Two names San Diego Chargers fans should be happy to hear are Brandon Flowers and Dwight Freeney. These veterans come from other playoff teams, and are examples of the trend with this offseason’s additions. Freeney may have joined the team last offseason, but a torn quadricep sidelined the Pro Bowl sack-master for the year. Flowers feels slighted by division rival, the Kansas City Chiefs. He did what he could to play through a knee injury last season and returned to the field in a slot role.
Flowers and Freeney kept the motor running throughout practice. They have taken leadership roles and it set the tone for the entire defense. The unit actually looked ahead of the offense that ranked top five last season. Freeney brought non-stop pressure, notched a couple sacks, and had his hands on a few passes that came his way. His play and attitude were contagious, as most of the front seven chimed in with sacks and stuffs at the line of scrimmage. Flowers made sure Philip Rivers knew when he was on the field and was quite disruptive. His presence gives the secondary a new confidence.
As far as the front seven is concerned, I think Freeney stays on the field like he has throughout his career. A torn quadricep isn’t a common injury, and he looked explosive off the edge early and often. His impact in the lineup will attract a a tight end or running back to chip block, and the rest of the unit will have 1-on-1 battles to take advantage of. Watch for Connor to get some snaps in the rotation at middle linebacker; he is too good to bench.
In the one-on-one drills, the cornerbacks held their own against the receivers overall. Flowers shadowed everybody. He only allowed a couple receptions and both were tough catches by Keenan Allen and Malcolm Floyd, but refused to let Vincent Brown or any of the other targets loose. First round pick Jason Verrett started on the opposite side in the 11-on-11 scrimmage. Verrett was pretty solid in his first practice, making the wideouts work hard to beat him.
The standout effort of the day was safety Marcus Gilchrist. On the first play of 11-on-11 scrimmage, Gilchrist came off the blind-side edge. If they were allowed to hit the offense, it would have been a sack and fumble on Rivers. The guy was just all over the place today with deflections and stops at the line. I really think he shined throughout, in 1-on-1 drills, 7-on-7 scrimmage, and 11-on-11 scrimmage. He looked like a man on a mission.
Gilchrist and Verrett should excel behind an improved front seven. It sure helps to have a pair of Pro Bowl defensive backs in Flowers and Eric Weddle. Last year’s weakness in the secondary has been revamped and will look even better with a consistent pass rush.