San Diego Chargers Offseason Position Needs Pt. 9: Inside Linebacker

Paul PreibisiusAnalyst IApril 15, 2010

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 17: Linebacker Reggie Carter #51 of the UCLA Bruins celebrates after making a tackle against the California Golden Bears on October 17, 2009 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.   Cal won 45-26.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Very similar to the safety position, San Diego has great depth at the inside linebacking position while lacking any true game-breaker.

The rotation among Stephen Cooper, Brandon Siler, Tim Dobbins, and Kevin Burnett is much more active, with non-starters Dobbins and Burnett still seeing a lot of field time even when the lineup is completely healthy.

Because of the stability and depth, it is unlikely for San Diego to actively pursue an additional middle linebacker (the actions of the 2009 draft even before Siler’s emergence help to suggest this).

Therefore San Diego’s pursuit of an inside linebacker should cover one of two venues: either a dynamic middle linebacker to supplant one starter and provide a higher-profile force in the middle or a late choice for a deep reserve to supplant James Holt (and potentially become a Brandon Siler-like find).

Few middle linebackers project to be worthwhile in the top 40 picks, the lone name Rolando McClain likely to be gone before San Diego chooses at 28.

Pat Angerer is perhaps a bit undersized, which makes him more inclined to play in a 4-3 scheme, but he is also more athletic and could supplant one of the four (Dobbins?) to play on passing downs.  That rotational role could be a great fit as he should prove a superior coverage linebacker to any of the current ILBs on the San Diego roster, having netted his fair share of interceptions and passes broken up across his career at Iowa.

Draft faller Brandon Spikes could be a boom-bust mid-round choice.  Terrible measurables in offseason workouts and concerns over his range have dropped him from a possible late first-rounder to as low as the fourth round.

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If he should make it to the back of that fourth round it might be worth the risk.  He is a strong tackler, and would make a nice, solid inside linebacker whose size could be valuable should the team elect to go with its current rotational crop of undersized nose tackles.

His poor speed affects his range, but he has shown decent coverage skills, which is also a weakness of the current linebacking crew.  He is too much of a risk for a relatively secure position to make an attempt in the third, but his ability as a gamble in fourth could be enough to make it a possibility.

More likely is that San Diego ignores ILB entirely or waits until its later picks to fill out the depth chart.  Of the three members of the rotation that began their careers in San Diego, none were taken higher than the fifth round, with starters Brandon Siler and Stephen Cooper going in the seventh round and undrafted, respectively.

Reggie Carter could be that late-round find.  He does not excel in any one individual area, and a knee injury early in his college career set him back, but he is strong and alert.  His good recognition and ability to make quick reads could make him a great candidate to eventually supplant Stephen Cooper as the ‘quarterback’ of the defense. 

He could continue a Chargers linebacking trend of limited quickness/coverage skills, but any player found in the back reaches of the draft will have concerns.  His great drive and energy coupled with good instincts make him a prime candidate to emerge from the late rounds as an eventual starter.

Given all considerations, coupled with the team’s plethora of positions that could use upgrades in a similar fashion, the reality is that this is not a particularly well-stocked middle linebacking pool.

It would not be altogether surprising to see only three or four ILBs go within the first three rounds of the draft.

Therefore, while this preview series has generally taken the stance of examining each position on the assumption it will be drafted into, this position above all others rates as the most likely to be passed up in this year’s draft.

See the rest of the ongoing Chargers Positional Needs series:

Part 8: Outside Linebacker

Part 7: Safety

Part 6: Cornerback

Part 5: Running Back (With Links the rest of the offense)