The Chargers run the ever-popular 3-4 defense, but had a shortage of outside linebackers to run it effectively in 2011. Too many players were banged up or injured, and there wasn't much depth. To fix the problem, the Chargers brought in veteran Jarret Johnson and drafted Melvin Ingram in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
With the additions, the Chargers now have plenty of quality and quantity at the position, and it should provide for fierce camp battles for starting spots, situational roles and backup jobs.
Competition for a backup job is between Bront Bird, Andrew Gachkar, Larry English, Ricky Elmore and Jonas Mouton.
English—a former first-round pick—should be the front-runner for one of the backup spots. English has had trouble staying healthy and has missed 19 games over the past two seasons. He's been labeled a bust by many, but should still make the roster in 2012 to see if he can stay healthy and give the Chargers something for their 16th overall pick from 2009.
Gachkar would be be next in line for a backup spot. He was active for all 16 games last season and was primarily a special teams player. The Chargers drafted Gachkar in 2011 to help fix a horrendous special teams unit, and he's expected to fulfill the same role in 2012.
Bront Bird played in nine games in 2011 and will no longer be eligible for the practice squad, according to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. He'll need to beat out one of the other linebackers to earn a spot.
Jonas Mouton missed 14 games in 2011, but he was drafted in the second round and will compete with English for a backup job in 2012.
Ricky Elmore is a candidate for the practice squad and is a long shot to make the 53-man roster. He was drafted and released by the Green Bay Packers last year after a disappointing training camp.
Expect English and Mouton to make the roster as backups and Gachkar to make the roster as a special teamer.
Last season, the primary pass-rusher for the Chargers was Antwan Barnes. In fact, no one came close to Barnes' 11 sacks. Cam Thomas had four sacks, and Shaun Phillips had just 3.5 sacks in 12 games.
Barnes will have a partner in 2012, as the Chargers used a first-round draft pick to bring in Melvin Ingram. At 276 pounds, Ingram is the biggest outside linebacker on the team. He'll likely be used in a variety of different ways, but primarily as a pass-rush specialist. He was widely regarded as the best pass-rusher in April's draft, and he's big enough to put his hand in the dirt and take on offensive lineman.
The starters will likely be Johnson and Shaun Phillips, with Barnes and Ingram used heavily as rotational players. Phillips played in 12 games in 2012, but was not as productive as years past. In the five seasons prior to 2011, Phillips averaged nine sacks a season. If Phillips can regain form, the Chargers could have three versatile pass-rushers at outside linebacker.
Johnson came over from Baltimore and has started every game over the past five years. He's not a great pass-rusher and will likely lose snaps to Ingram and Barnes, but he's a smart veteran linebacker that should start opposite Phillips and help solidify one of the weakest areas on the team in 2011.
If healthy, the Chargers now have the talent at outside linebacker to go from 23rd in the league in sacks in 2011 into the top 10 in 2012.