By Cody Strahm @CodyJStrahm on June 16, 2014
What had the makings of yet another disappointing season for the San Diego Chargers was actually somewhat salvaged down the stretch of 2013, as Philip Rivers and company snuck into the playoffs and upset the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round. To build off of that success in 2014, improvement, particularly on defense, is in order. These five players, however, could hold the Chargers back.
After being tabbed a potential breakout candidate prior to the 2013 season, Kendall Reyes was a big disappointment playing the five technique in San Diego's 3-4 front. Of 45 qualifying 3-4 defensive ends, Reyes ranked dead last according to Pro Football Focus' rankings at the position. Similar results should be expected if Reyes remains a starter.
The Chargers looked to improve a shoddy pass defense during the first round of May's draft by snagging one of the class' top cornerback prospects in Jason Verrett. But Verrett can only play one side of the field. Shareece Wright, who allowed a 106.1 quarterback rating to opponents last year, is still penciled in as a starter. That could be problematic once again.
Cam Thomas is now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, clearing an opening at starting nose tackle for Sean Lissemore in San Diego. Lissemore has started a grand total of eight games in his four-year career. His lack of experience offers no assurance that the Chargers will be getting an upgrade at the spot, a position so crucial to the success of the 3-4 defense.
Cornerback is one of the toughest positions for rookies to play. On top of that, Jason Verrett, a rookie cornerback who is expected to contribute from day one in San Diego, is recovering from a torn labrum that should sideline him for the beginning of training camp. When he's deemed healthy he'll likely be deemed a starter, and given the difficulties of playing corner early and the reps he'll miss out on, Verrett will likely struggle in 2014.
The Chargers made inside linebacker Donald Butler priority No. 1 this offseason, signing the 25-year-old veteran to a multi-year extension. While Butler has potential, he's coming off of an underwhelming campaign. Pro Football Focus estimated he was the the 45th-most proficient player at his position. Any complacency derived from his new deal could lead to more struggles in 2014.
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