difficult to gain yards on the ground as well. It’s pretty rare to see a young player like Ingram have such an immediate impact on a defense, but it could be just what the Bolts need to win the rubber match in Denver this weekend to advance to the AFC Championship Game.