Depth Chart: First String, Second String
Left Outside Linebacker: Jarret Johnson, Tourek Williams
Left Inside Linebacker: Manti Te’o, Reggie Walker, Andrew Gachkar
Right Inside Linebacker: Donald Butler, Kavell Connor
Right Outside Linebacker: Melvin Ingram, Dwight Freeney, Jerry Attaochu
Besides the veterans Johnson and Freeney, San Diego's linebackers are young with plenty of talent to spare. Te'o, Butler and Ingram are all 25 or younger and were second-, third- and first-round draft selections, respectively. San Diego needs all three to take a big step forward.
Te'o showed well as a rookie, getting a plus-5.2 pass coverage grade from Pro Football Focus, which was the second-highest pass coverage grade of any Chargers player.
Te'o's problem is keeping his feet healthy. A sprained left foot sidelined him for the final two weeks of the preseason, and he sprained his right foot last year, which required surgery. If Te'o is on the field, his tackling will improve, and the Chargers won't be forced to go with a less appealing alternative.
Te'o isn't the only Chargers linebacker with a recent injury history—Ingram tore his ACL early in 2013 and did little to show his first-round pedigree late in the season. He is a top-flight athlete and solid versus the run—he just needs more pass-rushing moves.
Ingram has barely played more than one season, so there is room to grow, which is just what the Chargers need. Six or more sacks would be a nice showing this season.
San Diego signed Butler to a multiyear contract in February. He is an ideal three-down linebacker who can cover tight ends and running backs. San Diego just needs him to stay healthy and improve his technique versus the run. Besides Liuget, he is San Diego's best player in the front seven.
Freeney will be used often, as he is San Diego's most proven pass-rusher. He generated plenty of pressure last season in four games before suffering a torn quadriceps. At 34 years old, it's unknown how much Freeney has left in the tank. A situational role is best suited for him.
Most of the backups have NFL experience but don't offer much outside of special teams. The rookie Attaochu has a nice combination of strength and speed—spending a year under the savvy Freeney should help his development. He could push for snaps late in the season.
This group will struggle consistently generating pressure unless Ingram breaks out. Early lumps are to be expected, but the long-term outlook is promising.